Perth Museum and Art Gallery

Working in the Perth Museum and Art Gallery we met the curators of the various sections and began to explore what could be found related to the forests significant biodiversity in the entomology and botany collections. We also worked our way through various text based archives and spent time with the photography and painting sculpture curators to discover what could be learned about the forest, its owners or the working lives of everyday people at that time. The most notable finds were copies of older texts that would spur further reading once we settled in at Forest Research six months later. We would also learn of the impact of the proximate Rannoch School, and the former schoolboys who headed up curatorial sections at the National Museum in Edinburgh.

We were also invited to create a work for the Lobby of the Museum: titled ‘The Forest is Moving / Tha a’ Choille a’ Gluasad.’  The text is excerpted below an a pdf is available at the bottom of the page.

The Forest is Moving THA A’ CHOILLE A’ GLUASAD

Collins & Goto Studio Timothy M. Collins and Reiko Goto Collins
Translation by: Beathag Mhoireasdan
Video Editing by: Kate V. Robertson

Perth Museum and Art Gallery 78 George Street, Perth, PH1 5LB Scotland

An ecosystem is a community of living things (plants, insects and other animals) in relationship to non-living things like (sunlight, air, water and soil), that all interact to create a complex whole living system like the Black Wood. People can contribute to the health and well-being of an ecosystem, undermine an ecosystem or – destroy it.

THE FOREST IS MOVING

Thinking with the Black Wood.

We want to talk about the Black Wood of Rannoch, a forest rated for its old trees and exemplary biodiversity that is also an iconic cultural ecosystem a living thing that shapes culture as surely as culture shapes it. We want to consider the historic moment when the Black Wood was saved by science, and the need for renewed public interest as a result of that on-going success. Finally we will touch on the ideas that ‘the forests are on the move’ and what that might mean for people in Rannoch, Perthshire and Scotland.

Caledonian Forests are Cultural Ecosystems.

What is a cultural ecosystem? It is the idea that we are who we are in relationship to the places we know, the places we inhabit and the places we work in, visit or engage with. Places like the Black Wood inspire us fascinate us with new experience and expand the limits of what we know. The ancient forest of Scotland engages memories a sense of history, and imagination about who we are and what the future might hold. All of this is tied to the opportunity to experience the historic forest of Scotland.

The Black Wood is one of only 35 surviving remnants of the native pinewoods that once covered a good part of Scotland; there are trees in the Black Wood that are over three-hundred years old. Despite the fact that it is the largest most significant example of the Caledonian Forest in the southern highlands, it is a place that is largely unheard of and seldom visited by anyone outside the conservation science community. Amongst the scientists it is important because of the relationship between the trees, the ground flora and a range of lichens and fungi, insects, birds and mammals, which is quite astounding. It is the presence and interaction of all of these living things that make this place experientially rich and aesthetically memorable. The Black Wood swallows you like the sea, once properly immersed in it you will never forget it.

The Black Wood Saved by Science is in Need of Cultural Rediscovery.

It is the isolation and lack of access that delivered the Black Wood to the 20th Century. It is an exemplary native forest under Forestry Commission Scotland care and management for over fifty years. The heart of the intact/regenerating forest radiates from the south shore of Loch Rannoch with rings of experimental restoration, which have effectively doubled the footprint of the forest. It is a living laboratory a real time museum a record of humans working with the forest to deliver culturally important native forest ecology into the future. It barely survived the first half of the 20th century. The Forestry Commission purchased the core of the Black Wood in 1947, with additional adjacent land purchased in 1958. During the first twenty years of Forestry Commission ownership an additional 5000 trees were cut and plans were in place to harvest the rest until Gunnar Godwin joined the Forestry Commission, East Scotland Conservancy in 1973. Recognizing a lack of support for the historic Black Wood he worked with the Nature Conservancy Council to establish a long-term scientific conservation plan in 1975. There is a plaque beneath a tree at a high point in the forest, which commemorates his essential contribution. This is one of the most significant legacies of the Tay Forest District, a responsibility for the health and well being of that lovely forest.

The Caledonian Forest is understood and protected through science as an important remnant ecosystem. Culturally it is an idea that seems lost in time, with no public record, no artwork or stories that tell us of its import. How many of you can find your way to a great Caledonian pine wood? How many know the name and location of the historic Black Wood? Is the Caledonian forest depicted in the botanic gardens, or in the public parks and museums of the cities of Scotland? How is this historic forest represented (experienced, taught and appreciated) in culture or considered in your daily life? This is the limitation of a place managed by one discipline for one purpose, and largely ignored by cultural interests.

The Caledonian Forests are on the Move.

The current Forestry Commission management plans support another expansion of the Black Wood. By actively managing formerly replanted forests, and restoring native trees and understory to a recently harvested adjacent plantation the forest will move from the south-shore of Loch Rannoch to the base of the hill at Cross Craigs. Linking the core Black Wood to additional old trees along the Camghouran Burn on the western boundary. More importantly this begins to establish a pattern of native pine forest with potential to move up the valleys toward Glen Lyon. To the South the Meggernie Estate has an additional historic pinewood and its own publically funded native forest restoration programme, which is slowly moving north. In essence, the forest is moving through significant investment by Forest Enterprise with potential to reconnect the forest glens of Rannoch and Lyon. The Big Trees of the 22nd’ century could be a spectacular network of native forests established on public and private estates, with significant public interest. The ecological and cultural authenticity of the Caledonian Forest will only emerge if public interest and value has the same support as those that see the benefit of lumber.

What is the future of the Black Wood? Does it remain a forest laboratory, largely invisible at best difficult to find and experience? Does it become an open-air cathedral or museum where every child, woman and man can seek proper engagement with nature in Scotland? Or is there another model that is yet to be developed? What might it take to deliver a future Black Wood that takes more than a day to walk through, and repays time and attention with special experience and knowledge that fires the cultural imagination for generations to come?

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