Long, slow recovery for fire-damaged forest
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is urging all forest visitors to avoid lighting fires when out and about in a forest after assessing that a fire-damaged habitat of international importance will take generations to recover.
The plea comes as the FLS team in the north east weighs up the consequences of a three week long fire that affected Culbin Forest at the end of September.
The man-made sand dune forest – which saw an area the size of about 28 football pitches destroyed – contains a wide variety of habitats and over 500 species of flowering plants including many rare species such as one-flowered wintergreen, twinflower and coralroot orchid.
It is also a designated site of international importance for birds, insects, and many types of fungi (over 450 species) and lichens (around 150 species), including a species of fungus (the sand deceiver) that is not found at any other site in Britain.
John Thomson, FLS’s East Region Manager, said;
“Any forest fire is a potential disaster but when it affects a forest like Culbin, there is a huge amount of untold damage. Culbin is a “jewel in the crown” site enjoyed by a great many people, both locals and visitors alike.
“It is vital that everyone recognises that this is not a location suitable for campfires and barbecues so that the site can continue to give pleasure to all and to provide habitat for a rich variety of biological diversity.
"If more people who profess to love Scotland’s forests were aware of the true extent of the damage done by fire there might be a greater willingness to avoid lighting campfires and using disposable barbecues.
“Animal and insect species might be able to slowly re-colonise but for plant species the process is much slower. Grasses might begin to re-emerge within a few years and ericaceous shrubs, such as cowberry or blaeberry might be back within a decade or so.
“But the fungi and lichens will not recover for many decades and new trees might not reach maturity for 50 years, or perhaps even a century.
“In the aftermath there are always dramatic images of charred and blackened trees but the real, long-term impact is often not something that is given any thought."
As the recovery process takes place, new species might well find a niche in the new forest structure that will emerge. But the old forest as it was will never return.
At its peak there were multiple SFRS vehicles on the site, supported by a helicopter. This required a huge commitment from FLS staff, monitoring and saturating the area to prevent it from re-igniting.
However despite their Herculean efforts complemented by some welcome rainfall, the fire smouldered underground for three weeks destroying the habitats which make this place so special.
Notes to editors
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) manages forests and land owned by Scottish Ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.