Historical resource use and ecological change in semi-natural woodland : western oakwoods in Argyll, Scotland
This thesis investigates the ecological history of western oakwoods in the Loch Awe area,Argyll, Scotland. By combining historical evidence for human use of woodland resources with palaeoecological evidence for past ecological change the influence of man on the current condition of biologically important semi-natural woods is assessed. A chronology of human activities relevant to the woodland ecology of the study area is assembled from estate papers and other documentary sources. Vegetation change during the last c. 1000 years is elucidated by pollen analysis of radioisotope dated sediments from small hollows located within three areas of western oakwood believed to be ancient. The results are related to current condition and the hypothesis that the species composition of the woods exhibited temporal stability in the recent past is tested. Mechanisms of change culminating in the modem species compositions of the woods are suggested by synthesizing independent findings from historical and palaeoecological approaches. The documentary record indicates management in the 18th and 19th centuries to supply oak bark and coppice wood for commercial purposes. In the 20th century woodland use has been relatively minor except as a grazing resource. In the period before 1700 AD the woods were used for wood for local domestic needs and to shelter livestock. The palaeoecological record indicates a lack of stability in species composition during the last millennium. Relatively diverse woods still containing natural features such as old-growth were transformed in the medieval period into disturbed open stands depleted in natural features. Declining productivity was locally alleviated by the introduction of new modes of exploitation around or prior to 1700 AD. The current condition of the woods, rather than being the direct result of an economic design, is the consequence of post-disturbance biotic processes following the abandonment of management in the late 19th century. The findings are related to the conservation of the wider western oakwood resource.