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Coille Ruigh na Cuileige: the champion pine

Practical results of our work

Coille Ruigh na Cuileige is a 50 hectare exclosure which was the first significant project we carried out with Forest Enterprise in Glen Affric. The fence was erected in 1990, and was completely on 14th September that year, when well-known botanist and media personality David Bellamy formally closed the last gate on the exclosure, to exclude grazing red deer.

Prior to the fence going up, Paul Blanchflower, a student at Edinburgh University, had carried out a study at Coille Ruigh na Cuileige which showed there was an estimated 100,000 Scots pine seedlings inside the area. The average age of these was 9.9 years, but the average height was just 8.5 cm., which showed how overgrazed they were. 95% of the seedlings had grazing damage (the other 5% were one year old seedlings and hence were too small to have been eaten by the deer), and some seedlings were up to 27 years old, but still only a few centimetres in height.

With this number of seedlings on the site, no planting was required, and since the fence was completed, no further management has been carried out to assist the return of the trees. The area has been left to allow natural regeneration to run its course, and it is the only exclosure on Forest Enterprise land in Glen Affric where natural regeneration is the sole method of forest recovery.

The photographs below, showing the growth of a single tree at Coille Ruigh over the years since then, clearly illustrate the effectiveness of tree regeneration in the absence of overgrazing by deer. See also the regeneration amidst dead pines page for further images of the natural regeneration at Coille Ruigh.

Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life founder and executive director, beside a Scots pine seedling in Coille Ruigh in 1992, two years after the fence was put up and deer were excluded from the area. Before the fence was erected, this seedling was kept at the height of the blaeberries beside it, with all vertical growth suppressed, due to the pressure of overgrazing.


By the summer of 1994, the seedling had more than doubled in height, and was looking much healthier, with a vigorous growth of needles.

By the summer of 1996, the seedling had become a young tree, and was putting on about 30 cm. of new growth on its leader shoot each year.


In the summer of 1998, the tree was about 3 metres in height, and it produced female flowers for the first time in May that year. Some of these were pollinated and during the course of the next two years they grew on to form fully developed cones.

In May of 2000 the cones from 1998 released their seeds, thereby contributing to the ongoing process of tree regeneration at the site, and by the summer of that year, when this photograph was taken, the tree had grown significantly larger.


By August of 2002, the tree was almost three times the height of Alan and continuing to grow well each year. The perimeter fence visible in the background has had chestnut paling added to it since the previous photograph was taken in 2000, in order to make it more visible to birds such as black grouse and thereby reduce the risk of them flying into the mesh - this problem has been documented as a cause of mortality amongst these birds in other pinewood remnants in Scotland.

The tree in August 2004, after another 2 years of growth. Note how the bracken and other understorey vegetation has also grown because of the protection from overgrazing provided by the deer fence.

  Bigger scots pine, Alan, bracken

September 2006, and the bracken is changing colour at the end of summer. The tree is continuing to grow healthily and is bearing cones regularly each year now.

Even bigger scots pine, Alan, bracken

Early September 2008, and the pine is now so large that this photograph had to be taken from further back, thereby giving a slightly different perspective to the area. Note the new growth at the top of the tree since the previous photograph was taken in 2006.

  Very big scots pine, Alan, bracken

By July 2010 the tree was now 7.13 metres (23.4 feet) tall. A few pine sawflies (Diprion pini) were observed on the tree in August, and a crested tit was seen as well, confirming that it is supporting a range of wildlife species.

Alan Watson Featherstone

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Published: 16 March 2004
Last updated: 08 October 2010

Trees for Life is an award winning conservation charity working to restore the Caledonian Forest
and all its species to a large contiguous area in the Highlands of Scotland.

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