Plora Wood and Local Wildlife

Plora Wood is on the steep north-facing slope overlooking the A72, and runs alongside the Walkerburn – Traquair road. It is a recognised Ancient Woodland Site and is the largest area of semi-natural oak woodland in Peeblesshire. Plora Wood is one of only five oak woods over 30 acres in the Scottish Borders and represents over 50% of the total area of ancient native woodlands in the district of Tweeddale.

Woodland Description

The western part of the woodland, on the upper slopes, is determined by open woodland of mature sessile oak (planted mid-18th century) together with the occasional beech. Along the roadside at the bottom of the slope the planted species become more varied and include beech, horse chestnut, lime, turkey oak and sycamore of similar age to the sessile oak.

In the far southwest, at the top of the site, there are some very distinctive gnarled mature oaks, surrounded by birch woodland. The central section of the woodland contains an area felled in 1968 that has regenerated to form a semi-natural, semi-mature birch canopy. To the east of this is a block of pure conifer that was planted in 1972 and left un-thinned until 2002.

In the eastern half of the woodland, the lower slopes support a canopy mainly of mature sessile oak, sycamore and beech, but with occasional larch, spruce Douglas fir and birch.

The upper slopes mainly consist of mature beech woodland, planted in 1827, which casts a deep shade towards the centre of the wood. Situated east of this is an area (previously beech) that was felled and restocked with native broadleaves in 1991.

rimbachia arachnoideaAgainst the eastern boundary is a compartment planted with conifers in 1958, which, following thinning in 2002 is more open with a mixture of Norway spruce, sycamore, ash, birch and beech.
Dog's mercury
Throughout most of the wood there is a healthy woodland specialist ground flora, typified by dog's mercury and wood sorrel on the lower slopes. A nationally rare fungus, rimbachia arachnoidea, has been identified in the eastern part of the wood. Locally rare woodland specialist species, defined as ‘Notable Species’ include wood anemone, wood brome, toothwart, hairy woodrush and dog’s mercury.

Other Habitats

The slopes are generally free draining, but a number of wet flushes occur, which seasonally flow as small burns. A more substantial watercourse, the Armour Burn, bounds the upper western boundary of the wood and is in good condition with dappled shade from the surrounding woodland.

There are several dry stone dykes on the eastern and southern boundaries and a dry stone retaining dyke along the entire length of the road boundary to the north. These have value as refuge for woodland specialist flora.

Woodland Management History

The site’s recorded history dates back to 1143, when it formed part of a Royal grant of pasturage and pannage to the Abbey of Montrose. It is listed as part of the Ettrick Forest in the exchequer rolls of Scotland in 1456, 1501 and 1589 and is depicted on Blane’s Atlas of 1654 and those of Armstrong in 1775 and Thomson in 1832. It also appears on the earliest editions of the Ordnance Survey from 1887 onwards.

Evidence strongly indicates continuity of woodland cover for over 800 years and it is probable that management of the woodland has changed its character and structure at various times from high forest to coppiced woodland and possibly to scrub. The steep and unstable scree slopes may have discouraged conversion of the woodland to agricultural use, such as sheep grazing. Certainly, from the earliest foundation of the village of Walkerburn, Plora Wood was used by villagers for firewood collection.

There are no known archaeological features within the wood, although there are the remains of an old settlement, about 500m to the east. It is thought that the dry stone dykes date to about 1765.

Detailed evidence of past management is scarce. However, the Traquair estate records of 1765 include a list of trees planted including, ‘2,360 oaks, 800 elms, 100 ashes, 200 spruce fir and 10,600 Scots fir’. Planting of beech, non-native in Scotland, is mentioned in 1827. During the First World War, much of the wood was felled, apparently to supply local communities with firewood to replace low coal supplies. The last oak coppicing is believed to have occurred between 60 - 80 years ago with re-growth singled to convert it to high forest.

The site was notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1952 for its habitat value as an ancient woodland site with semi-natural characteristics, including the presence of several locally rare woodland specialist ground flora species. Since then the Nature Conservancy Council, now Scottish Natural Heritage, has engaged in regular discussions with the owners and the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) in an effort to influence the management of the woodland. The SSSI boundary was expanded to include some additional areas within the neighbouring FCS land in 1986.

Borders Forest Trust (BFT) has a management agreement with FCS covering the land above Plora Wood and including part of the SSSI. They are in continual liaison between FCS and WTS (Woodland Trust Scotland).

Three separate sections of the wood, each approximately 3.3 hectares were clear felled under the Forestry Commission Dedication Scheme in 1958, 1968 and 1972. The first two areas were replanted with mixtures of Norway and Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, European larch and Scots pine. The area felled in 1972 was replanted the following year with 1,000 oak, beech and Douglas fir. Unfortunately establishment was delayed due to severe browsing by deer. Nature Conservancy funded a proportion of the planting in 1972 as part of an effort to retain a high proportion of broadleaved species in the wood.

The Woodland Trust purchased the property from the Traquair Estate in January 1986. A small area was felled in 1988 and approximately 0.25ha of beech and sycamore was clear felled in 1990, both being replanted with mixed broadleaves in tree shelters.