Siol nan Gaidheal

(Reseeding our future)

Much has been said and written over the last few years on the growing realisation that forests and woodland hold the key to the very viability of our future ecology.

In this “post-industrial” age where the urban model of economic development is increasingly being called into question in technologically-advanced societies, forestry appears to hold a range of possibilities for a Scottish population which in significant numbers may well choose to leave the congestion and souless drudgery of the cities and return to the land.

That the issue should be at all raised in public debate is reflective of the fact that attitudes towards afforestation and its attendant economic, environmental and recreational benefits have changed radically during the course of the past couple of decades.

Today there is broad agreement that trees are not only a natural part of our landscapes but also, significantly, a national asset to be treasured for their own intrinsic worth. A big step indeed, away from the purely utilitarian agenda of generations of exploiters (both internal and external) of our indigenous forest base.

Economic considerations have always been uppermost in the minds of those who have lived in or near our forest and woodlands, this much is obvious and indeed understandable given the enormous resources at hand and their potential as vectors of material progress. Forests have been the larders, building yards, hunting grounds and indeed playgrounds of our people for centuries, and much tangible advancement has been derived from them culturally. The time, however, has come to recognise that gain, no matter how crucial in securing our progression from hunters to herdsmen and thence to mill workers, steelmen and computer operators, has unequivocally been accompanied by loss. The loss of nothing less than the living, breathing powerhouse of our native ecology and perhaps less obvious the loss of a resonant yet subsumed facet of our collective conciousness as a national community linked-umbilically-to a land once truly green.

Despite its apparent natural character, the land of Scotland in vast swathes of its northern and southern reaches, is little more than a wet and windswept man-made wilderness bereft of the indigenous arboreal cover which notwithstanding its subsequent destruction played a defining role in the shaping of the country’s destiny.

Today the sheep and deer-infested hills and glens of much of Scotland stand as a testimony to the last stages of a dynamic of economic rationalisation brought to bear most forcibly on the hitherto inextricably linked polarities of the land, the people and the culture of Gaelic Scotland, that notionally “residual” heartland of historical Scottishness from whence our meaningful, spiritual and ecological regeneration must surely spring forth.

The regeneration of Scotland’s ecology must come with a reappraisal of what forestry and the use of our trees for economic advancement of communities both local and national can and cannot do. This reappraisal will inevitably occur within the debate on land reform which is self-evidently overdue and which a fully sovereign Scotland will not fail to move towards a full reappropriation along indigenous community lines.

Parallel experiences in similar areas of Norway and other countries and the ongoing study of multifunctionality and biodiversity in forest communities (including the reinstatement of temporary extinct fauna and flora) will add significant weight to the gathering momentum of change in favour of a green, tree-covered and naturally diverse environment in which the livelihood of indigenous communities is not seen in the purely mercantile terms of profit and return on investment but in the wholly apposite terms of self-sufficiency, replenishment and sustainability. Against the nightmare of the sterile and culturally imploding global village, acting locally is the spiritual, political and economic responsibility of indigenous communities who will change things globally.

The first seeds have been planted.

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