Berriedale on Hoy, Orkney

Berriedale is noted as the most northerly semi-natural woodland in Britain, but my memories of it from a visit in 1983, was that it was little more than a few birch and willow in a gully. Descriptions of it implied there was more to it and it now features on the 1:25000 O.S. map, so I felt I should give it another look.

Berriedale 1983, 2018

The walk in from Moness gives a chance to appreciate the rather bleak setting of heather moor and bog on the lower slopes of Ward Hill and The Witter, but even so there is the odd sapling of rowan and willow getting away.  At this time of year the birch stands out bright green against the dark heather, highlighting not just Berriedale itself but a smaller patch in the Burn of Segal. The two are fairly similar in structure and composition.

Distant views of Berriedale (1983,2018) and Burn of Segal, (2018)

The core in each case is a steep-sided gully which while not inaccessible to sheep would have allowed individual willow, birch etc to establish on the sides and grow out. When the grazing was reduced – the sheep have largely been removed but one or two were seen with scruffy fleeces – such trees could form the core of today’s woodland. At the upper edge there were a few saplings amongst the heather suggesting that the woods may still be expanding.


Twisted,  multistemmed tree in Burn of Segal; upper edge expansion

The twisted and multi-stemmed nature of many of the stems results I suspect from past grazing and wind-blasting rather than from active management. The resource was probably too small to be worth exploiting except in desperation although some of the stems growing in the bottom of Berriedale, benefitting from the extra shelter do have more-or-less straight stems.

Views below the canopy in Berriedale

Under the shade the ground flora is dominated by Luzula sylvatica, with more bracken and Vaccinium myrtillus than on the adjacent open moor. Blechnum spicant and Dryopteris cf dilatata were also frequent. Some old leaves looked a bit like D. aemula, but they may just have been crinkly dilatata. Small flushed areas contained the bulk of the species seen.

  Burn of Segal Berriedale
Luzula sylvatica A A
Vaccinium myrtillus F F
Calluna vulgaris O O
Pteridium aquilinum F O
Geum cf urbanum O O
Blechnum spicant F F
Dryopteris dilatata F F
Ranunculus acris R  
Viola riviniana R R
Teucrium scorodonia R  
Rubus cf saxatile R R
Angelica sylvestris O O
Succisa pratensis O O
Primula vulgaris O O
Lonicera periclymenum F F
Anthoxanthum odoratum   R
Carex spp. R  
Vicia sepium   O
Ficaria verna   O
Deschampsia cespitosa   R
Polypodium vulgare   R
Brachypodium sylvaticum   R

This is just what was seen on a brief fossick around, but it is a reasonably respectable woodland flora. Quite a few of the species were also seen along the road verges and in open moorland.

Flush vegetation in Berriedale and Burn of Segal


 Primroses amongst moorland; Luzula sylvatica along a road verge.

My one surprise, and disappointment, was coming across some young hazel with tree guards around them. I feel this is inappropriate and unnecessary for this particular woodland: the whole point of Berriedale is that it is the most northerly semi-natural wood and this action is eroding that value slightly – see postscript.

Planting in Berriedale

Berriedale’s other USP ‘most northerly’ is also under threat as there were many small patches of willow and in some cases birch developing. None are yet big enough in extent or height, to count as woodland. There were also two areas where it looked like old plantations had been felled and were being converted to native woodland, partly by regeneration, partly by planting. I would have preferred to see the hazels planted there.

18_5 HY2401 scrub development (2)

I wonder how far the scrub regeneration happening at present will go and whether if it becomes extensive in the valley bottoms this could ever become  seen as undesirable from the bird perspective? However this is not an issue that is likely to have to be faced for some decades I suspect.

Postscript on ‘that planting’

 Subsequent information received:

From the RSPB reserve management plan 2010-2015:

” The policy of non-intervention management of woodland in the Rackwick footpath valley

continued over the period, with the exception of planting 21 native hazel seedlings in 2005

of local (Berriedale) provenance in order to boost the existing population (two isolated


Long-term objectives for management include:

  1. Encourage the propagation of native hazel in liaison with the Orkney Native Tree Group to

enable the regeneration of the hazel.

Permissions given for 

  • Collection of hazel cuttings of approximately 18 inches long taken from two bushes in Berriedale, Hoy during spring and summer 2001.
  • Planting of up to 30 native hazel trees by members of the Orkney Woodland Group in Berriedale and Segal Burn within the Hoy SSSI

So, it appears to be a very limited degree of planting and of strictly local material; but I still feel it would have been better done elsewhere on the reserve.


One thought on “Berriedale on Hoy, Orkney

  1. My recollection from a visit in 1979 as a botany student is that there was a bit more to it then than just a few birch and willows in a gully but I doubt I have any photos from that time and we know memory can be deceptive


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