Woodland of the Black Isle

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright January 2023, Julian Paren; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
Images also under a similar Creative Commons Licence.

Introduction to the Black Isle

The Black Isle lies in the East Highlands of Scotland. Compared to much of the Highland region the Black Isle is lower-lying and except for the Milbuie Ridge is dominated by farms and large estates with rich agricultural land. The Black Isle is mostly surrounded by the sea with its main north/south access on the A9 by bridges over the Moray and Cromarty Firths. There is also a summer ferry crossing the Cromarty Firth at Cromarty. The Black Isle has an area of around 300 square km and a population of 12,000.

Landscape of the Black Isle

The scenery of the Black Isle is dominated by three fs, farmland, firths and forest. In Scotland the word forest signifies a vast tract of countryside; this is usually moorland, sometimes bare, sometimes with relics of former woodland, but often planted to a monoculture for commercial use. Forest and Land Scotland has many holdings on the Black Isle which include one extensive area of commercial forest on the ridge of the Black Isle, which the standard OS map calls the Milbuie and Findon Forest - one name for over 35 square km of coniferous plantation. That apart, the Black Isle has numerous smaller woods, many privately owned with far less thought of an economic return from ownership, and these form a landscape patchwork partnered with the agricultural land. These woods are surprisingly diverse. There are woods dominated by beech, other woods dominated by oak, others dominated by birch, and of course woodland of firs, pines and spruces, as is common in Highland Scotland.

Woods and forest of The Black Isle

NH6356 : Wall and beech tree in Bellton Wood by Julian Paren
A number of fine trees are along the line of the wall. A path follows the wall as well. Last imaged in October 2022. The change in seasons is evident. NH6356 : Beech tree and wall in Bellton Wood
by Julian Paren

The Ordnance Survey name over 70 areas of woodland on the Black Isle. Other smaller woods have local names ignored by cartographers. Under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, all the woods are open for exploration, irrespective of whether footpaths are marked on maps. Some woods contain areas so dense that without animal tracks they would be impenetrable.

Forest and Land Scotland has five woods on the Black Isle to which they encourage visitors by providing a parking area and some information either on the ground or through their website. These are Munlochy, Clootie Well, Culbokie Wood, Monadh Mr, Ord Hill (North Kessock) and Learnie Red Rocks. The RSPB also manage The Fairy Glen at Rosemarkie. These Visitor Attractions feature in Guide Books or the websites of Visit Scotland, Highland Tourism and rental property owners. But the majority of woods are local woods enjoyed by local residents for relaxation and dog-walking. These are the gems of the Black Isle, and only if visitors stay long enough to live like a local will they become better known beyond the immediate area. Part of the pleasure of visiting our woods is that you will hardly see anybody, yet find so much to satisfy a natural curiosity.

A photographic compilation of Black Isle woodland

To celebrate the woodland diversity of the Black Isle I have selected mostly my own images to represent the predominant flavour of each Black Isle wood. Ninety-seven woods in total - but not yet all photographed from within. These are not close-up views of undergrowth - the mushrooms, fungi, heathers, mosses or wild flowers and grasses, nor macro studies of tree bark, leaves and fruit. They are general views - the backcloth enjoyed when studying the ecology that gives the impetus for seeing how woods differ from one another at every scale.

There is no timeline in the images. The chosen image for each wood has been selected to show the wood at its best. It is sad that the very moment a wood is at the apex of its interest, it will be at maturity, and then foresters thin or clear-fell the wood, or winter storms wreak havoc leading to leaning and up-rooted trees. Then there is a period of devastation before natural regrowth and intentional plantings start the cycle again. Many Black Isle woods have been harvested in the last ten years, and one looks back at past imagery nostalgically, and bemoans subsequent forestry operations. But that is the life of woodland.


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