Introduction

"The gnarly little trees were twisted as if cultivated by deranged bonsai gardeners...Thus the name krummholz, German for 'crooked wood' or perhaps 'elfin wood' - the zone where trees first managed to take advantage of the soilbuilding work of fellfields and alpine meadows. Treelimit."

(‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson)

These gnarled, twisted trees - and the rich diversity of other plants and animals associated with them - are not just a product of the tundra or the Alps. They once occurred on Scottish mountains as a natural zone between woodlands and hilltop heaths. But this montane scrub has almost disappeared from Scotland. In conservation terms, it is one of our most significant 'Cinderella' habitats.

In recent years, people have come to realise how much the natural vegetation of the Scottish uplands has been impoverished by human activities. In response, an encouraging start has been made to restoring some of the woodland that once covered the straths and glens and spread up the hillsides beyond. Whether for environmental ends or for commercial forestry, most of this work has been driven by the desire to grow tall, straight trees. It has usually stopped at the altitude above which foresters believe trees will not grow.

That, however, overlooks the special qualities of montane scrub as a natural fringe to the forest. This booklet is a celebration of this forgotten montane scrub habitat. It illustrates its value as a home or corridor for plants and wildlife; as shelter for domestic stock and forestry; as a valuable resource in its own right; and as an attractive part of Scotland's natural heritage.