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UnderStories - Storying woodland use, management and expansion in the Cairngorms National Park


What is the story with woodlands in the Cairngorms National Park? Or should we say, what are the stories, as there are many threads of stories of actual, former or speculative woodlands weaving in and out that make this area what it is, both on the ground and in our minds and imaginations.

There is growing recognition in Scotland that resilient future landscapes will feature trees but that a nuanced approach is needed to get the ‘the right tree in the right place’. This moves us beyond any simple notions of being pro-woodland or anti-woodland to acknowledge that much depends on the specific biophysical and cultural geographies and histories of an area.

But what is ‘the right tree in the right place’ to you?

What is your experience and knowledge of the area that help to illustrate this?

How do they relate to those of others?

How is the story of future CNP land use woven from this collection of threads?

Image: Title page from UnderStory digital storymap

To address this, we have initiated Understory - a storymap of past|present|future woodland in the CNP – as a creative intervention to explore how different stories of the area’s current, former and speculative treescapes might be highlighted, made tangible, curated and brought into ongoing conversation with each other.

This involves three crucial elements:

1.   Creating a ‘live’ ongoing archive of CNP woodland-related stories, experiences, knowledge, and ways of knowing as a storymap

2.   Experimenting with ways of enabling the storymap to ‘go live’ (e.g. inviting the contribution of– and response to - stories from those who use, manage or otherwise value the land; specific workshops or events, stand-alone or interrelated)

3.   Working with those who have a stake in the land to consider how engagement with an ongoing storying of the land in such ways might shape how the story goes into the future – collaboratively reflect on how stories might be choreographed to add nuance and depth to debates and practices that make and remake the CNP landscape.

These stories might address aspects including but not limited to:

·  traces of past treescapes (e.g. placenames, vestigial landscape traces from stumps to aerial photos)

·  why particular trees are where they are - and where they are not

·  where particular trees could and should be - and where they could not and should not be

·  related landscape experiences, practices and meanings

Image: The UnderStory map

There are already digital mapping tools that primarily contain information about soil, climate and biodiversity of woodlands but miss out important human and social factors. The storymap aims to fill in this gap and provide place based information on different knowledges, experiences, visions and feelings about woodland. This additional information will be useful in creating a dialogue to work through where particular kinds of woodland and management are appropriate (and not) and why.

If you are interested to contribute a story or find out more about the project, please contact: or and tel:01224 395315

This is a project from the James Hutton Institute (JHI) aiming to identify and explore human dimensions of woodland expansion within the Cairngorms National Park. It is funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural Strategic Research Programme.

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.