Kellas Oakwood

MFC Paper 07 AHA Scott 1975

The oakwood on the eastern lower slopes of the Hill of the Wangie (MR 15 54) is in the ownership of Mr. R.D. Christie of Kellas House, and has been in the Christie family since.

The wood, nearly 5 hectares in extent, climbs from the Elgin-Dallas road at 150m. ASL to just over 215m. on a regular slope of about 60%. The principal aspect is south—east, and this holds good for the upper slope. The middle slope is however, folded into three spurs with intervening re-entrants — becoming deeper eastwards — where there are appropriate subsidiary aspects, A short lowest "apron" is again even.

The upper edge of the wood changes abruptly to bracken, birchwood or pine plantation, and is still coincident with the boundary shown on the first edition OS map of 1872 and the second edition of 1906.

The oak is "predominantly sessile in character" (1) (Quercus petraea). Apart from a few birch (mainly Betula pubescens) and rowan, the wood is pure, single storied, more or less complete canopied, and  appears to be even aged, or nearly so. A number of rhododendron species have been  planted in the eastern half of the wood and are regenerating. A curious feature is that many of the rowan have begun to break up or have broken up in the last few years.

It will be apparent in the list given below that there is an abundance of rowan seedlings. Only in a narrow band above the road, particularly in dense blaeberry, have many reached shoulder height and many of these are nibbled by roe or hares so their future is uncertain. Only three seedlings of oak were seen though, on a number of windblown stumps there is a reasonably vigorous growth of coppice shoots. On one such stump, safely elevated above grazing animals, is the only birch regeneration within the wood. There are a few one year conifer seedlings and, on the western edge, a few small planted spruce much deer browsed.

Mr. Christie has always understood that the wood was felled in the 19th Century and the coppice shoots singled. Since his earliest  recollections are of trees not radically different from today's, he supposes that the felling would have been in the first rather than the second half of the century,

The earliest record traced is Grant, writing in 1798 (2) "The estate of Killes appertaining to the Earl of Fife, lies also on both sides of the river below the barony of Dollas, and borders with his Lordship's land of Pluscarden. There is a considerable extent of natural oakwood on the north bank of the river; it has been managed only as copse wood and is at present young".

The Rev. William Tulloch in the Second Statistical Account of 1842 (3) says "part of the hill of the Wangie, the property of Sir William G. Gordon Cumming is also covered with natural oak, and the rest of it he lately planted with fir and larch".

John Grigor, nurseryman in Forres, author of "Arboriculture" (4) and, presumably a reflection of local forestry practice in his day, has this to say about oak, its value and management. "One of the
finest oak forests in Scotland is that at Darnaway in Morayshire. Between the years 1830 and 1840 the sales of timber and bark ranged from £4000 to £5000 yearly. The oak timber usually sold at 2s to 5s per cubical foot, and bark varied from £6 to £9 per ton. The age of the timber ranged from thirty to eighty years; and, after paying every expense during the growth of the timber, the revenue of the forest per
acre was double that of the finest arable land in the country". He goes on to say (1881) "Since the late reduction of the duty on foreign timber, the cultivation of oak is reckoned much more profitable in many situations than that of heavy timber. Indeed, coppice has always been found most profitable in situations destitute of a cheap conveyance to the market; the carriage of bark being always small compared with the value of the commodity." Grigor's prescription for the correct management of coppice is meticulous — including the dressing of larger stools with an adze so
as to discharge water, and encourage low rooting. He also suggests planting larch between oak stools.

There are few stumps with growth rings distinct. The few available do not conflict with the view that the wood is over 180 years old. Growth on these has been extremely slow over the past half century. The
appearance of the wood is also consistent with shoots having been singled. Obvious coppice growth, several shoots on one stool, is confined to the upper slopes. Growth here must have been slower and singling may not have been appropriate when, presumably, the rest of the wood was treated. There is a little suspicion that the wood may have been thickened up with planting.

The presumption is therefore that Kellas oakwood is a semi-natural oakwood which, apart from a felling in the last years of the 18th Century, singling of coppice shoots, planting of rhododendron, the removal of sporadic windblow, and heavy grazing, has had very little management.

Birse and Dry (5) describe the area as fairly warm moist lowland and foothill with an accumulated growing season temperature in the range 1100-1375 day degrees Centigrade and a potential water deficit of 25-50mm, This classification appears elsewhere in Scotland in, for example, the Dee valley between Banchory and Ballater or covering the Border towns of Galashiels, Selkirk, Hawick and Jedburgh. It is not inconsistent with climax oakwood.

All soil profiles are well drained, coarse, sandy or sandy loams, increasingly stony with depth, extensively rooted to at least 45cm. and acid. The principal soil type in the wood is a brown earth showing
more or less clear signs of podsolisation. Humus iron podsols occur on the freely drained upper slopes and knolls, particularly the vaccinium dominated knoll on the western boundary. when fully developed the AE horizon is 20.30cm, thick and the Bh is up to 4cm, thick and compressed. Brown earths without any sign of podsolisation and without significant humus development in the surface horizons occur on the crest of the hill above the oakwood, in the deep eastern glen and patchily in the lower re—entrants and on the bottom "apron". Soil profiles have been described for each of the vegetation communites.

McVean (6) distinguishes two associations for upland birchwood to be used also for oakwood — vaccinium rich and herb rich. Both are present in the wood. By the simple test of presence or absence of
caccinia the first would occupy less than 20%, but the herbs do not include, for example, Endymion non-scriptum, while species such as Ranuppulus repens or Qryopteris dilatata are present only in the most easterly glen. It would appear therefore that some 75% should be regarded as vaccinium rich.

Within these associations five communities are recognised, each more or less dominated by a single species. The list below has been compiled on the basis described by McVean and Ratcliffe (7). The flora of the oak trunks is omitted. A number of sub—dominant mosses may be missing, as are all lichens.

The principal community is "Deschampsia flexuosa/Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus/Hylocomium splendens", This covers much of the upper slopes and the eastern and centre knolls. Bracken occurs frequently in the community and might well become dominant if the overwood was removed. Grass cover varies from a near complete sward to rather distant mounds. It is noteworthy that, on the steeper slopes, the ground under this community is distinctly stepped; whether by solifluction processes or by animals, is not known.

"Deschampsia flexuosa" grades into the "Holcus lanatua" community on receiving sites - re—entrant and apron. As expected it is associated with better soils and bigger oak. Herbs are present but inconspicuous probably because of grazing pressure.

Trientalis europea and Melampyrum pratense are present.

"Blechnum spicant" occupies a sub knoll between the western and centre knolls. The area covered is small but the community is interesting because the dominance of Blechnum is nearly complete, there is no more humus and in the centre of the patch there are clumps of Deschampsia cespitosa.

A "Calluna vulgaris" community is present but confined to a small area on the upper western knoll. A "Vaccinium myrtillus" community dominates the crest of the lower western knoll and two odd patches by the roadside. The reasons for these two heath communities have not been fully exposed. They may be a function of the distribution of fluvioglacial and soliflucted materials.

On the floor of the eastern glen associated with more moisture than elsewhere in the wood are species indicative of a higher nutrient status including: Ajuga reptans, Dryopteris borreri, Dryopteris dilatata, Lysimachia nemorum, Primula veris, Ranunculus repens, Rubus idaeus, Salix aurita and Sambucus nigra. The few oak in the glen are appropriately large and look indeed like parkland oak.

Ulex europaeus is confined to the very freely drained and birch covered cap above the eastern glen.

A number of birds, mammals, larger fungi and lichens have been observed in the wood and are listed below as a contribution to an eventual inventory-
Birds — Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Mammals - Stoat, hedgehog, roe, brown hare, rabbit
Lichens -Parmelia saxatilis (L) Ach, Evernia prunastri (L) Ach, Usnea subflorindana Stirt
Larger fungi - Armillarea mellea, Amanita citrina. Amanita muscaria, Bulgaria inguinans, Gantherellus oibarius, Clitocybe gigantea, Hydnum repandrum, Hypholoma fasoiculata, Laccaria amethystina, Lacarius deliciosus, Lacarius rufus, Licopodon (perlatum?), Piptoporus betulinus, Peziza aurantia, Trametes versicolor

Mr. Neil Cox; has kindly undertaken a preliminary survey of small mammal populations by live line trapping. He found, in early December, a very few animals in the wood itself but members of wood mouse and bank vole in the bracken above the wood.


Chart of species identified in Kellas Oakwood


  1. A. S. Gardiner ITE Merlewood Pers Comm 1975
  2. Grant 1798 A Survey of the Province of Moray
  3.  Rev. William Tulloch 1842 in Second Statistical Account
  4. John Grigor 1881. Arboriculture 2nd Edit
  5.  Birse E, L. Dry F. T. 1970 Assessment of Climatic Conditions in Scotland
  6.  McVean D. N. 1964 in The Vegetation of Scotland
  7. McVean D. N, and Ratcliffe D. A. 1962. Plant Communities of the Scottish Highlands. HMSO

Acknowledgements - with thanks — to Dr. R. Richter for help with the mosses, Mr. Sinclair Ross for help with the geology, to Mr. Kenneth Ross for the identity of the lichen, and centrally to Mr. Christie for
permission to work in his wood.

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