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Abernethy Forest: The History and Ecology of an Old Scottish Pinewood

A richly illustrated account of the history and ecology of one of the last remaining primeval forests in Scotland

By: Ron W Summers(Author), Des Thompson(Foreword By)

360 pages, colour & b/w photos, colour illustrations, colour maps

The Centre for Conservation Science, RSPB

Hardback | Jun 2018 | #242040 | ISBN-13: 9781999988203
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £29.99 $39/€34 approx

About this book

Abernethy Forest is a nature reserve managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the central Highlands of Scotland, bordering Cairngorms National Park. The trees in this wood are one of the few remaining examples of Caledonian pinewood that are lineal descendants of an ancient forest that once spread across Highland Scotland with veteran trees dating back to the 1600s. This forest is as close as one can get to natural woodland in Britain. Since the Bronze or Iron Age, the forest has been used by people for hunting, exploitation of timber, farming and now nature conservation.

Published by the Centre for Conservation Science of the RSPB, Abernethy Forest: The History and Ecology of an Old Scottish Pinewood is an in-depth account of this forest, richly illustrated with period and contemporary photographs, as well as graphs and maps. The book opens with a description of the physical geography and history of the forest, covering both the changes caused by people and the natural processes that have shaped the forest.

These processes provide an environment for an astonishing diversity of wildlife, with over 3,800 species of plants, fungi and animals, some of which is not found in such abundance elsewhere in the UK. The bulk of the book is dedicated to describing this rich and diverse wildlife, including sections on the invertebrates and fungi and lichens found here.

Comparisons are drawn with near-natural and natural forests in continental Europe, revealing the conservation measures that need to be taken to restore lost features in an attempt to create a present-natural forest that extends to a natural treeline. Attention is also paid to the role of fire and controlled burning.

Eight appendices give species names, Scottish place names, chemistry of local lochs, a list of coldest and warmest summers, locations of archaeological features, 19th century national census data when farmsteads in the forest were occupied, ecological methods employed, and a glossary.

"[...] The book is lavishly illustrated with maps, diagrams and photographs, mostly by the author himself. The fungus and lichen photos are especially pleasing. The text is rich in detail, yet remarkably readable. I would have welcomed more insight into some of the main characters who have contributed to the reserve, and a little more personal anecdote to colour the text, like Summers’ evocative account of counting Capercaillie at their leks. I like the simple use of numbers, highlighted in green, to direct the reader to the comprehensive reference list at the end; this greatly aids the flow of the text. Only the index grates; to find out about frogs on the reserve, for example, you need to remember that the species is the Common Frog and search under C.

Anyone with an interest in Abernethy or its component communities should read the book to enhance their appreciation of an inspirational place. Forest ecologists will particularly value Appendix 7, detailing the management methods used on the reserve. Managers of other reserves should read the book as guidance on the level of understanding to which they should aspire in managing their own sites. Resource-starved management staff from the government agencies may simply read it and weep!"
– Michael Scott, British Wildlife 30(1), October 2018



1. Introduction
      1.1 Boreal forests
      1.2 Geography
      1.3 Rocks and soils
      1.4 Climate
            Acid rain
      1.5 The status of Abernethy Forest

2. The history of the forest
      2.1 Colonisation by trees
            Vegetation changes during the Holocene
      2.2 Old maps of Abernethy Forest
      2.3 The owners
      2.4 Woodland use since medieval times
            Local use
            Wider commercial exploitation
      2.5 Farming
      2.6 Hunting and game management
      2.7 Summary

3. Plants
      3.1 Plant communities
      3.2 Mosses and liverworts
      3.3 Ferns
      3.4 Herbs
      3.5 Shrubs
      3.6 Trees
            Scots Pine
            The forest structure
            Broadleaf trees
      3.7 Summary

4. Fire
      4.1 Fire ecology
      4.2 Fire and animals
      4.3 Fires at Abernethy Forest
      4.4 Fire experiments at Abernethy Forest
      4.5 Summary

5. Fungi and lichens
      5.1 Fungi
      Fungal diversity
      The effect of cutting and burning the shrub layer
      The role of fungi in the food web
      5.2 Lichens
      5.3 Summary

6. Invertebrates
      6.1 Molluscs
      6.2 Millipedes and centipedes
      6.3 Spiders, harvestmen and ticks
      6.4 Insects
            Dragonflies and damselflies
            Butterflies and moths
            Bees, wasps and ants
      6.5 Soil invertebrates
      6.6 Deadwood invertebrates
      6.7 Summary

7. Vertebrates
      7.1 Fish
      7.2 Amphibians and reptiles
      7.3 Birds
            The bird community
            Black Grouse
            Crested Tit
            Great Spotted Woodpecker
            Redstart and Tree Pipit
            Summary for birds
      7.4 Mammals
            Experiments with cattle
            Red Fox
            Pine Marten
            Other mustelids
            Red Squirrel
            Small mammals
            Summary for mammals

8. Abernethy Forest in context
      8.1 A Scottish context
            Comparisons with other Caledonian pinewoods
            Comparisons with plantations
      8.2 A boreal forest context
            Fire and other disturbances
            Tree species, sizes and ages
            Forest size
      8.3 Summary

9. Conservation management
      9.1 Introduction
            A changing attitude
            Statutory protection
            Conservation on the ground
      9.2 Biodiversity
            Old trees
            Broadleaf trees
            Reintroducing extinct animals
            Shrub layer management
      9.3 Reversing soil damage
      9.4 Forest fragmentation
            Woodland size
            Edge effects
            Internal fragmentation
            Reducing fragmentation
      9.5 Forest fences
      9.6 Human disturbance
      9.7 The cultural significance of Abernethy Forest
      9.8 Climate change
      9.9 Research and management
            Habitat management
            Wildlife management
      9.10 Final thoughts on Caledonian pinewoods


      1 Common and scientific names of species
      2 Place names
      3 Loch chemistry
      4 The coldest and warmest summers
      5 Locations of archaeological features
      6 Ten-year national censuses
      7 Methods in forest ecology
      8 Glossary

Biography of the author

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