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Forests of the Valleys

Trees have a big part to play in the Clyde and Avon landscape

Trees have a big part to play in the Clyde and Avon valleys landscape. Ancient, natural forest survives in pockets thanks to the steep gorges and other inaccessible locations, while managed woodlands have been a feature for centuries, and in medieval times, special hunting forests, like Hamilton High Parks, were reserved for the royalty. John Slezer’s 1693 depiction of a deer hunt in Hamilton shows a well planted landscape.

However, it is not until William Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland, which records woodlands in detail, that we get an accurate picture of what the landscape really looked like. For example, the landscape around Dalzell show on Roy’s map makes the divisions of the landscape very clear.

By the 18th century, gradual clearance of forest, along with enclosure and improvement, meant that the land was much less wooded, other than the steep gorges of rivers and streams, and the woods surrounding rich gentlemen’s houses. Further land management in the 19th century, during the heyday of many estates and orchards, have largely shaped the landscape we see today.

The natural fertility of the land allowed farming and horticulture to flourish, with an emphasis on grazing and fruit growing which continues to this day. In 1813, twenty seven ‘principal Clydesdale orchards’ are recorded, covering over one hundred and fifty acres, with around sixty orchards in total between Lanark and Hamilton. This number may have increased to reach almost 200 by the early 20th century, and 2017 survey has found that 134 orchards remain in South Lanarkshire.

But, it wasn’t just orchards which put the area on the map. Tree nurseries also played an important role, with substantial businesses catering to the trade. Tree planting was not confined to nurseries either, and there are large commercial plantations recorded as early as the 18th century.

Although located in East Lothian, this pre-1685 view of Yester House estate is evidence that the planting of trees and the enclosing of fields had begun in Scotland well before the end of the seventeenth century.

These estates and horticultural businesses declined significantly throughout the 20th century, with a lot of pasture ploughed up for crop cultivation. The creation of the Forestry Commission following the First World War encouraged coniferous planting, with grant aid for the replanting of broadleaf woodland with fast-growing conifers.

The 20th century also saw the decline and fragmentation of the landscaped estates, with man being subdivided into small holdings and the demolition of many country houses. However, this was accompanied by a growing popularity of market gardening and glass houses for tomato growing. This, in turn, gave way to the garden trade we see today, in the form of the many garden centres which line the Clyde Valley.

'Find out more in the Historical Development Study available to read embedded below, or under the 'Other Resources' section on the right.

Area Guide