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Britain’s highest trees discovered in Scotland’s Munros by Stirling researcher

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Trees have been discovered growing at record-breaking heights in Scotland’s Munros, new research by the University of Stirling has found.

The highest was a rowan at 1,150m near the top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, a Munro in West Affric. A Sitka Spruce was also found at 1,125m on Braeriach, Britain’s third highest mountain. A Goat Willow was found at 984m on Beinn Eibhinn.

The discovery of these trees could mean that many hilltop woodlands lost over thousands of years might be restored.

Eleven new altitudinal records for tree species in Britain have been recorded and the research has been published in the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s British and Irish Botany journal.

Sitka spruce
A Sitka Spruce on Ben Vorlich
Credit: Sarah Watts

Sarah Watts, a PhD researcher in the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences, gathered this evidence by making her way up Munros, which are mountains in Scotland more than 914m tall. The scientist verified the altitude of the trees using a handheld altimeter.

She said: “I have now bagged more than 200 Munros, although I must admit I did lose count because I am more concerned with recording the distribution and altitudes of trees and other mountain plants.

“It was fascinating to find trees growing at the absolute limit of environmental tolerance for these species. Some were 200m above previously known altitudes.

“This shows us that there is potential for woodland restoration in Britain’s mountains after centuries of habitat loss and degradation.”

Sarah was assisted by dozens of Munro baggers and mountaineers who sent her photographs of trees growing near summits on social media using the hashtag #highmountaintrees.

She also set up a Facebook group High Altitude Trees of Britain and Ireland, where members can provide information.

Goat willow
A Goat Willow at 984m on Beinn Èibhinn
Credit: Sarah Watts

Sarah said that high-altitude habitats had largely been lost across the Scottish Highlands due to overgrazing of livestock and deer. She added that if restored, they could provide benefits for both wildlife and people including sheltering, natural hazard protection, and flood-risk reduction.

Feature image credit: Sarah Watts

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