What to plant at Culbin, and how?
Foresters knew that the native Scots pine would grow at Culbin, but they were looking to increase yields by trialling introduced species too.
Try taking a walk through the species trials area between junctions 36 and 42.
Scots Pine was found to be most suited to the general conditions here, with Corsican pine the best for dunes. For more information on today's forest, see managing Culbin's forest.
To plant or not to plant: what would you do today?
If faced with a huge mobile dune system which blows sand across farmland and local villages, would you support the planting of a forest to ‘freeze’ the sand? Or would you just leave them as a natural wonder and accept the human consequences?
It’s a very difficult question and perhaps one that we’re happy not to have to answer! There are so very few open dunes left in Europe today and the dune habitat and its dependent ecosystem are now so scarce that they are heavily protected.
Even habitat management for wildlife (removing seedling trees from the Bar for example) is believed by some to have halted a natural evolutionary cycle. But without a planted forest the trees would not have been there to seed. So planting the Culbin dunes with trees may seem to have halted an amazing natural phenomenon, but in reality the sands are never truly stilled with the sea so close at hand.
Colonisation of the new forest
The planting has also allowed hundreds of different species of plants, fungi, lichens, invertebrates and other wildlife to colonise the new forest. These could never have got a foothold in a mobile dune system and many are indicative of much more ancient native pine forests.
Their speed of arrival at Culbin is thought in part due to ‘hitching a ride’ on the branch wood brought in from other forests to help stabilise the dunes before planting. Lichen spores can also carry for miles on the wind, sometimes even across the sea.
It is partly as a result of the presence of these important species that Culbin is recognised nationally and internationally as such a special place. There is no doubt that the planting changed the face of Culbin for some time to come, but nothing ever stays the same for ever in this constantly evolving coast and forest.
Why not try ‘growing your own Culbin’?
It’s fun to collect a pine cone in your pocket on a walk through a forest. These are often tightly closed when you find them but they will soon pop open in a warm room and release a large quantity of seeds (an essential red squirrel foodstuff!).
Why not put together your own soil mixtures in three pots: fine sand only, a mixture of sand and a little soil, and all soil, and see which seeds sprout first?