September 2021

Maps for researching Scottish Woodland History

Detail from James Whiteford's Plan of Holm (1806)
Detail from James Whiteford's Plan of Holm... in Kirkonnel, Dumfries-shire (1806).

Maps provide a wealth of information about woodland history. They can also provide clues about woodland archaeology, industry, management, military use, and changes in woodland cover over time.


This guide will explore how our maps can help you with woodland research from the earliest surviving maps of Scotland to the present day.

To use our map collections, you can search for digitised maps on our website, watch help videos, contact us or ask a question. You can also visit us by making an appointment to visit our Maps Reading Room in Edinburgh.

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What is 'woodland'?

‘Woodland’ can mean very different types of tree cover. It has been described in different ways, and represented in different ways by various map-makers. It is important to keep these two factors in mind when viewing maps of woodland.

The following terms can all be found to describe different types of woodland vegetation:

  • bushes - ‘meadow with bushes’, ‘pasture with bush’, ‘thorns and hollies’
  • coppice - ‘brushwood’, ‘coppiced’, ‘copsee’
  • low woodland - ‘brushwood’, ‘low brush’, ‘coppice’, ‘stumps’
  • open woodland - ‘pasture and wood’, ‘tree park’, ‘wood pasture’, ‘wood and bushes’
  • orchard / garden
  • woodland - ‘clump of firs’, ‘plantation’, ‘planting’, ‘natural wood’

Taken, with thanks, from Muller (2019).

Map-makers have often represented woodland in different ways too, as well as taken varying degrees of interest in it. For example, a woodland-type symbol on earlier maps by Ptolemy, Pont or Blaeu may just indicate a general presence of woodland. The Roy Military Survey was often interested in woodland cover from the perspective of attack and defence, often ignoring smaller shrubs and plantations, and due to some elements of the map being ‘sketched in’, the woodland shown by Roy may not always be an exact representation even of larger woods. In contrast, estate maps, at much larger scales, and with a very clear interest in measuring land and its resources, can be accurate down to the last tree. Ordnance Survey took a greater interest in recording different types of trees and shrubs, often with greater accuracy than previous maps, but their categorisation and symbolisation changed over time.

The following terms may also be useful in what follows to describe different types of woodland:

  • Ancient woodland is often assumed to have been present for at least 250 years, based on what is shown on the Roy Military Survey, and the first edition Ordnance Survey maps. Read NatureScot's guide to understanding the Scottish Ancient Woodland Inventory.
  • Caledonian forest is used to describe the original prehistoric woodland, prior to significant disturbance by people or during Roman times.
  • Native woodland describes woodland composed predominantly of trees and shrubs that are native in that locality.
  • Plantations are woodland created by planting, usually with a regular layout of trees, and often managed for timber production.

Ptolemy's map of Scotland, 2nd century

Extract of Cladius Ptolemy's Europae I showing Scotland
Detail from Ptolemy's Europae I plate (1584) showing Scotland and a large wooded area labelled Caledonian forest.

Pont's manuscript maps, 1580s-ca.1614.

Pont's map of Loch Glen Almond, Strathearn
Woodland around Tullybardine and Kincardine Castles in Perthshire, from Pont's map of Lower Glen Almond, Strathearn, Pont 21 (ca. 1583-1614).


Blaeu's maps, 1654

Extract from Blaeu's map showing an enclosed hunting forest in Fife
The enclosed hunting forest north of Falkland Palace in Fife, from Blaeu's Fifae Pars Orientalis (1654).

Roy Military Survey, 1747-1755.

Extract from Roy's map showing woods and parkland around Kenmore Castle, Perthshire
Formal woods and parkland around Kenmore Castle in Perthshire, with more scattered tree cover further east from the Roy Military Survey, 1747-52.

Estate and county mapping, 1750s-1850s

Early plantations around Barskeoch and Earlston, Kirkcudbrightshire, recorded by James Gregg (1769)
Early plantations around Barskeoch and Earlston, Kirkcudbrightshire, recorded by James Gregg (1769). As well as woodland, parkland and an orchard, a Gardener's Farm (top left) and Gardener's House (lower right) are also shown. These "Gardeners" would probably have had responsibility for managing the woodland.
Example of different types of woodland from Peter May's map, 1757
Broom, whins, firs, lime, and alders recorded by Peter May surveying Lovat Estates around Dounie Castle, near Beauly (1757), estates which were forfeited to the Crown at this time.
Example of birch woodland from John Home's map, 1774
Birch woods in Assynt, Sutherland, recorded by John Home (1774).
A map of Lovat Estate Woodlands
Lovat Estate Woodlands (1947) preceded the Dedicated Woodland Scheme.

County maps, 1750s-1850s

Extract from William Forrest's Map of Haddingtonshire
Woodland around Tyinghame in East Lothian, from William Forrest's County map of Haddingtonshire (1802).
Extract from Stobie's map showing Rannoch Woodland
Black Wood of Rannoch woodland in Perthshire, from James Stobie's County map of Perth and Clackmannanshire (1783)

Another extract from Stobie's map showing Rannoch Woodland
Taymouth is a managed landscape with a wood garden also in Perthshire, from James Stobie's County map of Perth and Clackmannanshire (1783).

Town plans and views, 17th century to the present day.

An engraving by Slezer showing the woodland surrounding Bothwell
Bothwell Castle surrounded by woodlands. Slezer's The Prospect of Bothwell Castle (1693).
Woodland around Glasgow Cathedral and Infirmary (1807)
Detail from Peter Fleming's Map of the City of Glasgow and suburbs (1807) showing woodland close to the Cathedral and Infirmary.

Travel, transport, and infrastructure maps, 1750s-1900s

A plan of Callendar Park
This plan of Callendar Park near Falkirk (1818) was produced to show the new route proposed for the Union Canal, but it is also an excellent depiction of woodland.

Ordnance Survey mapping, 1840s-present day

Find and compare Ordnance Survey maps:

The Side-by-side viewer showing two maps of Loch Ossian and surrounding woodland
From 1892 after his purchase of the Corrour Estate, Sir John Stirling-Maxwell planted hundreds of acres of conifers around Loch Ossian, Inverness-shire. The woodland in the 1890s (left) can be compared to the coverage in the 1920s (right).

OS town plans, 1850s-1890s

An extract of the woods around Jedburgh Abbey
The positions of individual free-standing trees around the Abbey were accurately surveyed on this OS 1:500 Town Plan of Jedburgh (1858).

OS 25-inch mapping, 1850s-present day

Two extracts from maps of Torosay from 1871 and 1897
The woodland by Torosay Castle in Mull expanded between these two editions of mapping, but because Ordnance Survey used different symbols between editions, and did not use the birchwood symbol (shown on the left) after 1888, they appear to change more in composition (tree species) than they probably did.
A page of the Book of Reference for the Parish of Torosay
A sample page from an OS Books of Reference (or Area Book) relating to Torosay Castle woodland.

OS Six-inch mapping, 1840s-present day

Examples of symbols used on OS six-inch maps
The Characteristic Sheet for the six-inch to the mile maps clearly distinguish between deciduous, mixed, and coniferous (fir) woodland. They also distinguish orchards, woodland in parks, and various types of “scrub” woodland, including furze and whins.

Ordnance Survey smaller-scale mapping

Botanical Survey of Scotland (1900-1905)

Examples of symbols used to show wood types
Example of the key on the North Perthshire's Botantical Survey of Scotland. This key also notes some tree species.
  • These maps were accompanied by descriptions published in the Scottish Geographical Magazine.
  • Edinburgh
    Smith, Robert "Botantical Survey of Scotland. I. Edinburgh District."Scottish Geographical Magazine 16.7 (1900): 385-416.
  • North Perthshire
    Smith, Robert "Botantical Survey of Scotland. II. North Perthshire District."Scottish Geographical Magazine 16.8 (1900): 441-467.
  • Fife and Forfar
    Smith, Robert "Botantical Survey of Scotland. III and IV. Forfar and Fife. "Scottish Geographical Magazine 21.2 (1905): 57-83.

Land Utilisation Survey, 1931-1935

Dunkeld and surrounding forests on Land Utilisation Survey, Sheet 56 (surveyed ca. 1931-1935).
Dunkeld and surrounding forests on Land Utilisation Survey, Sheet 56 (surveyed ca. 1931 -1935).
Section of a key for Land Utilisation Survey maps
Section of a key for Land Utilisation Survey maps

OS Air photo mosaics (1944-1950 )

Dalkeith County Park on Air Photo Mosaic, NT 36 NW (Midlothian).
Dalkeith Country Park on Air Photo Mosaic, NT 36 NW (Midlothian ). This photo was taken in 1946.

Map Collections that are not online

Downloadable datasets


This page has been put together with helpful advice and contributions from Paul Bishop, Archie McConnel and Thomas Muller.

Further Reading

The following resources are a combination of other places to look for information (including other National Library of Scotland collections) and resources about woodlands and woodland history in general.

Useful woodland history resources

The National Records of Scotland hold archives from the Forestry Commission including forest histories, 1841-1974 and a census of woodlands, 1914-1959, in addition to estate papers and other useful resources. More information can be found by searching their catalogue.

Some Estate papers may be held in local archives.

Traveller’s accounts can provide more information, but their usefulness varies depending on the author’s woodland knowledge. Some traveller’s accounts can be found online:

Native Woodlands Discussion Group include detailed, useful information on the ecology, management and history of native woodlands in Scotland.

Useful map reading

Fleet, C., Wilkes, M., Withers, C.W.J. (2011). Scotland: Mapping the Nation. (Edinburgh: Birlinn, in association with the National Library of Scotland).

Chapter 6 on The changing countryside looks at rural mapping including woodland.

Fleet, C., Wilkes, M., Withers, C.W.J. (2016). Scotland: Mapping the Islands. (Edinburgh: Birlinn, in association with the National Library of Scotland).

Chapters 6 and 7 on Improving and Exploiting include maps showing vegetation and woods in the Scottish islands.

Gibson R. (2007). The Scottish Countryside: Its Changing Face, 1700-2000. (Edinburgh: John Donald in association with the National Archives of Scotland).

Provides an excellent overview of rural estate mapping, including maps showing plantations, woodland, gardens and forestry.

Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (1993). The Land Cover of Scotland 1988 - Final Report. (Aberdeen: MLURI ).

Mackey, E.C., Shewry, M.C. & Tudor, G.J. (1998). Land Cover Change: Scotland from the 1940s to the 1980s. (Edinburgh: SNH, The Stationery Office).

Muller, T. (2019). 'Reconstructing long-term woodland cover changes and their environmental legacy using Scottish estate plans (c.1740-1835) and GIS'. Unpublished University of Glasgow PhD.

Muller, T. (2019). 'Using Scottish estate plans (c.1740-1835 ) to map woodland cover change over time'. Cairt 35 (July 2019), 8.

Oliver, R. (2013). Ordnance Survey maps: a concise guide for historians, 3rd ed. (London: Charles Close Society).

Smout, T.C. (2001). 'Woodland in the Maps of Pont' in The Nation Survey'd: essays on late sixteenth-century Scotland as depicted by Timothy Pont, ed. by I.C. Cunningham (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, in association with the National Library of Scotland), 77-92.

Stone, J.C. (2005). 'The cartographic signs and content of Blaeu's maps of Scotland'. Scottish Geographical Journal, 121(3), 289-296.

General woodland history

Anderson, M.L. (1967). A History of Scottish Forestry (2 vols, London & Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons).

Hopkins, J.J., & Kirby, K.J. (2007). Ecological change in British broadleaved woodland since 1947. Ibis, 149(s2): 29-40.

MacFarlane, Walter, & Mitchell, Arthur (1906). Geographical collections relating to Scotland. Made by Walter Macfarlane (Scottish History Society. Publications ; v. 51-53). Edinburgh.

Mason, W.L. (2007). Changes in the management of British forests between 1945 and 2000 and possible future trends. Ibis, 149(s2): 41-52.

Rackham, O. (2015). Woodlands. William Collins, London.

Scottish Government (2014). Scotland's Natural Forest Estate. Edinburgh, Scottish Government.

Smout, T.C. (ed.) (2003). People and woods in Scotland: a history. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

Smout, T. C., MacDonald, A. R., & Watson, F. (2005). A history of the native woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

Stewart, M. (2003). 'Using the Woods 1600-1850: The Community Resource', in People and Woods in Scotland: a history (ed. T.C. Smout). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 82-104.

Timperley, L., & Scottish Record Society (1976). A Directory of landownership in Scotland c1770 (Scottish Record Society (Series: ) ; new ser., 5). Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society.

Tipping, R. (1993). 'The History of the Scottish Forests revisited - Part 1 & 2', Reforesting Scotland, 8 & 9, 16-21, 18-21.

Tipping, R. (1994). 'The form and fate of Scotland's woodlands'. In: Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Vol. 124, pp. 1-54). National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

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