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Cairngorm Krummholz & more

A hardy bunch of 16 Woodland Trust staff and volunteers recently ventured to Inshriach & Invereshie National Nature Reserve in the Cairngorms for our second ancient tree group-recording day of the year in Scotland.

And what a day was had – over 200 trees were recorded for the ATI, mostly veteran pines but with a few hollowing ancient alders and lichen-laden birch thrown in for good measure.

The largest Scots pine recorded in an area of native Caledonian pinewood was 5.3m in girth. One of the largest ever recorded on the inventory I suspect!

The midges were awful, but thankfully volunteers were well prepared with nets - some even suggested it added to the adventure!

A Krummholz has lots of acute branch angles Scots pine ‘cuckoo’ tree in an old birch

The highlight for one lucky group however was walking up through the treeline to find and record a number of Krummholz pines at an altitude of 560-600m. Krummholz is German for ‘twisted wood’ and the name describes these small and hardy trees perfectly.

Growing in what is thought to be the highest natural pine treeline in the country, krummholz grow in a low, flat and spreading form, pruned by icy winds which force them to tightly hug the hillside. One tree the group recorded was only 2m tall yet covered a staggering 6m x 4m area of ground.

Characterised by multi-stems, oddly bent trunks and masses of twig like branches, the trees in this montane scrub zone (the area between woodland and hilltop) made for fiddly recording. Their spreading roots gripped the hillside, providing shelter for flourishing blaeberry and undoubtedly for ground nesting birds and wildlife too.

Krummholz pine growing low and flat

We found no main stems more than 2m in girth and had to measure many trees at ground level - easier said than done on a steep slope.It was however a treat to be in such a rare habitat, visited by few yet alive with wildlife. The numerous wood ant nests were a particular favourite.

We know from experience that estimating the age of a Scots pine by its girth is simplistic at best - so many pines are subject to climate extremes which can make growth painfully slow. It’s lucky then that researchers have already cored a sample of gnarled krummholz from this area and have revealed them to be anything from 100 to 250 years old.

At one time krummholz would have been a mainstay of montane scrub. But this habitat has almost disappeared in Scotland due to changes to climate and soil and browsing by domestic stock and deer.Efforts are however being made to restore natural forest fringes. It will take many years. But hopefully we’ll see more ‘wee tree survivors’ in future.

Thanks to everyone who helped record trees at this event – we simply could not continue to add records to the ATI without you. Our ambition is to record on the ATI, all the native pinewood fragments remaining in Scotland today. Ambitious perhaps as there are just over 80. But they are shrinking. If you are interested in joining any of our group ancient tree recording days in Scotland, please contact jilliandonnachie@woodlandtrust.org.uk Thank you.