SOME of Scotland's rarest, and oldest, trees were blown up at the RSPB's Abernethy Reserve by Nethy Bridge to help bring new life to the ancient forest. The crowns of nine Caledonian Pine trees, aged between 100 and 200-years-old, were blasted off by explosive experts on Friday to create new homes for the abundant wildlife that frequents the forest. Dynamite is not normally associated with conservation and RSPB chiefs themselves admitted that the trial was "unorthodox". However, they believe that the resulting large quantity of dead wood will bring lasting benefits to the inhabitants of the forest which is home to several million trees. The explosive charges, which were placed in pre-drilled holes around 25 feet below the crowns, have exposed ragged, torn and splintered edges and raw wood in much the same way as a storm, avalanche-damage or lightning strike might. Desmond Dugan, site manager for the Forest Lodge section of Abernethy, said. "Dead wood habitats, particularly large volume deadwood, are in short supply at Abernethy forest. To enhance this important habitat component, RSPB plan to harvest much less timber than previously and to leave most of the timber to recycle into the forest. "It may seem ironic, but dead wood is a key driving element of our forest eco-system. The biological function and output of these great Caledonian Scots pine trees is often greater during and after death than when the trees were alive." "The exploded trees will be carefully monitored by our ecology colleagues to measure the effectiveness of this novel management. Explosives may seem extreme, but the effect will be no less catastrophic than a wind snapped, lightning struck or avalanched tree. "Whatever, the outcome, the project will surely go with a bang." For conservation reasons, the project was scheduled outwith the main breeding season and used only a moderate blast – about the sound of a shot gun going off – on the trees ranging from 40 feet to 60 feet in height. The pines ear-marked for "death by detonation" were well back from the reserve's popular visitor tracks and paths and a safety cordon was set-up and the area fully checked before the explosions took place. Before the cull, a spokesman for RSPB Scotland said they had taken every precaution to ensure birds and wildlife were not unduly disturbed. He added: "The reason we are doing this now is it is the end of the breeding season for nesting birds. By now, all the young will have fledged. We could not ensure there would be no birds in the vicinity but we sounded a klaxon as a warning." The RSPB believes that around 16 different species of birds will, eventually, use the dead trees – which now resemble totem poles – at Abernethy, as well as a host of beetles and other invertebrates. Woodpeckers will drill nesting holes that are readily colonised by tree-nesting swifts, crested tits or by redstarts and flycatchers. The spokesman said: "Often there is great competition to secure the scarce cosy 'houses', and such is the demand for the valuable real estate that nesting birds are often evicted by pine martens or by larger or more dominant birds such as goosanders, goldeneye ducks or tawny owls. "In winter, the holes and cavities are much favoured by hibernating bats and butterflies. When, eventually, these dead trees fall to the to the ground, the softer moist fallen deadwood is further colonised by a different range of invertebrates, lichens, mosses, bryophytes or fungi. "In time, albeit a very long time, the great skeletons are recycled into the forest floor to renew and revitalise the cycle of death, decay and regrowth." It could take up to 100 years before the trees fall to the ground and a further 300 years before they fully rot. Mr Dugan said: "When trees die, their biological function within the forest ecosystem is far from over, and they continue to play a crucially important role in maintaining the health and productivity of the woodland eco-system. "As they gradually decay they become nature reserves in their own right, remaining upright for perhaps another century, during which time they provide a home for countless invertebrates, fungi, mosses, lichens, birds, and even small mammals. "In fact, in a natural forest eco-system free of human interference, between 20 and 30% of the existing trees will be either dead or dying. However, much of the remaining ancient and semi-natural woodlands in Scotland have been highly modified over several millennia, and this natural dynamic is either absent or much reduced. "Unlike the clean, chainsaw cuts of many modern forestry techniques, detonating the trees will expose a far greater surface area of the wood. This then allows all the pathogens, bacteria and microbes that accelerate the decay process a much faster start." Ten trees were originally meant to be blown up, but one was deemed to be too close to a power line and won a last-minute reprieve. The RSPB's Abernethy reserve is the largest remaining expanse of the once sprawling ancient Caledonian pine forest and contains roughly 3.5 million Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees. *** TAKE extra care and watch out for diversions or closures! That is the message to visitors to Glenmore Forest Park and Inshriach Forest as work to improve the woodlands continues. The work, being carried out by Forestry Commission Scotland, is expected to last until Christmas, and is part of a plan to help improve forest habitat and help restore native woodlands. Throughout this time, members of the public are requested to avoid the areas of forest where work is being carried out. Neil McInnes, spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland, said: "The work is part of the maintenance of the woodland and, in the longer term, will help create a more attractive area, improve the views from the woodland and increase the level of light reaching the ground, providing better habitats for wildlife. "During this work, we ask people to respect the signs for their own safety, but also to allow the machine operators to go about their work safely. Even if there's no sound of machinery to be heard, the fact that signs are in place means that the operators are working. "The paths remain closed at the weekends because of falling deadwood and branches dislodging as a result of the thinning. We hope to get work done as soon as possible." Nearby forests suitable for walking and cycling during the diversions include Laggan Wolftrax, Inshriach, Strathmashie, and much of Glenmore Forest Park unaffected by the felling. For further information contact Glenmore visitor centre on (01479) 861220 or Neil McInnes on (01479) 861721. email@example.com
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