Scotland’s pine forests and woodlands are picture-perfect in a new book, writes Sandra Dick

Touching the sky or with roots gnarled and knotted on the ground, they tell a story of a once magical, massive forest which provided shelter for timid wildlife, materials for fuel and building, and peaceful sanctuary.

Over centuries, nearly all of the trees of the vast boreal forest which once shrouded huge areas of northern Scotland were lost, along with the lynx, bears, wild boar and wolves that made it their home.

And although just two per cent of Scotland’s ancient forest remain, as these stunning images show, the woodlands remain breathtakingly beautiful – a reminder of how precious they are, and how important it is to ensure that they are not only protected for generations to come but allowed to thrive and grow.

The images are among a selection which appear in a new, free ebook which has been produced by nature charity Scotland: The Big Picture, which aims to highlight the benefits that could come from allowing the land to once again dictate its own course, without the intervention of human hand.

Captured as the morning sun begins to rise, through mist or warmed by the deep orange glow of the setting sun, with furry and feathered residents going about their business or reflected on the mirror-like surface of a deep, still loch, the images bring forest life within touching distance – so clear and close you can almost smell the pine and hear the tap of a woodpecker.

For those who spent their tiny allocation of outdoor exercise during lockdown exploring the woods and forests close to home – or escaped to their shelter as the rules lifted – these stunning images are a reminder of why the soft moss underfoot, the rough bark and the glimpse of blue sky through the upper branches raised spirits and made everything a bit better.

Saving, reviving and regenerating them is crucial, says Mark Hamlin, executive director of Scotland: The Big Picture, and whose photographs appear in the book alongside the work of others from the charity and freelance photographers.

“This year a lot of people got out to their local woods and discovered places on their own doorsteps which they perhaps had not been to for a long time or at all,” he said. “However, we are the least wooded country in the whole of Europe and pinewoods and their inhabitants – some of which are quite fragile – are facing pressures and challenges.

“The more people that appreciate what they have close by, and the more people that care about the natural environment around them, the better chance these woodlands have to survive.”

The wild wood remnants of Scotland’s ancient pine forests still provide sanctuary to a wealth of species. On the ground thrive rare plants and insects, like twinflower and pine hoverfly. Above, the Scottish crossbill and crested tit flutter from branch to branch.

Red and roe deer shape the landscape, osprey, goshawk and golden eagle take up occupancy in the high canopy to raise a new generation.

“This is a dynamic landscape full of life,” Hamlin said. “While these pinewoods retain much of their magic, they remain diminished and fragmented, and fall well short of their true ecological potential. Scotland’s pinewoods need revitalising, but why bother?

“Pine forests sequester huge amounts of carbon and are net producers of oxygen. They provide shelter, building materials, fuel and stability for fragile soils,” he said. “They are sponges that regulate the flow of water into rivers. These are all things that matter to society – things we take for granted, things that keep our own house in order.”

There is more: “On warm summer days, wafts of pine-scented molecules are released with each step trodden over resin-coated needles. This intoxicating aroma is just one of the many joys of spending quiet time among the pines,” Hamlin added.

“If you sit a while, with your back against a gnarled trunk, the often-shy inhabitants of the forest begin to reveal themselves. The excited trilling of a crested tit, the scampering of claws as a red squirrel scales a nearby tree, or a glimpse of a roe deer moving silently in the shadows.”

For the lucky ones, there might be a glimpse of a pine marten or capercaillie. The very lucky might see a flash of Scottish wildcat fur.

“While it’s important to learn from historical mistreatment of the Great Wood, we need to look to the future,” he said.

“Across Scotland, ambitious, landscape-scale woodland restoration projects are revitalising and reconnecting our native pinewoods. These are projects on a huge scale, never before undertaken in our lifetime.

“The full results won’t be seen for generations but, already, thousands of hectares of deforested glens and hillsides are spawning young trees.”

Becoming involved is the ultimate altruistic act. “The quote is along the lines of ‘plant a tree under whose shade you will never sit’,” he added. “It is difficult for people to think of what they can do to support forests when we are not going to be around to see them mature. But just starting to get interested and campaigning or organising for changes in Government policy so we can see more woodland expansion is a start.

“It’s not just woodlands,” he cautioned. “We need hedgerows and wetlands.

“So much habitat has been diminished, and there’s so much that can be done.”

• The ebook, Pinelands, can be downloaded free of charge from