Thousands of years ago, hilltop woodlands were lost in the Scottish Highlands due to overgrazing and habitat loss. Now, researchers from the University of Sterling documented 11 new altitudinal records for tree species in Britain.
The highest tree, a rowan, was found at 1,150m near the top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan. In addition, a sitka spruce was found at 1,125m on Braeriach, the third-highest mountain in Britain.
The researchers at the University of Stirling are currently examining how the natural treelines in the Scottish mountains can be restored.
The full research paper on high mountain trees in Scotland was published in the British and Irish Botany, an online journal from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.
Sarah Watts, PhD researcher in Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, said: “These data on altitudinal ranges help us understand the environmental tolerances of plants and how climate change or land management may be influencing their distribution.”
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The researchers at the University of Stirling were helped by many mountain hikers who shared photos of trees growing near summits on social media using the hashtag #highmountaintrees.
They also set up a Facebook group called High Altitude Trees of Britain and Ireland, where members can upload photos and information they have on mountain trees.
Britain’s highest trees discovered atop Scotland’s Munros by #UofStirling researcher @Watts_SH of @StirlingScience. More here 👉 https://t.co/YXi9oVmtTG#HighMountainTrees @BSBIbotany pic.twitter.com/OAEWd8z3PD
— University of Stirling (@StirUni) June 15, 2023
“It was fascinating to find trees growing at the absolute limit of environmental tolerance for these species. Some were 200m above previously known altitudes,” said Watts. “This shows us that there is potential for woodland restoration in Britain’s mountains after centuries of habitat loss and degradation.”
Furthermore, the restoration of the woodlands in the Highlands could benefit biodiversity, wildlife and provide natural hazard protection and flood-risk reduction.
As part of their plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2045, the Scottish Government aims to increase forest and woodland cover to 21% by 2032. The potential restoration of woodlands in high-altitude areas in Scotland could be an important step towards realizing this goal.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Grass and Trees on Mountain. Featured Photo Credit: Gary Ellis.