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Old Man Storr’s Missing Woodland
William Stewart  ~  September 23, 2013  

Old Man Storr is an unique rock formation on the north-east coast of the Isle of Skye. It is one of the most visited spots on the Isle. The question is, what happened to its woodlands?

First, lets set the scene. This is a view of Old Man Stor (the 2 rocks, like standing stones, in the distance) as you approach it from Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye. You san see a similar view in this post of Loch Leathan. As you can see its quite an impressive site, even shrouded by low-lying clouds, mist, and from a distance of 5 or so kms, and this is what most people will see as they approach the area.

Then, you park by the side of the road in the Storr Woodlands parking area. As I look back on it, the “Development Service” should have rung some bells, as many of us will realise, “development” is a word to be seen with caution, particularly when there is planning involved!

Round the corner to enter into the Woodlands, and to climb the path to the Storr.

The sign reads "Storr Native Woodland Project". Well, that sounds ok I guess, but not quite sure what's going on here.

The sign reads “Storr Native Woodland Project”. Well, that sounds ok I guess, but not quite sure what’s going on here.

From here on out, its basically devastation. The woodlands have been clear felled, and it is such a bastardised job that there are pools of oil on the ground. This is the area that hundreds of tourists are traipsing through every day to visit Old Man Storr.

I was going to make some comments about, well I wish I could see the Old Man, but all these trees are in the way. I mean, you can just imagine (its quite a long walk), some kids climbing up the path, saying to Mum and Dad, “Where is this thingy-mi-jig rock Mum?”, “Are we there yet”?, etc… But somehow, making light of this seems inappropriate. I know forests are cut down, the wood we use comes from somewhere, but it just seems remarkably odd that you would clear-fell trees at a major tourist location, and leave muddy, oil-strewn paths for your visitors to walk on. Doesn’t it?

This view reminds me of a picture of Sebastio Selgado's "Salt Mines". Why there is one remaining tree here is a mystery.

This view reminds me of a picture of Sebastio Selgado’s “Salt Mines”. Why there is one remaining tree here is a mystery.

The view from the Storr Woodlands back towards Loch Leathan

The view from the Storr Woodlands back towards Loch Leathan

I mean, can you imagine clear-felling the forrest as you drive into Yosemite? Or perhaps, as you wander the pathways of Muir woods, you could cut down some of those pesky Coastal Redwoods?

At least I can see the Old Man clearly

At least I can see the Old Man clearly

But then, finally one gets to a “natural view”, past the remains of the woodlands, to see Old Man Storr, and take a photo for prosperity.

Really though, the question it raised in my mind was this. The Isle of Skye’s geography is dramatic, soaring hills, but it is largely denuded of trees. One tends to think of it, knowing no better, as its natural landscape; broad sweeping slopes of heather, grass lands, with a smattering of trees. Hmmm… perhaps there used to be a few more trees here, and the “natural” grass lands we are looking at were, not so long ago, native forest?

I read an article yesterday, saying that we don’t have a population problem. That the world’s human population is stabilising, with the expected number of children (under 21) to remain pretty much at today’s levels (2 billion) for the foreseeable future, and that the overall human population’s growth rate is starting to level out and stabilise (but still expecting to see 9 billion of us soon enough). When I was born, the entire human population of the planet was under 3 billion. I’m not *that* old, but in my lifetime, the number of kids now, is pretty much the same as the number of people alive when I first drew breath.

In our search for resources to satisfy both the large number of us, and our altruistic desires for everyone to have a better quality of life, the cost is what we take from the natural world to fulfil this. It is a complex question to be sure, but here at least, the question of where those resources come from, and at what cost, was exhibited in stark relief. We are running out of wilderness.

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