Caledonian Forest

Caledonian Forest

The Caledonian Forest is the name of a type of woodland that once covered vast areas of Scotland. Today, however, only 1% of the original forest survives, in 35 isolated locations. The forests are home to a wide variety of wildlife, much of which is not found elsewhere in the British Isles.


The Caledonian Forests were formed at the end of the last ice age. Trees began to recolonise what is now the British Isles over a land bridge which is now beneath the English Channel. Forests of this type were found all over what is now the island of Great Britain for a short period, before the climate began to slowly warm and the pinewoods retreated north into the Scottish Highlands, the last remaining climatic region suitable for them in the British Isles (see Climate of Scotland).

The native pinewoods which formed this westernmost outpost of the boreal forest of Europe are estimated to have covered 15,000 square kilometres as a vast wilderness of Scots pine, birch, rowan, aspen, juniper, oak and a few other species. On the west coast, oak and birch predominated in a temperate rainforest ecosystem rich in ferns, mosses and lichens.

The forest takes its name from the Romans, who called Scotland "Caledonia", deriving from the early Celtic word '*caleto-' meaning 'hard, strong'. A name recorded as being used by a local tribe or tribal confederation of native Picts or Britons called the "Caledonii" who were first recorded in a panegyric by the Roman poet Eumenius in AD 297.

Today less than 1% of the original forest survives and the native pinewoods have been reduced to 35 isolated remnants.

Legend and folklore

In Arthurian lore and early literature, the forest is the site of one of King Arthur's Twelve Battles, according to the "Historia Brittonum", in which the battle is called Cat Coit Celidon. Scholars Rachel Bromwich and Marged Haycock suggest that the army of trees animated by sorcerers in the Old Welsh poem "Cad Goddeu" ("The Battle of the Trees") are intended to be the Caledonian Forest. [Green, Thomas (2007). "Concepts of Arthur", p. 64. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus. ISBN:978-0-7524-4461-1.]

In related Merlin literature, the figure of Myrddin Wyllt retreated to these woods in his madness after the battle of Arfderydd in the year 573. He fled from the alleged wrath of the king of Strathclyde Rhydderch Hael after the slaying of Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio. This is written in the two Merlinic poems in Middle Welsh "Yr Oinau" and "Yr Afallenau" in the Black Book of Carmarthen. The forest is also the retreat of another character named Lailoken from the "Vita Kentigerni", who also fled into the woods in a fit of madness and who may be the original model for Myrddin Wyllt.

In the Middle Welsh story "Culhwch ac Olwen", the main character Culhwch is the son of a king named Celyddon Wledig who may or may not be related to the forest in name. Another figure from the same story, Cyledyr Wyllt hints at a close relationship of the forest being a retreat for people who suffered from a special kind of madness or "Gwyllt" ("Geilt" in Irish). In line 994 to 996 of the story, it is briefly explained, "...a Chyledyr Wyllt y uab, a llad Nwython a oruc a diot y gallon, a chymhell yssu callon y dat, ac am hynny yd aeth Kyledyr yg gwyllt" ("...and his son Kyledyr the Wild. Gwynn killed Nwython and cut out his heart, and forced Kyledyr to eat his father's heart, and that is how Kyledyr went mad"). Though not named directly, the very name Kyledyr Wyllt is close to the two related notions of the forest of Celyddon being where people suffering madness or "Gwyllt" hide.


Being a unique ecosystem in the British Isles, the Caledonian Pinewoods are home to some of the country's rarest wildlife. It is considered to be one of the last remaining wildernesses in the British Isles.

Breeding bird species in Caledonian pine forests found breeding nowhere else in the British Isles:
*Scottish Crossbill
*Crested Tit
*Parrot Crossbill
*Common Goldeneye
*Wood Sandpiper
*Temminck's Stint
*Black-throated Diver
*Red-throated Diver
*Golden Eagle
*Slavonian Grebe

Breeding bird species in Caledonian pine forests rare elsewhere in the British Isles:
*Common Crossbill
*Red-breasted Merganser
*Black Grouse
*Long-eared Owl

Mammal species present in Caledonian pine forests:
*Pine Marten
*Red Deer
*Roe Deer
*Wild Cat
*Red Fox
*Mountain Hare
*Red Squirrel
*Feral goat

Mammal species extinct in Caledonian pine forests:
*European Beaver
*Wild Boar
*Gray Wolf
*Eurasian Lynx
*Brown Bear
*Tarpan (wild horse)


Much of remaining Caledonian pine forest is fully protected, and much of the forest now lies within the Cairngorms National Park. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Forestry Commission also own several areas of pinewood on their reserves.

Trees for Life has been involved in practical work to regenerate and restore the Caledonian Forest since 1989. Its long term aim is to return an area of 1,500 square kilometres to a condition of natural forest.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest to reintroduce lost animals back into Caledonian pine forests, and to this end corporations have been set up to persuade the government to let them be re-introduced. Animals with corporations backing them are:
*European Beaver []
*Grey Wolf []

A long running campaign to reintroduce European Beavers to Knapdale in Argyll was recently rejected by the Scottish Executive. [ [ More Delays ] ] However, the argument to reintroduce Eurasian Lynx and Grey Wolf is growing.

Recently, there has also been interest over Scottish landowners who are planning to build large game reserves on their land and release the species that are, at present, extinct. Paul Lister plans to release Eurasian Lynx, Brown Bear, Grey Wolf, Elk, Wild Boar and species already present in Scotland into a huge 200 square kilometre enclosure at his estate, Alladale, due for completion in 2009. A trial enclosure (5.5 km²) will be built this year and Elk, Wild Boar, Red Deer and Roe Deer will be released into it this year and next.

Remaining pinewoods

*Glenmore Forest Park
*Abernethy Forest
*Rothiemurchus Forest
*Achnashellach Forest
*Glen Affric
*Inshriach Forest
*Einig Wood


External links

* [ Trees for Life Site]
* [ Forestry Commission Site]
* [ Forestry Commission Pinewood Site]
* [ Cairngorms National Park Site]
* [ Highland Native Wildlife Park Site]
* [ RSPB Abernethy Forest Reserve Site]

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