Dealing with disease in Galloway Forest Park

Glentrool before 3 Web

Glentrool Visitor Centre as it was before the impact of Phytophthora ramorum ... and (below) after sanitation felling.

Glentrool After web

Visitors to Forestry Commission Scotland’s key sites in Galloway Forest Park cannot help but have noticed the dramatic changes to the landscape, especially around their favourite visitor centres at Kirroughtree and Glentrool, and along the A712 Queen’s Way.

Significant amounts of larch tree felling – the only effective response to the disease Phytophthora ramorum - has changed the look and feel of these centres and the forests around them so much that it has shocked and angered many people – not the least of whom are the foresters themselves.

But according to Keith Muir, the Commission’s recreation and tourism manager for the area, this public reaction is understandable because people are emotionally attached to these forests and are only now seeing with their own eyes the true impact that the disease has had on the area.

Here, Keith explains more about the situation and what the Commission is doing to remedy it.

Q: Why have so many trees been cut down?
Essentially because so many trees have been infected and killed by the disease. They are not attractive to look at but more importantly, if the diseased trees are not felled and removed then the disease that they carry has a chance to move on to other areas and healthy trees.

Q: Felling all of the trees is a bit drastic and is pretty close to environmental vandalism.
I can appreciate people thinking this – it’s a normal reaction when we carry out any large scale felling. But our forests aren’t just for recreation - they are working, timber producing forests and every now and again we will fell large areas. It’s made even more noticeable by the fact that the Larch had let in lots of light to the recreation areas which meant there was also a great range of flowers and ferns to walk amongst. There were also many very large trees that we had let grow on past their commercial life span that made the walks we have even more impressive.

Q: Could the trees not have been left in place or removed more gradually?
Unfortunately, we really had no choice but to tackle this head on. Even though many trees have already died, there are still a great many in the infectious stages of the disease and the more quickly these are felled the better our chances of keeping other nearby forests healthier for longer. Leaving these trees in place can also create a public safety issue as branches and tree tops, over the course of a year or so, may weaken and break off.

Q: Do you realise how upset some people are about all of the trees being felled?
Absolutely. People find forests to be very calming and relaxing places and they get very emotionally attached to their favourite woods so we understand how upsetting this can be for some. And we foresters are as devastated as anyone about what we have had to do – many of us have put in years of work to make Galloway Forest Park an amazing resource for communities, wildlife and visitors and to see all of that care and effort wiped out by this disease is heart breaking.

Q: Will we be stopped from going into the woods?
Absolutely not. Galloway Forest Park remains open for business and visitors are as welcome as they have always been. We would urge everyone to observe safety signage when we are felling but most of all we would ask that before visiting any forest, anywhere, people make sure that they’ve cleaned their shoes, their bike and their four legged friend. Remember, dirt carried on footwear, wheels and animals can spread tree diseases from one place to another so we really want visitors to “Keep it clean”.

Q: What are you doing to improve the landscape at these sites?
We’ll do some tidy-up work initially – and while this might still look untidy for a time the wood and branches that we’ll leave will provide valuable habitats and nutrients for new trees and other plants. Larch has very light branches so the normal debris left after felling will rot away very quickly and the felled areas will soon start to green up as other vegetation comes through. It will take time for trees to reappear and we’ll take the opportunity to apply modern techniques and approaches to forestry to keep the forest as diverse as possible while still delivering all the timber that businesses and individuals need.

Q: What about replanting?
The choice of trees we replant with is going to be diverse. It will include species such as Scots pine, oak, birch, rowan, aspen and some other spruce species but we will be looking to give a longer term crop to any areas directly impacting on recreational areas. We usually leave felled sites for three years before replanting. In this time we’ll have the opportunity to come up with the right mix of species for each site with a view to ensuring that in years to come, the forests around the Visitor Centres will offer a range of incredible views and experiences at different times of the year.

Q: Is there any good news?
As foresters, we are used to seizing these moments and turning them to our advantage. We are already looking at the wider landscape and deciding what species we will be planting at each location and we’ve also taken the opportunity to realign a path route to make it far better for walkers and we will have that ready for the summer. We’ll also take the chance to think about retaining some of the views that have been opened up by the felling, so that visitors will eventually have an even more satisfying experience of the Forest Park.

Q: How long will it take to recover?
It will obviously take a long time for the forest to recover at these sites but in the short term, things will begin to look green again fairly quickly and within about a good ten years or so before we see young trees established at these sites. Remember, nature is resilient and forests are tough - they can bounce back from large-scale disturbance by wind, fire, insect attack or disease. Galloway Forest Park has a great future.

Q: What is going to happen with all damaged trails?
As visitors have already found, when trees and trails are so closely intertwined then felling like this inevitable means disruption. The felling teams will sometimes place cut logs across trails to prevent them from being damaged from the heavy machinery that is in use but sometimes there is no other way than to travel across or along the actual trail itself, which can result in damage. Normally we would fix any such damage straight away but with so much felling going on it will take us some time to get all the trails reopened and then back up to the high standard that visitors are accustomed to. We have a small team and limited resources so I’d ask people to bear with us.

BACKGROUND: Phytophthora ramorum is a disease that affects more than 150 plant species but which is especially destructive on Larch trees, which were common across Galloway. The disease arrived in the area 4 years ago and it spread very, very quickly. It was so virulent that once infected larch were dead within a year. 

More information about Phytophthora ramorum in Scotland.

Notes to editors

  1. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government's Environment and Forestry Directorate.
  2. Tha FCS pàirt de Bhuidheann-Stiùiridh Àrainneachd is Coilltearachd aig Riaghaltas na h-Alba; a' riaghladh nan 660,000 heactairean ann an Oighreachd na Coille Nàiseanta, a' dìon, a' cumail smachd air, agus a' leudachadh choilltean gus buannachdan a choileanadh dha coimhearsnachdan, dhan eaconamaidh agus ag obair an aghaidh atharrachadh sa ghnàth-shìde.
  3. Media enquiries to Paul Munro, Forestry Commission Scotland press office, 0300 067 6507 / 07785 527590 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.