Stirling University researchers have unearthed remarkable instances of trees thriving at unprecedented elevations in the mountains of Scotland. The apex case was a rowan tree, discovered standing at 1,150m (3,773ft) on Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, a prominent Munro in West Affric.
Another remarkable find was a sitka spruce, non-native to Scotland, nestled at 1,125m (3,691ft) on Braeriach, the UK's third loftiest peak. These discoveries may hint at the potential for restoring high-altitude forests lost over millennia.
In total, the study logged 11 groundbreaking altitude records for British tree species.
Documenting Scotland's High Altitude Tree Pioneers The exploration team also found a goat willow in the isolated Highlands on Beinn Èibhinn and another sitka spruce on Ben Vorlich in the Argyll's Arrochar Alps.
Sarah Watts, a doctoral candidate in Natural Sciences at Stirling, compiled this data during her ascents of Munros, Scottish mountains with a height exceeding 914m (3,000ft).
In her statement, Watts conveyed, "In my journey, I have summited over 200 Munros, although the exact count is less important to me compared to the opportunity of documenting the distribution and altitudes of trees and mountainous flora.
"Discovering these trees flourishing at their extreme environmental threshold was fascinating. Some were found 200m above their previously known altitudes. This enlightens us on the possibility of restoring the woodland habitats in Britain's mountains that have been lost or degraded over centuries."
Aiding her in her scientific endeavor, several mountain climbers and Munro enthusiasts provided photographic evidence of trees near summits, using the hashtag #highmountaintrees on social media platforms.
Watts also initiated a Facebook group titled 'High Altitude Trees of Britain and Ireland' as a platform for members to share relevant information.
To authenticate the altitude of the trees, Watts utilized a portable altimeter.
She emphasized that due to overgrazing by livestock and deer, significant high-altitude habitats across the Scottish Highlands have disappeared. Restoring these habitats could establish biodiversity sanctuaries with numerous benefits including natural hazard mitigation, providing shelter, and reducing flood risks.