Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild! Spring 2002
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The Story of the Forest
During a recent visit to Glen Affric on a rainy day, I was drawn to spend some time in a mossy area of forest on the north shore of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin. The lichens on the bare birch branches were vibrant and spectacular, full of all the moisture, and seemed to call me ...
In this green grove, the trees are growing on a steep, northeast-facing rocky promontory, which shelters them from the prevailing south-westerly winds, and also from direct sunlight for much of the year. As a result, the boulders and many of the tree trunks are festooned with mosses and liverworts, making this area a tiny pocket of temperate rainforest in the glen.
I stopped to look at several trees whose trunks were completely engulfed by a thick layer of moss for a metre above the ground, with scattered patches higher up. As I did so, I noticed that it was only the rowan trees which had so much moss on them, while the birches and Scots pines had comparatively little, although they were growing in the same microclimate.
As this observation sank in, I thought about some other wet areas in Glen Affric, and I realised that the moss-covered trees in them were also rowans. I hadn't made this connection before, but I knew immediately that there was something to learn from this simple observation - it is another part of the story which I've been learning to read, from the trees, from the plants and animals, and from the landscape, during the years I've been visiting Glen Affric.
Leaving the mossy trees behind, I climbed to the top of the rocky promontory above, and savoured the view out over the loch, and to the old trees in the mature forest on the other shore. I could also see the dam which had raised the level of the loch in the 1950s, and spontaneously, and for the first time, I had an impression in my mind of what this part of the glen must have been like before the dam was built. It seemed to me in that moment as though the land itself carried a memory of those times, and I had caught a fleeting glimpse of it Ç the whispered story of those bygone days.
As I looked around, I also thought about some of the special pines I know in the glen which have unusual shapes, and how I've often wondered what their life story is, what caused them to grow in the way they do. Like the mosses on the rowans, their's is part of the story of the forest, a story which I am still only beginning to read and learn. This story is contained within the very fabric of the forest and the landscape, and is there waiting to be encountered when anyone looks and listens in the right way.
I believe that there is much to be gained from understanding this story, and indeed that it is only by doing so that we will truly succeed in restoring a natural forest, in all its interconnectedness, diversity and wonder.
Alan Watson Featherstone
Spring... stirrings of new life
Our plans, carefully nurtured over the winter, are also moving towards expression, with the spring Conservation Holiday season upon us once again and planting projects about to be implemented. Last year at this time I wrote of a plan to plant 30,000 broadleaved trees in Glen Affric which we hoped would be funded by a German organisation, Prima Klima, who support new woodland projects to offset carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, the conditions of this funding were unacceptable to the Forestry Commission, on whose land the planting was to take place, and we had to turn down this offer.
Undaunted by this disappointment, we set about funding the project by different means and the generous response we have had from you all to our Broadleaved Planting appeal has resulted in us being able to start the planting this spring. All trees to be planted must be of Glen Affric origin and we have only been able to locate 4,000 of such provenance. We will gather seed this year and grow as many on as we can at our own nursery so that the project can be progressed over the next few years.
Meanwhile, Paul, Sally, Dan and myself have been visiting the nine fenced exclosures where planting is to take place, to draw up detailed planting plans. Whilst Paul and I were in the Athnamulloch exclosure, the site Trees for Life's first planting in 1991, we were contemplating the landscape when we became aware of a fox, about a hundred metres away, warily eyeing us up before loping off on his own business. As his thick, russet fur stood out so boldly against the winter-dull heather, we wondered how we could possibly have been unaware of his presence before he moved. We also made an exciting discovery on a bright green hummock beside a small stream. The colour attracted my attention and I wondered what the plant was that interlaced the moss. It was the common heath bedstraw which was soon eclipsed by the sight of some dark stains on the moss and, on closer examination, these proved to contain fish scales, little bones and a tiny piece of jaw with two sharp, hooked teeth. We suspect this was otter spraint, the droppings with which the animal marks its territory, and we brought a sample back for positive identification. As far as I am aware, evidence of otters has not previously been seen as far west as this in Glen Affric.
Mountain Woodland Restoration Project
As she writes below, Anne Matthews has been furthering our survey work for dwarf birch. We have redefined this as the Mountain Woodland Restoration Project, broadening the scope to include such species as juniper and dwarf willows and to encompass the natural progression of vegetation from lowland woodland to montane scrub. Following up on information from Anne's report, we made a visit to the Dundreggan Estate in Glen Moriston. This was another appropriately seasonal day, with snow flying horizontally on a strong north wind. A red deer stood pathetic and alone on the hill, head lowered and so immobile that for a while we wondered whether it had died standing up! Despite the fact that we are trying to exclude them from certain areas and would like to see the overall population reduced to aid woodland recovery, it is hard not to feel sorry for them at the end of winter, when extended periods of wet weather soak their fur and leave them vulnerable to death from exposure.
The first site visited was a broad wet flush between two mountain spurs. It lies at an elevation of approximately 440 metres and is dominated by deer grass (Trichophorum cespitosum), bog myrtle (Myrica gale), and ling (Calluna vulgaris). The area is interspersed with small ridges and occasional rock outcrops, on which a variety of dwarf shrubs were most abundant. These shrubs included dwarf birch (Betula nana), juniper (Juniperus communis) and the full range of berry species. If the area were protected from grazing, all the species are there to allow the development of a complete montane scrub vegetation community which would be unique in Scotland. Three Scots pine seedlings were also noted and, given the conditions, may well develop in a stunted form as part of this community. Such a scheme would also establish a natural progression of vegetation from the lower elevation woodland (for which the landowner has developed a proposal for a planting project) to montane scrub.
At the second site, at an elevation of approximately 500 metres, an extremely wet area of at least 60 hectares surrounds a small lochan and although dwarf birch is present, it is less abundant than at the first site. By contrast, the dwarf birch here is growing in the wettest locations and no occurrences were noted on drier knolls.
We are delighted that our proposals to erect a deer fence around 5 hectares at the first site, and several small stock fenced exclosures at the second site, have been accepted and we are now working out the details to put this plan into action.
New partnership with the Wildlands Project
In an exciting international link-up, Trees for Life has recently signed an 8 point Memorandum of Understanding with the US conservation organisation, The Wildlands Project (TWP). TWP is an innovative group in the forefront of the wilderness movement in the US, and it brings together conservation biologists and grass-roots environmental activists behind a far-reaching vision. They seek to accomplish on a continental scale in North America what we aim to do for our 600 square mile target area - ensure the survival of the complete range of wild and natural ecosystems, with their full complement of native species.
This agreement will enable us to share our expertise with each other, publish material about each other's work, and, where appropriate, to cooperate on fundraising initiatives. I've been in contact with TWP since it was begun over 10 years ago, and we're delighted that David Johns, who was one of its co-founders, is one of the main presenters at the Restore the Earth! conference which took place at Findhorn from March 30th to April 5th 2002. Here, David explains TWP's vision and work.
Alan Watson Featherstone
The Wildlands Project
Scotland and North America are a small ocean apart, but to many conservationists they are worlds different. North America has vast expanses of untrammelled wild lands and waters, while Scotland has been heavily exploited by people for a long time. North America is still home to grizzlies, wolves and several big cats, whereas Scotland killed its last bears and wolves centuries ago. Scotland is scarred by human domination from the Orkney and Shetland Islands to its southern border, while North America has great pristine unsettled areas.
There is some truth to these contrasts, but they also exaggerate, and in doing so, they miss many other important considerations. Both Scotland and North America have been wounded: by habitat loss and fragmentation, by logging, by fire suppression, by extirpation of native species and the invasion of exotic ones - the list goes on. Both regions have many sparsely settled areas and other areas of heavy population concentration. Scotland and North America are also both home to visionaries - people who can see a future in which the natural world is healthy and vibrant; a world in which human communities live not as conquerors but as one species amongst many, not taking everything for ourselves.
The Wildlands Project was founded 10 years ago based on such a vision. Scientists and activists came together to fashion a plan for healing the land - for restoring and reconnecting habitat on a large scale, for recovering extirpated species and removing exotics. Using the best science available, the Wildlands Project works from Panama to the Arctic to create a continental system of connected protected areas capable of sustaining all native species, including top predators. When ecosystems are fragmented into islands of natural habitat in a sea of human-modifed landscapes, species are lost and ecological processes begin to unravel. These losses, in turn, ripple outwards - other species are lost and ecosystems start to break down. The only solution is to create a protected areas network that is large enough, contains the right areas, and is connected to other such areas, so that fully-functioning ecosystems and natural flows can be reestablished and maintained.
The Wildlands Project has several efforts underway throughout North America to help achieve this. Along the spine of the continent, from the Sierra Madre mountains of Chihuahua and Sonora in Mexico, to the northern Rockies in Canada's Yukon Province, a number of Wildlands projects are in various stages of completion. A protected area network plan is completed and being implemented in the Sky Islands region of northern Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico. Others plans are under development in Colorado and Wyoming. The ambitious Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative will have several elements of its plan out soon, and in the interim has protected millions of hectares of land. Across the continent, in parts of New England and Canada's Maritime provinces, and in the Appalachians and Florida, plans are done or nearing completion, while marine reserves are also being planned.
These are long term efforts. Although we have no time to lose, we cannot repair the wounds of hundreds or even thousands of years overnight. Changes in laws, in ethics, in private lands stewardship and public lands management, in the way we look at and value nature - these all take time. Implementing a conservation plan on this scale is like putting a complex jigsaw puzzle together. There are many pieces - some need to be put in place before others, some are more difficult than others, and different NGOs (non-governmental organisations) will play a variety of roles.
Scotland is not a continent, it is part of a natural island. Nonetheless the goals are the same as we face in North America: increasing the size of protected areas; connecting them; recovering species previously driven into regional extinction; removing exotics; overcoming obstacles like roads and bad land management; and creating a new relationship with the land. Scotland will have some special challenges: as an island it will not be possible to rely on natural recolonisation in many cases; the fragments of wild forest are relatively small and it will take time to see the results of recovery.
The relationship between Trees for Life and The Wildlands Project signified by the recently adopted memorandum is not recent, but instead it is just the latest development in a long-established linkage.
For example, in late 1992 The Wildlands Project announced itself with a special issue of the Wild Earth journal, 75,000 copies of which were distributed in North America and abroad. In that first issue was an article by Alan Watson Featherstone, outlining Trees for Life's goals for restoring the Caledonian Forest.
In the time since then, we have shared ideas, plans and experiences, and Alan has another 6 page article in the current edition of Wild Earth. This summer we will join together at the Society for Conservation Biology meetings in Canterbury in England to present a symposium on global efforts at large-scale rewilding.
North Americans, Europeans, Africans and Asians will be talking about a shared vision - a vision for healing our legacy of a wounded planet and learning how to care for the wildness that gave us, and all other species, birth and sustenance.
Regionally-rooted experience, globally shared, is essential to the success of conservation. The obstacles we face are many, the inertia of the forces producing biological degradation tremendous, and the time short. Close cooperation allows us to learn from each others' successes and failures and to come to each others' support. It allows us to respond to global threats as well as local threats more effectively. And cooperation allows us to build the human relationships that must be part of the foundation of life-friendly societies.
For more information on The Wildlands Project, please visit their web site at: www.wild-earth.org
David Johns is a co-founder of the Wildlands Project, and was its first executive director and president. He continues to serve on its Executive Committee, and on the boards of The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and Wild Earth journal. He has sought to bring the best of science and advocacy to the challenges confronting conservation, and has worked on conservation efforts around the world. He also teaches politics and law in the School of Government at Portland State University in Oregon, USA.
Coille Ruigh Survey
We did it! Thanks to hundreds of volunteers we now have some good baseline data on the structure of naturally regenerating Scots pine woodland in the Coille Ruigh na Cuileige exclosure in Glen Affric.
This is the first area fenced by Trees for Life for natural regeneration in 1990, and we surveyed the 50 hectares protected by the fence. We set up ten, 10 metre wide, transects, running from north to south, of between 290 metres and 730 metres in length (according to the width of the exclosure).
The transects were set approximately 100 metres apart. Transect 1 being across the eastern-most side of the exclosure and transect 10 being the most westerly In this way we surveyed 10.56% of the area, which statistically speaking means the resulting data is representative of the whole 50 hectares.
Coille Ruigh is a complex mosaic of vegetation communities so it is a great success to be able to say the resulting data mirrors what is actually going on on the ground. I have processed thousands of figures and will compile a full report later, which will be open for anyone to see at the office. Here I am just summarising the results.
Basically we concentrated on species distribution and the height of all native regenerating seedlings and saplings. The resulting tables show pockets of birch, pockets of rowan mixed with Scots pine, and pockets of Scots pine. The exact species of birch was not recorded but was mainly downy birch with some silver birch and quite a few hybrids.
I had intended to draw up a map of species distribution but, so far, I haven't had time. Below is a pie chart compiled from the tables of species numbers, which shows the percentage composition of regenerating seedlings of native trees at Coille Ruigh (it does not include mature trees).
In total there were 9,728 regenerating seedlings and saplings, 58.6% (5,708) were Scots pine, 33.1% (3,221) were rowan, 6.8% (665) were birch and 1.2% (120) were eared willow. Juniper, at 0.14% (14), is reasonably well-represented, considering how much of the area is very wet. From these figures we can extrapolate and say that the stocking density is around 3,700 seedlings per hectare (37 per 10 metre square).
The rowan present is mainly found beneath mature Scots pine, which will probably shade it out, so I would expect the numbers of rowan to decrease over time. The percentage of birch is quite low, but this is probably due to the lack of suitable habitat. Species absent from the survey include aspen, of which there is none in the exclosure, and holly Ç neither of the two holly trees within the exclosure fell within a transect.
The data we collected on height distribution showed two interesting trends. The first of these is the height distribution of the seedlings: 86% of seedlings were under 0.5 metres, 11.4% were between 0.5 and 1 metres high and 0.3% were over 1.5 metres. A survey I did of Scots pine in 1996 gave an average height then of 21.5 cm. so from the above data we can assume growth is very slow.
The second trend highlighted is that overall the average number of species per quadrat decreases westward. This would be due to any number of factors including the difference in terrain, as the western area is higher with large rock outcrops, whereas in the east the area, though boggy in places, is more sheltered with rocky knolls which support regenerating species. The western end of the exclosure can be subject to high winds, driving rain and snow.
Whenever I write reports like this I think it only tells half the storyÇ the rain-sodden field notes and the squashed midges on the paper tell a more human tale. So thanks everyone for all your willing help Ç mostly in the rain, sometimes with midges and, for the unlucky ones, both rain and midges. What a team!
I often think ecologists are the equivalent of present day 'big white hunters', armed with a clipboard and pencil, and the ability to communicate. The biggest hazards of the job are the midge, the clegg and the tick!
Where do we go from here? Well I would like to do a similar survey over a comparable area where we have planted native species, so that in five years time we could compare results and see how the woodlands mature and how similar or dissimilar they become.
Pages about Coille Ruigh on this site
- First dwarf birch planted out in Glen Affric, May 2011
- 20 years of regeneration at Coille Ruigh Caledonia Wild! Autumn 2010
- 20th anniversary of the Coille Ruigh fence in Glen Affric
- 20 years of forest fence project provides lessons for restoring Scotland's wild landscapes Press release for the Coille Ruigh 20th anniversary on 14th September 2010
- Coille Ruigh na Cuileige 1990 - 2008 Caledonia Wild! Winter 2008-9
- Coille Ruigh na Cuileige Caledonia Wild! Winter 2007-8
- Coille Ruigh Survey Caledonia Wild! Spring 2002
- Botanical survey of Coille Ruigh na Cuileige Caledonia Wild! Summer 2001
- Plant species list for Coille Ruigh in Glen Affric
- Ten years of regeneration at Coille Ruigh Caledonia Wild! Summer 2000
- Natural regeneration of Pinus sylvestris - results of a research project in 2008
- The Effects of Fencing on Natural Regeneration of Native Pinewood after Six Years in Coille Ruigh na Cuileige, Glen Affric
- A Survey of the Regeneration within a Native Pinewood, Coille Ruigh na Cuileige, with Particular Reference to Ground Vegetation
- Composition of Regenerating Woodland in Coille Ruigh, Autumn 2001
- Progress of the Champion Pine at Coille Ruigh
- Regrowth amidst snags at Coille Ruigh
Going B. nanas !
Last summer Emily Morgan and I spent 8 weeks braving the mist, rain and midges in our search for special plants nestling among the heather. Yup, this was the TFL Mountain Woodland Survey 2001. We were in Glen Moriston covering high areas of moorland, above the present plantation/ woodland, searching for montane scrub species. In a natural landscape these would form a low shrub layer above the treeline, providing valuable shelter and food for animals, birds and bugs. At present, this part of the ecosystem is almost completely absent in Scotland due to heavy grazing pressure, but the plants are hanging on in there, albeit in low numbers and with misshapen growth.
We were looking at the occurrence of montane species, but also recording measurements of dwarf birch (Betula nana) and the communities in which we found it.
Imagine yourself on the slopes of Burach hill where the pines scatter from the woodland below, juniper scrub spreads towards the hills, and the flushes are dotted with fragrant orchid and yellow saxifrage. Up in the high flushes, small patches of dwarf birch keep their heads down to escape the hungry mouths and biting winds. Right on top of the hill the delights continue with cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), mountain bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpinus) and lesser twayblade (Listera cordata). On the steep banks of streams are spreading clumps of eared willow (Salix aurita) and even a tea-leaved willow (S. phyllicifolia).
You can well imagine our surprise and pleasure in finding an erect dwarf birch (Betula nana) of over a metre in height, with 68 catkins! Now this is what it could/should be like! The tenaciousness and adaptablility of dwarf birch was clearly demonstrated by a group of them which were hanging down the side of the track: although suffering from erosion of the peat bank from underneath them and deer nibbling from below nonetheless they had reached 1.5 metres in length, layering in the ground to stabilise further growth, and supporting... wait for it.... 169 catkins!
Dwarf birch has previously been recorded in ombrogenous bogs (bogs which show poor drainage with little or no water movement) and the plants have a corresponding tolerance of poor nutrient and base status. Excitingly, we also found it in 3 plant communities characteristic of some degree of water movement, and therefore of a degree of nutrient and base enrichment. This shows that it has a wider ecological niche than previously thought.
On the strength of the survey we have an agreement in place to erect an exclosure to protect a variety of dwarf shrubs, including dwarf birch. It will be situated above a Woodland Grant Scheme area soon to be planted with native trees, giving the potential to form the ecotone between woodland and montane scrub. Other species within the proposed fence include bearberry, crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtilis).
Heartfelt thanks to all those of you who contributed to the TFL Mountain Woodland Appeal and made all of this possible, and special thanks to Mike Brown who volunteered his experience of GPS (global positioning system) units and his good company. Valuable information has been gathered on the occurrence of juniper, dwarf birch and eared willow, and on the ecological niche of dwarf birch. Much enjoyment was had despite the damp and itchy conditions!
Sadly, the continuation of the Mountain Woodland Survey is uncertain, due to lack of funds for future work. If anyone can suggest avenues of funding to explore, please let me know!
Environmental Education at Trees for Life
you make my heart sing . . .
you are everything . . . .
and so they are . .. everything. The wild things that is.
A small seed, that was planted as the 'Trees for Life Environmental Education Programme' four years ago, has been quietly growing. As with all things green, this growth is due to the combination of a watering from many wonderful, interested supporters, and the fertile soil of enthusiastic young people, who are always wanting to know more or tell more.
Now, in response to new ideas, our educational work is taking a significant step forward, and is gaining a new identity. 'Wild things!' is the new name we've chosen for the programme, and as with all things wild, it has an energy and wisdom that remains a complete mystery!
In the past 5 months I've been to two seminars on environmental education. The first was in Aberdeen, run by The Royal Northern Countryside Initiative, and called 'Education in the Countryside'. The other was run by Scottish Natural Heritage and was entitled 'Leading Edge'. A common theme that united these events was hearing the teachers say that it is great that activity boxes on education about nature are sent to them, but they are so stretched for time to fit everything into the curriculum that a lot of the boxes just sit unopened in the corner of the staff room. What they are asking for are people to come with these boxes, people who are fresh, inspired and enthusiastic about environmental education, and who have the time to develop fun ways of learning.
Because of this call from the teachers wanting the green back in their classroom or their classrooms back in the green, we at Trees for Life are committed to providing the means to facilitate as many of these opportunities as possible, by offering the services of 'Wild things!'.
We all have fond memories from our childhoods of our favourite tree, watching birds in flight or worms in the soil. However, sadly, a lot of children today don't have the same opportunities that we had to be out and amongst the 'wild'.
That is where 'Wild things!' fits in. In the future we will work more closely with the national curriculum (unless we are doing an activity for an out of school group), and this will hopefully make it easier for the teachers to use our services.
Our aim is that of inclusion, whatever the personality or natural inclination of a child. We also always seek to bring things back to their place in the bigger scheme of things, pointing out that nothing lives in isolation (not even us!). Using play, interpretation and sensory stimulation, the scientists amongst our young friends can learn about the temperature regulation in an ant hill; the young artists can use the colours from the artist's pallet that lives within and upon the forest floor to create their collage; and the philosophers can learn to understand the nature of the interdependence of everything. Meanwhile, the dreamers can listen to stories of blaeberry fairies and imagine how a pot of gold could be kept from the greedy hands of blaeberry pickers!
Our trips into school will, hopefully, continue to expand with new subjects, as will our day trips out to the forest. We are also hoping to secure funding so that we can start offering overnight forest breaks for schools in areas of special need, on a more regular basis.
If you are interested in getting involved in these exciting new paw prints of 'Wild things!', please contact me at the Trees for Life office Ç I am more than happy for any additional support!!
Meanwhile I invite you to take a wild moment in a wild place and watch your heart sing, and I will do the same. . .
The Forest Poem
Forest trees reach up to the sky,
Oak trees grow ever so high,
Roots grow under the ground,
Evergreens grow all around,
Spiders and beasties are everywhere,
They are on the ground and up in the air,
Still it is my favourite spot for picnics and games I like a lot.
Alex, Primary 4/5, St. Josephs Primary School, Inverness
See Caledonia Wild! magazines, for excerpts from other editions.