Date of publicationMay 2009
Paperback ISBN-13978 185341 142 7 (paperback only)
Pages247 with 240 colour and black & white illustrations, 8 Tables and 6 Maps
Dimensions232 x 232 mm
From Peat Bog to Conifer Forest
An Oral History of Whitelee, its Community and Landscape
Centuries of exploitation reduced the tree-cover of Scotland to tiny fragments by 1900. However, during the twentieth century, as a result of large-scale planting of coniferous trees from North America, the woodland cover increased from 6% to a remarkable 17%. This afforestation was driven by the Forestry Commission at the bidding of governments which knew that home-grown timber was desperately needed after the two World Wars.
This book focuses on the associated social, agricultural and ecological changes to the Whitelee Plateau in Scotland, where Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire meet. Importantly, it contains an in-depth Oral History presenting the experiences of the community which lived and worked in the area, and of the conscientious officials whose job it was to buy the moorland and convert it to forest. Both local people and foresters describe how their lives changed when they became involved in preparing and planting Whitelee Forest and, while the tree monoculture grew, the whole landscape and its ecology changed dramatically. For a while the Forestry Commission focused on other priorities which resulted in Whitelee being virtually abandoned. Now, in the present century, the Commission has placed a heavier emphasis on conservation, amenity and recreation for members of the public from the major urban conurbations not far away, and space has been made within the Forest for wind turbines to generate electricity with the necessary infrastructure of roads, and a visitor centre.
This is an important case study of modern landscape change which will interest not only local people in the area concerned, but students and professional environmentalists. It also shows the importance of oral history in recording, warts and all, what happened to a bleak landscape and a dour farming existence.
Foreword by Professor Christopher Smout; A Landscape of Peat Bogs and Mosses; Environment and Ecology before the Forest; Natural Resources – Gulls, Game and Gentian; Farming the Whitelee Moors before the Forest; the Background to Forestry in Scotland; Why Whitelee? Buying the Land for the New Forest; Preparing the Land – Ploughing and Draining the Peat; Planting Millions of Trees; ‘This Great Curtain Came up from the Ground’; The Time Gap and Its Consequences; How the Forest Affected Local People; Ecological Changes after the Forest; the Present and the Future; Issues Important to People.
From Peat Bog to Conifer Forest was short-listed for the Saltire Society’s Scottish History Book of the Year award in 2009.
… This excellent account is a powerful testimony to the landscape, its people and its wildlife and to the resilience of all three in the face of profound change. Obtain this book, and organise a similar oral exploration of the past for your own cherished landscape. As the Whitelee experience has shown, it’s bound to be interesting, bound to be worth the effort and it’s sure to be a revelation …
Jonathan Spencer in British Wildlife