UTILSING the traditional art of birch tapping could revive destroyed areas of ancient woodland in Scotland and be a rich source of revenue, according to enthusiasts.

Birch tapping is a lucrative industry with the potential to yield tens of thousands of litres of birch water and recover woodlands destroyed by deer, neglect, and modern forestry methods.

Rob and Gabrielle Clamp, the only commercial birch tappers in Scotland, and owners of Birken Tree, believe that birch tapping could create jobs post-pandemic and mend vital eco-systems.

The couple sell the sap which they harvest during the annual three-week window. It is celebrated for its purported health properties including improved immunities.

They argue that birch could become for Scotland what maple syrup is for Canada – both of which are extracted using similar methods.

Rob, a trained forester, told The Times that birch-tapping could be a valuable addition to wood production, but it would require conservations to stop seeing ancient woodland as sacred.

He said: “Some say you cannot cut a tree, but that is wrong, it does not harm the trees — it has been sustainable for thousands of years.”

“From what we see, you can tap the tree year on year. We are only taking one or two per cent of the sap,” Rob added.

READ MORE: Scotland's ancient woodlands 'under threat'

Birch sap rises and is sweet at the end of winter and the start of spring.

Tapping involves drilling a hole in the bark, adding a tap, and gathering sap – it can then be used as a tonic, for syrup, added to alcoholic beverages, or used in cosmetics.

The Clamps claim they have traced the practice back 5000 years, however critics claim it damages the trees.

A bushcraft instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, Gary Johnston, urged foragers and bushcrafters not to randomly drill into trees, as it could cause infection to spread provoking lasting damage.

He told The Times: “If you are doing it for a bit of fun to get some birch sap, prune the end of a branch instead.”

However, Johnston said that commercial birch tapping operations typically follow guidelines to minimise the risk.

“I fully endorse anything that is helping to increase the overall cover of woodland in the British Isles,” he added.

The couple argued that improved land management, deer control, and the creative re-imagining of abandoned woodland is vital.

Scotland’s 750,000 deer are considered a threat to native woodland due to overgrazing and browsing, yet culling or erecting deer fencing is controversial.

Birch is common in Scotland however the birch trees from ancient woodlands are highly prized.

The trees that the Clamps work with can be 250 to 300 years old and some species date back to the Ice Age.

Birch tapping was customary in Scotland centuries ago however through the Highland clearances and the birth of industry, woodland dwellers migrated to towns and the tradition was lost.

This story originally appeared in The National.

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