The Forest Design Plan for Cairnhead involves enlarging remaining fragments of mixed native woodland and linking them, following the courses of existing burns. As the richest soils lie at the bottom of the glen, the most diverse habitats will tend to be there, but they will also extend up the hillsides around the many watercourses that feed Dalwhat Water.
Forestry at Cairnhead
Much has changed over the years in the ways that Forestry Commission plantations are managed, and Cairnhead is no exception. The forest is now managed sustainably in line with the UK Woodland Assurance Standard – an international standard recognised by the Forest Stewardship Council. Dialogue with other agencies such as the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Nith District Salmon Fisheries Board, as well as consultation with the local community mean that there is now integrated management of forest areas. This takes account of a whole variety of needs, with wildlife in general and the encouragement of species diversity being given great importance. In an upland area close to the western flank of Cairnhead, for example, black grouse are known to be present; responding to this information, the plan for Cairnhead includes allowing an adjoining area of forest that is due to be felled quite soon to return to open moorland.
Tree harvesting is an ongoing process, carefully planned to balance timber production with other objectives. By breaking up large areas of similarly aged trees, far more potential for biodiversity is created as well as a sustainable future supply of timber. Different tree species, among them larch, Norway spruce, Scots pine and lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce, are replanted to reflect a variety of future uses. And the peripheries of wooded areas are ‘feathered’ – or made deliberately uneven – to provide the maximum area of forest edge and cover. This will benefit many species, but will particularly help black grouse, whose numbers have dwindled to worryingly low levels. There will be an increase in the areas within the forest left unwooded.
Cairnhead is already a beautiful and rewarding place for anyone interested in natural history to visit. In time, it will become even richer.