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3 Feb 2021

Addressing climate change in the Inverewe shelterbelt

Written by Martin Hughes, Operations Manager, Inverewe and Corrieshalloch Gorge
A close-up photo of a man, wearing waterproof clothing, standing in woodland beside a small pine tree. He is smiling.
Martin with a young Scots pine in the background
Operations Manager Martin Hughes shares his concerns about the effects of climate change, and details plans for how he and his team are addressing the issues, to protect the garden for future generations.

Being new to Inverewe Garden, I’ve been on a steep learning curve! During my first few months I’ve both been excited by the complexities of the garden but also deeply concerned by the possible impact of climate change in future years.

Inverewe Garden is renowned for its breathtaking range of plants. This variety of plant material benefits strongly from the North Atlantic Drift, which keeps temperatures a few degrees warmer than they ought to be in this geographical location. However, Inverewe is also at the mercy of strong winds. These winds do bring the moisture levels needed to achieve good plant growth, but due to climate change the winds are becoming more severe and storm damage more frequent. Osgood Mackenzie had the foresight to plant Inverewe’s shelter belt over 150 years ago; however, this shelterbelt is now over-mature.

During the last major storm to hit Inverewe in 2015, starting overnight on 8 January, over 70 trees were lost throughout the shelterbelt and garden. The gaps that resulted in the shelterbelt canopy from these fallen trees allowed far greater levels of light to reach the forest floor. This was great news for natural tree regeneration, but unfortunately also good news for Rhododendron ponticum. This rhododendron grows quickly and subsequently snuffs out any new tree regeneration by blocking the sunlight.

Four people stand in a woodland clearing, around a mossy stump. Rhododendron bushes grow around them. The trees are mostly Scots pine, and the loch can be seen through the trees in the distance.
Members of the Inverewe team by an area of rhododendron

Each Wednesday during the winter, the Operations team and I are getting out of the office and removing the rhododendron that’s prospering under these gaps in the canopy, to try and protect the new tree regeneration. It’s a win-win on so many levels! The Ops team get some lovely daylight and fresh air during the winter, which is great for winter welfare. We also get to spend time with the garden team and understand more about their work, which will be really beneficial when our visitors return as we’ll be more informed about the actual workings of the garden.

This work will be further supported by Project Wipeout, which begins at Inverewe in the spring. This will then feed into a much larger shelterbelt management plan over the next 10 years. We’re also working tirelessly behind the scenes this winter on a composting system, which will allow us to start to increase soil depth across Inverewe, helping to protect the garden from future increases in precipitation levels.

We look forward to welcoming you back in 2021 once restrictions ease!

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