Winds of Change

Langais Plantation

Autumn in the Outer Isles can be somewhat blustery and at times storm lashed. Each year we get our share of  violent storm force winds (Force 11 – winds over 64 mph) when it’s normally dinner by candle light and an early night with a hot water bottle.

The winds can be very destructive and, although the bane of every gardener’s, crofter’s’ and fisherman’s life, they helped save the island from being covered by the conifer plantations which blighted so much of Scotland. However, we did not escape entirely as there was some planting by the Forestry Commission and other land owners at the end of the last century. Many of the Commission’s plantations were experimental and slowly these have passed into community ownership. These are now being transformed into an educational and recreational resource for the benefit of local communities and visitors.

Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella
Wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella

Langass Community Woodland on North Uist is one of our regular haunts, and although primarily Lodgepole Pine and Sitka Spruce, it supports a diverse community of mosses, lichens and fungi. The trees were planted in 1969 but in 2005 and subsequent winters many of the large trees have been blown-over by the gales. Some of the fallen stands of timber have been partially cleared creating sunlight mossy glades where ferns and wood sorrel flourish. These new open areas and fallen timber have done much to increase the biodiversity and landscape value of the woodland.

The island landscape is sculpted by the wind, its the physical form changing over millennia and sometimes more dramatically in the lifetime of a storm. Such elemental forces may appear to be superficially destructive but they are also creative, forming new habitats and acting as one of the many agents of evolution and natural selection.

9 thoughts on “Winds of Change

  1. Wow. What a fantastic place to live, even with the gales!
    It’s great that life is returning to the old Forestry Commission plantations.
    Is there any natural woodland on Uist? I have never visited (sadly!), but on Shetland I remember there were not many trees.

    • The weather just makes life interesting.
      There are still a few fragments of natural woodland (confined to areas which are inaccessible to deer and sheep) which are mainly birch, dwarf willow, rowan and aspen. They are beautiful and greatly treasured.

  2. I can understand why any natural woodland you have is so very precious. Does wood sorrel demand very specific habitats? I have never come across it before. We are not used to seeing evolution and natural selection in progress because of the time scale, but can I play Devil’s Advocate and suggest that the ‘climate change’ as exacerbated by Man is still part of the same thing as modern man has evolved with the skills and knowledge and needs which bring this about….. ? We may not like all aspects of what we have evolved into, but would we choose to have lived in any other period (although we probably did, in any previous lives we might have had)? Just random spontaneous thoughts – sorry!

    • Better random spontaneous thought than none at all.
      The last paragraph was somewhat incoherent, what I was trying to say is that the wind can change a physical environment very quickly and consequently affect the composition of local populations of animals and plants. The ability to respond to change, particularly in unstable or rapidly changing environments, can be advantageous and animals and plants with these characteristics will be often be the survivors (or in evolutionary terms the fittest). So as the climate changes (in evolutionary terms it doesn’t matter why) and habitats are changed or destroyed, some animals and plants will become extinct. Those that survive will be the ones that can either rapidly adapt to change or by random chance are suited to the “new” environment. My money is on the cockroach. As for man, his ability to adapt may save his bacon. Fortunately evolution is neutral so he may not get what hes deserves!

      • I quite agree, and Man is presumptuous if he assumes it is he who should survive.

    • Sorry I forgot to add that Wood Sorrel is a widely distributed and common woodland plant. Leaves are edible.

      • Thanks – don’t think I have noticed it before. Is it as tiny as its unwelcome yellow cousin which enjoys rooting itself amongst the cobbles in my rose garden?

        • Same genus. It is a very pretty plant, but I suspect it would be too invasive for a woodland garden.

          • Thanks – and for the warning 😉

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