Resilience noun [mass noun]
1 the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity
2 the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness
[Oxford English Dictionary 2012]

How resilient are the woodlands in Scotland? I like to think they are pretty tough, able to withstand the hardest of times and bounce back. The ancient woodlands of Scotland, such as Rassal Ash wood on the west coast, have endured centuries of change. But the tree health project I have recently been coordinating has started to make me think our trees are more vulnerable than they may first appear.


Rassal ash wood on the west coast. (c) Lorne Gill/SNH

Tree diseases seem to have increased considerably over the last 10 years. The one that hit the headlines late last year is ‘ash dieback’ a disease caused by Chalara fraxinea, a fungus that arrived into the UK in February 2012. This disease has already caused considerable damage to the ash trees of northern Europe and it’s likely to do the same in Scotland. There is no way to get rid of this disease.

Working with partners from the Scottish Tree Health Advisory Group, we have been coordinating a project to explore and explain the implications of ash dieback for Scotland. We have developed an exhibit that will be on display in the John Hope Gateway from May the 18th and will then travel to over 20 venues throughout Scotland. Included in the exhibit is a short and beautiful animation produced by local artists at Red Kite Animation.

I am particularly excited that the Real Life Science Studio in the John Hope Gateway will be hosting the Virtual Landscape Theatre for one week from 8th August. This interactive exhibit allows an audience to decide what actions should be taken to reduce the impact of ash dieback and to explore the implications of these choices. Intrigued? Come and find out more in August!

We have also produced a series of podcasts to examine why the trees of Scotland are been hit by so many diseases, what can be done about it and how everyone can get involved. Ali Murfitt from the Botanics and Plantlife International presents three stories which will be available soon.

Veteran ash tree. Crown copyright. Forestry Commission

Veteran ash tree
(c) Forestry Commission

Diseases are a real threat to our trees and it is likely we will loose a high proportion of our ash trees. Yet, over the course of this project I started to feel more positive about the future of Scottish woodlands. It would be easy to listen to the mass media and get very depressed about the state of our forests and trees. But woodlands are dynamic and have always changed; over such long periods of time we humans find it difficult to comprehend.

We need to build resilience in the woodlands of Scotland to ensure their longevity. By this I mean managing woodlands in a way that creates diversity in the species present, diversity in the age of the trees and diversity in structure. If we do this it may be possible to maintain the ever-changing, unique woodlands of Scotland.