ECOLOGIST James H C Fenton
Note: My website address has changed to This is because after Brexit the .eu domain name will no longer be valid. The old address was
Current views My recent letter in the Glasgow Herald (3 September 2019) summarises my current views on reforesting Scotland: The headline ‘Greens want to reforest grouse moors’ [29 August] concerns me. The word ‘reforest’ is misleading. Certainly at the beginning of the 20th century Scotland had less than five per cent tree cover, but this lack of trees goes back centuries: even a cursory look at the Roy maps of the 1750s shows that in the Highlands most woods disappeared before the advent of sheep farming, sporting estates and industrial exploitation, when roads were absent, when livestock was wintered indoors, large tracts of the mid and high-altitude land was uninhabited and unused, and wolves were still present. All the evidence points to natural rather than anthropogenic decline of woodland in most places, and such decline also occurred in interglacial periods in the absence of humans: we are in what is termed the ‘oligocratic phase’, a natural phase of soil acidification and woodland loss. “I would ask ‘reforesters’ just to stop for a moment and consider whether it is possible that our open upland landscapes are natural in origin, so that covering them with trees will in fact result in a loss of natural habitat, a loss of biodiversity; that ‘five per cent woodland cover’ in fact should be something distinctly Scottish and something to celebrate in that it makes Scotland distinctive on a European scale. After all, it is not the moorland’s fault that people shoot grouse over it! “Additionally, one needs to be careful in assuming that tree planting in our uplands mitigates global warming: trees can dry out organic soils, releasing more carbon from the soil than what would be stored in trees and also preventing the moors to go on to become deep peat with a high carbon storage potential. Trees also significantly reduce albedo (reflectivity of the land) and so warm up the climate. “Be careful what you wish for!
A View from Argyll James Fenton’s perspective on current conservation issues Click here for previous blogs
LOSS OF WILDNESS 250 years of encroachment into the Scottish hills I have an article in issue 94 of Wild Land News analysing the long term attrition of the wildness of the hills. You can access the article here.  Wild Land News is the newsletter of the Scottish Wild Land Group.
*NEW* James Fenton’s latest paper, first published online at 9 October 2019
WOODLAND OR OPEN GROUND? Scenarios for the persistence of woodland in the presence of grazing The Highlands of Scotland as an example