Woodland management in medieval Scotland

John M Gilbert (Author)

Managed woodland, coppice, timber, wood
Campsie Forest; Campsie; East Dunbartonshire; Scotland; UK; Darnaway Forest; Forres; Moray


This article will examine the evidence for woodland management in Scotland from the 12th to the 16th centuries and will try to draw some overall conclusions about that management and how effective it was. Although there are difficulties in using medieval documentary evidence in terms of its Latin and Scots vocabulary, it does show that woodland was being managed throughout this period by enclosing woods, excluding animals and allowing time for regrowth – in other words, by coppicing and possibly, in some instances, by coppicing on a formal rota. Pollarding, shredding and growing coppice with standards may also have taken place. Examples of woodland management will be looked at in more detail in Darnaway and Campsie Forests. Despite this management, there is no doubt that a shortage of timber did develop in Scotland in areas of heavy use, especially from the 14th century onwards. What appears to have happened was that the majority of users of the woods were the lord’s tenants and men. Their requirements were not for large timbers but for small trees and underwood. Consequently, in many places where underwood survived it was cut before it could grow into timber and, despite efforts in the 15th century by lords, parliament and the king, young wood continued to be cut at the expense of future supplies of timber.


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How to Cite
Gilbert, J. (2017). Woodland management in medieval Scotland. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 146, 215-252. https://doi.org/10.9750/PSAS.146.1210