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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Forestry

Jim Affleck

The 1947 Inventory of Woodland (Forestry Commission) recorded that the area of woodland felled in East Lothian stood at 1,012 hectares; this was 24.5% of the total woodland cover of the County. In comparison in 1995 the figure was 2%, close to what would be considered 'sustainable'. The felled area was wholly due to the timber requisitioned by the Ministry of Supply under The Control of Timber Order (1941) to maintain 'supplies and services essential to the life of the community'.

In the cause of the war effort, large areas such as Binning Wood and Brownrigg at Tyninghame; High Wood (Innerwick); Butterdean and Woodside (Gladsmuir); Colstoun and Saltoun Big Wood (Gifford) were clear felled. These fellings, together with those of many smaller woods not recorded, would change the woodlands of the country and their amenity for decades.

Detailed measurements of the timber at Binning Wood which were made by the Landowners' Co-operative Society Ltd of Edinburgh show that 89% of the volume was hardwood, mainly Oak and Beech and 11% softwood, predominantly Scots Pine. Two firms, Brownlie (Earlston) and Jones (Lambert) set up sawmills, felling and milling the timber on site. Some of the Beech was used to make the fuselages for Mosquito aircraft, the famous reconnaissance bomber of World War II.

Replanting of these areas was mainly undertaken with conifer, again mostly Scots Pine and also mixtures of conifer and broadleaf. There were two main reasons for this; firstly after the War, hardwood seedlings were in short supply as good seed years are 5-7 years apart and imported seed would be unlikely to be available from mainland Europe. Secondly, due to the extended period of restocking weed growth and re-growth of Rhododendron ponticum necessitated the use of faster-growing conifers to compete. The replanting of Binning Wood was not completed until 1960 and most replanting was delayed, probably due to the lack of available labour as well as materials. At this time a forestry worker could expect a weekly wage of £4 10/- (£4.50). The numbers of people employed in forestry on the estates were: Tyninghame, seven; Lennoxlove, seven; Gosford, six; Archerfield, five; Winton, four plus seasonal labour during busy periods. Whittingehame and the smaller estates and landowners would also have had their own dedicated forestry workers. By the end of the 1990s there were no directly employed 'foresters' on the estates: contractors carried out all establishment work and harvesting.

Pressmennan Lake and Wood

From 1945, the Forestry Commission built up a presence in East Lothian by acquiring areas at Pressmennan, Saltoun Big Wood, Butterdean and the seed orchard at Whittingehame. As government policies changed in the early 1980s these areas were all sold off. Since 1945 the woodland area of East Lothian increased from 4,140ha (6% of land cover) to 5,343ha (7.9%) though the method of sampling may have changed, and so would account for some of the difference.

By 2000, native woodland cover in East Lothian stood at 0.9% of total land area and was an important ecological habitat. These areas are limited to where agricultural intensification was impossible due to the steep topography. Areas lost to agriculture since the war, include parts of Woodside (Gladsmuir) and Big Wood (Ormiston Hall).

Management and protection to conserve these important and diverse woodlands was increasingly necessary to prevent any further decline. One such project in the mid 1990s at Pressmennan, Stenton where 'continuous cover' management was proposed resulted in objections. This was a well-reported case and attracted the attention of a group of 'eco warriers'; after much discussion and expert advice a suitable management plan was agreed.

The main area of woodland expansion occurred in the Lammermuirs during the 1961-1981 period. Substantial areas at Ferneylea, Crackingshaws and Stobshiel were planted under government incentive schemes including grant aid and tax benefits. These were planted almost wholly with Sitka Spruce - a North West American species, high yielding and suited to the local climate. Further expansion took place on the traditional estates and farms at Winton, Whittingehame, Lennoxlove etc. where benefits were sought to improve the agricultural land through shelter, and the sporting value by providing woodland cover.

These plantings were on lower ground, and species used were predominantly broadleaved, together with a small amount of Pine and Larch to form a typical East Lothian landscape. Broadleaves were also planted on disturbed or reclaimed land at Wallyford (Colliery), Mussleburgh around the ash lagoons and Carberry on the landfill site.

In 1985 the government published its broadleaved woodland policy, including increased grant incentives; this resulted in approximately 300ha of broadleaves being planted between then and 2000.

Sawmilling

From the end of the war, sawmilling was present but was estate-based, supplying the needs of the estate and neighbouring farms. Commercial sawmills became successful with two, Winton (on the old estate site) and Gosford (on the aerodrome) supplying mining timber until the pit closures in the 1980s; these mills employed five and 26 men respectively. Lennoxlove Estate sawmill expanded to employ twelve, and specialised in producing motorway-fencing material for sites alongside such as the A1 and the M23.

The estate-based sawmills became unviable and those mentioned above have closed. One remains at Tyninghame, privately run, supplying traditional markets. At the western end of the county there are two sawmills at Petersmuir and Windymains, which compete commercially in the UK markets. The current Windymains sawmill started in the mid 1980s; by 2000, it had a workforce of 30, supplying fencing and carcassing materials to locations from the Scottish Central Belt to the English Midlands. As with all commercial sawmills, the vast majority of the raw material (up to 90%) was sourced from outwith East Lothian.

Petersmuir started in the late 1950s sawing 99% hardwood; the mill was re-fitted in 1999, from when 100% softwood was sawn, but they used large diameter logs in long lengths, which are generally not desired by other mills. By using this raw material they supplied niche markets. The mill had 14 direct employees. An average weeklywage for a sawmill or forestry employee would be in the region of £220-£260+, dependant on the individual job.

Dutch Elm Disease

This disease, a fungus transmitted by bark-burrowing beetles, spread into the county in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Sanitation fellings in and around Edinburgh slowed the rate of loss with the city's Elm population, but it was impractical to do this in rural areas; nearly all of the county's Elms have since died.

Woodland Recreation and Public Access

At the beginning of the period, widespread general access to woodlands would have been rare, though it is noted by the Earl of Haddington that before being felled the public had free access to Binning Wood. Gradually, as the population and its mobility increased, recreational facilities of all kinds also increased. One of the first examples was at Yellowcraig, where land was gifted to the Council in 1944; a car park was installed in 1956 to provide for greater numbers and to prevent people parking on the beach. Then in 1976, the John Muir Country Park was created under agreement with Tyninghame Estate. This incorporated Hedderwick Plantations and formed an overall (while understated) facility, including woodland walks.

More recently Pressmennan (south side) and Butterdean Woods (owned by the Woodland Trust) and Binning Wood have been developed to provide woodland access.

A further development in the 1990s was the creation of new woodlands designed principally for access and recreation. These were either community owned or publicly owned with a high local community input; these were started at Pishwanton and Gullane, where a new millennium wood was planted.

Further reading & references

Acknowledgements

 

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