Caledonian pinewoods

Native Caledonian pinewoods are a rare and unique habitat. An echo of the boreal forests that encircle the arctic, fragments of the original woods now occur at only 84 sites in Scotland, covering an area of about 18,000 hectares. Home to wildlife like capercaillie, crossbill and pine marten, the flora is just as spectacular.

As well as the Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), birches (Betula sp.), Rowan (Sorbus Sorbus aucuparia) and Juniper (Juniperus communis), ancient Caledonian pinewoods are home to some of Scotland’s rarest and most beautiful wildflowers. These include orchids such as Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens), pinewood wintergreens like One-flowered Wintergreen (Moneses uniflora) and one of our smallest and most delicate native flowers, Twinflower (Linnaea borealis). The richness and global significance of the Cairngorms pinewoods are one of the reasons the Cairngorms is identified as an Important Plant Area.

Over the last two decades, there has been welcome enthusiasm for revitalising Scotland’s Old Caledonian pinewoods. Management has focused on the regeneration of pine trees within the few remaining natural woods and creating ‘new native woodlands’, but with relatively little attention being paid to the wider plant community of these woods, especially the characteristic pinewood ground flora. Sadly many of these have suffered declines over the last century.

Building on the work of the Cairngorms Rare Plants Project, our new Cairngorms Important Plant Area Project - covering both arctic-alpine flora and Caledonian pinewood – aims to secure the future of these habitats.

Our goals:

  • Provide advice, and demonstrate plant conservation management techniques, to 80 land managers covering at least 65,000 hectares.
  • Develop a new network of volunteers to regularly monitor sites where rare and threatened plants grow, enabling any changes in management to be made.
  • Train mountain leaders, park rangers and volunteer ambassadors to develop their knowledge of mountain flora, environments and folklore so they in turn can enthuse visitors.
  • Provide a range of plant identification keys and self-led walk guides so people can discover the wild plants of the Cairngorms.

Under threat:

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

Forming wide-creeping mats on the woodland floor, Twinflower produces long, evergreen shoots that can cover several metres. If detached, fragments of shoot can root and form new patches. Our work has shown that woodland management – such as thinning and small-scale timber extraction - can be an important way of making this happen. Photo © Laurie Campbell.

Creeping Lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens)

Another creeping plant, this little orchid wends its way through moss and leaf litter, growing in shaded spots where there’s not too much competition from other vegetation. The flowers are sweetly scented in order to entice pollinating insects into the dense pine woods. Photo © Alastair Rae under Creative Commons Licence.

One-flowered Wintergreen (Moneses uniflora)

Perhaps the rarest of our pinewood flowers, this is certainly one of the most remarkable. Growing in very damp, shaded spots with little else, it requires a close association with mycorrhizal fungi in order to survive. The spreading roots produce little evergreen leaf rosettes, each of which can carry a single, nodding bloom in summer, which are often as large as the leaf rosette itself. Photo © Laurie Campbell.

How's it going?


Funding is secured from LEADER for a new Cairngorms Important Plant Area Project, which will help conserve arctic-alpine plants and those of the Caledonian pine forests.

Who are we working with?

LEADER (funder)

Cairngorms National Park Authority (funder)

Scottish Natural Heritage

Glenmoor Lodge

Mountain Training Association

Glen Tanar Estate