ForestHarvest :   non-timber forest products in Scotland
|HOME | SCOTTISH WOODLANDS | NTFP BENEFITS | HISTORICAL USE|
Past use of NTFPs in Scotland
When the first settlers came to Scotland during the Mesolithic era, about 10,000 years ago (after the last Ice Age), much of the country was already wooded. Hazel and birch had colonised large areas that had been laid bare by the ice sheets, Scots pine was already established in the Highlands, and other species were gaining a foothold.
As well as providing timber for dwellings, weapons and tools, these woodlands undoubtedly furnished the early Scots with vital sources of food, medicine and other raw materials. We know from archaeological evidence, for example, that they ate huge numbers of hazelnuts, and it is thought they may have deliberately sited their settlements according to the abundance of this tree. Many of the larger mammals that used to roam the Scottish woods, such as wild boar and aurochs (wild cattle), are now extinct, but these would doubtless have been valuable sources of protein and skins.
Historical NTFP use
During the more recent past, NTFPs continued to provide a wide range of useful products. Oak and birch bark, for example, were formerly gathered in large quantities for the tanning trade, and juniper berries were once exported to Holland for making gin.
NTFPs were also very important at the domestic level, particularly in poor rural areas. The rights to graze one's livestock in the woods, for example, where they fattened quickly on the autumn acorns, were carefully allocated by landowners. In some parts of Scotland, woods continued to provide significant supplies of food (e.g. game, nuts and berries), medicine (e.g. wild garlic), dyes (e.g. alder bark) and other essentials for rural dwellers until well into the 20th century.
A meagre record
Scotland's soils are generally acidic, and any organic matter buried in them rots quickly. Thus, apart from the odd artefact buried in a peat bog, we have little evidence to go on.
To understand what the earliest people may have been using, we therefore need to look elsewhere. By studying the way that prehistoric people used plants in Denmark (where the archaeological record is better-preserved), for example, and by observing the lives of more recent indigenous cultures, we can get a reasonable idea of how people may have been living in Scotland:
|BACK TO TOP|