The Oak Woods of Taynish

*GUEST POST* The Ancient Oak Woods of Taynish © Jo Woolf 2014

The National Nature Reserve of Taynish lies on the west coast of Argyll. Here, in the region known as Knapdale, the long fingers of sea lochs penetrate deep into the coastline, gently washing the shores and softening the climate, allowing the area known as ‘Scotland’s rain forest’ to flourish.

Taynish is one of the last remnants of our ancient oak woodland: samples of pollen trapped in peat samples show that these woods have been thriving for about 7,000 years. The rainfall averages about 61 inches per year, with autumn and winter usually the wettest. Frost and snow are uncommon.

Just walking through this emerald-green world, beneath the lattice of branches draped with velvet moss, is a magical experience. Cool conditions and filtered sunlight allow shade-loving plants such as ferns to thrive. The trails lead you gently uphill so that you eventually emerge onto the bare hilltops, where rocky outcrops are half-hidden in the bracken; here you can relax and admire the glorious panorama of forests, hills and lochs spread out at your feet.

Mixed in with the oak trees are species such as birch, alder, hazel, holly and ash, and all of these provide habitat for flycatchers, song thrushes, wood warblers and redstarts. In spring, the woods are alive with birdsong. Around the forest fringes are gorse thickets, coastal grasslands, fen meadows and salt marsh; these are a haven for wild flowers and grasses such as marsh bedstraw, sharp-flowered rush, devil’s bit scabious and an unusual orchid – narrow-leaved helleborine.

With such extensive wetland habitats, it’s hardly surprising that the insect life of Taynish is so abundant and so varied. Some species are nationally scarce, including the marsh fritillary butterfly and the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth. Over the surface of Lochan Taynish, a freshwater loch, dragonflies and damselflies hover on gossamer wings, their bodies gleaming jewel-like in the sun.

Mosses and liverworts thrive in the humid atmosphere: Taynish is home to around 250 species, a quarter of Britain’s total! In addition, 300 types of flowering plants have been recorded here. If you’re a keen botanist, you may find yourself making very slow progress indeed… but keep an eye on the path ahead, because silent-footed roe deer frequent the woodland glades, and otters are often seen playing on the shore.

Scottish Natural Heritage describes Taynish as ‘a living monument’. Among the trees and wild flowers much is being done to protect native species while removing or containing non-native introductions such as sycamore, lime, and rhododendron. The SNH is working to reverse the effects of coppicing and the grazing of livestock, which stopped in the early 1970s; there are plans to bring back limited numbers of cattle to certain areas, in the hope that they will break up denser patches of bracken and encourage tree regeneration.

Taynish is lovely in all seasons but it’s especially beautiful in spring, with the trees bursting into fresh leaf and carpets of bluebells, primroses and wood anemones lighting up the woodland floor. You’ll love the wildlife, the landscape, the spectacular views… but perhaps most of all the timeless peace.

Taynish NNR is south of Tayvallich, just off the B8025. The 800-acre reserve occupies most of the Taynish peninsula, which is bordered on both sides by Loch Sween. There’s a free car park, plenty of information signs and waymarked trails. The reserve is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and forms part of the Taynish Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest and the Taynish and Knapdale Woods Special Area of Conservation. Taynish is one of the UK’s eight Biosphere Reserves. More information at: www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/taynish.

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Jo Woolf is a freelance writer and editor with a keen interest in the natural world. She is based in Scotland, and is happiest when she’s wandering around the ruins of an ancient castle or pottering along a pebbly shore. Jo writes an online magazine called The Hazel Tree, which focuses on history, wildlife, photography and lots more besides: www.the-hazel-tree.com.

Images copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf

 

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