OLD WOOD WALK TO CLOSE TO PROTECT ANCIENT OAKS
9th March, 2020
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Dalkeith Country Park’s Old Wood is a truly special place; a unique conservation area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The oak trees that still grow here are ancient and twice as old as any of the buildings. Having taken advice from Scottish Natural Heritage, the woodlands team at Dalkeith Country Park has taken the decision to temporarily close the Old Wood Walk (on the purple walking route) to let the oak trees’ roots recover from a harsh winter of unprecedented rain and footfall.
If trees could talk…
If trees could talk, our oaks would have stories to tell dating back over a thousand years ago. It is thought that these trees are the last remnant of the ancient forest of the Lothians. King David I first declared the area a royal hunting forest in 1163 after which it became a managed woodland pasture in the 14th century. In the 17th century King Charles I would regularly come to the Old Wood to hunt deer and cows would be brought up from the Borders area to be ‘finished off’ before going to the markets.
The oak trees of the Old Wood are now in the final centuries of their lives. Hundreds of years ago, they grew to be strong Maiden Oaks, matured to be Veteran Oaks, and now they are shrinking down within themselves as they become Ancient Oaks. Just like people, they get smaller as they get older. As they age, parts of the tree die and the deadwood becomes a living habitat for rare lichens and invertebrates that only live in timber of this age. So rare is this type of woodland that there are five species of beetle resident here that are not found anywhere else in Scotland.
Protecting root systems
These unique trees are also very sensitive with a delicate root system. This makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This winter, Dalkeith has seen record breaking amounts of rainfall that have caused the soil around the trees to become saturated. In addition, the Old Wood is a popular place to walk, and the combination of walkers and rain has caused the soil around the trees to erode and compromise the trees’ ability to feed themselves.
In response to this, Dalkeith Country Park, taking specialist advice from Scottish National Heritage, has made the decision to close the path through the Old Wood till Easter. By then it is hoped that the path will have dried out enough to open this unique place again and, with a good summer, the path will remain open until late Autumn, when a decision will be taken as to when to close the path in winter to protect the trees.
Remko Plooij, Managing Director of Dalkeith County Park said:
“We are in a very privileged position at Dalkeith Country Park to be guardians of this estate including the unique SSSI Old Oakwood. It is sometimes necessary for us to close certain walking routes so the environment is protected for future generations to come. We are aware, however, how popular this area of the park is, so we will endeavor to keep sections open that are not in the Old Wood. There is nowhere else in Scotland like the Old Wood and to conserve it for the future is a job we’re proud to do. We’d like to thank our visitors for their understanding at this time and hope that they will be able to take this opportunity to explore our other beautiful walking routes in the meantime.”