Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild! Spring 2003
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Lightening the human footprint
A few weeks ago I spent a couple of days out in Glen Affric with a group of 24 people, who came from as far afield as Thailand, Mexico and Alaska. The first part of the visit involved taking them on a tour of the Coille Ruigh exclosure, and then we spent a morning removing part of an old redundant fence in Gleann na Ciche, near the Athnamulloch bothy.
Forest Enterprise had originally fenced part of Gleann na Ciche in the 1970s and planted it with commercial crops of non-native trees. When all those trees were felled and left to decompose in situ in the mid-1990s, and the area was re-fenced for natural regeneration of the native forest, contractors were employed to remove the redundant sections of old deer fence. However, they didn't do a complete job, and they left in place the bottom line wire and sections of net which were partly embedded in the ground.
Thus, we spent our time extricating these old fence fragments, which pose a hazard to wildlife and people walking there, as well as being an unsightly intrusion in the landscape. Some of the group, I suspect, might have preferred to plant trees, as that is a more immediately obvious contribution to the regeneration of the forest. However, as the work progressed, we all found it increasingly satisfying to see the area being returned to a more pristine condition.
Although this aspect of restoration work is less dramatic, it is just as important, for it represents a reduction or removal of the human impact on the land. At a time when the Earth's growing human population (now over 6.2 billion) and our increasingly powerful technologies are impinging on more and more of the planet, the future of healthy ecosystems, and the survival of many species, depends on us scaling back our impact on the natural world, wherever possible. As a National Nature Reserve, managed for the primacy of nature conservation, Glen Affric is an obvious place to put this into practice, and our work that day was a small contribution towards this.
However, it is not always quite so simple. In the USA, the motto of the national parks used to be 'Take only photographs. Leave only footprints.', but the National Park Service has had to change this recently. They found that in parks such as Yosemite, the millions of visitors each year were literally leaving too many footprints, which were causing erosion of paths and other problems. Now, there is a growing movement in the USA amongst hikers and campers called 'Leave no Trace', which defines a set of outdoor ethics based on respect for wild land.
In a broad sense, the principle of leaving no trace also guides all our work, whether it be planting trees in ways which are indistinguishable from natural regeneration, the removal of old fences, or cleaning up litter in the forest. Our aim is to lighten the human footprint, to put into practice the maxim of 'living lightly on the Earth', and thereby enable Nature to re-establish herself fully in the regenerating Caledonian Forest.
Alan Watson Featherstone
New life springs forth at Plodda Lodge
Despite a couple of nights at -9°C and a week of cold temperatures which allowed huge icicles and spectacular ice formations to develop along the river and waterfall, the winter at Plodda was actually quite mild for this part of the country and spring seems to have arrived early this year! Temperatures are now soaring in the nursery's polytunnel during the day and everything seems to have suddenly burst into action.
We have plenty of exciting news to report, such as the rooting of many of the holly cuttings that volunteers and I took during September last year - I have already potted up some of these cuttings and others are also looking promising. Seeds have started to germinate, including some of the bird cherry seeds collected last summer from both Grudie Oakwood and Strathglass. We also have a few juniper and dog rose seeds germinating, from seeds collected two years ago, which have been stratifying outside in the nursery for two winters in order to lose their dormancy. Alder seeds collected from Glen Affric last autumn were separated from their cones at room temperature and a few seedlings are already emerging from the first batch of seed sown this spring.
Mild weather throughout March has helped us to get a really early start on the Aspen Propagation Project this year. With many thanks to two volunteers, Chloe and Anna, who have been helping me to gather root cuttings from aspen trees out in the glens, our polytunnel is nearly full of root sections planted in compost already - by the start of April! We have collected root sections from several areas this year, including Glen Urquhart, and trees produced from those roots will be planted at the RSPB's Corrimony Nature Reserve, to expand and link up the aspen stands there. Other roots from Strathbran will produce trees which will be planted at Grudie Oakwood in the future, and we also have quite a lot of roots from Glen Moriston as well as some from Glen Affric. The first aspen shoots are just appearing through the compost in the polytunnel, so we should be able to root plenty of aspen cuttings during the coming year.
Remembering Chris Brasher
Chris Brasher, gold medallist at the steeplechase in the 1956 Olympic Games, the founder of the London Marathon, and long-time supporter of Trees for Life, died on 28th February 2003, at the age of 74. A great lover of the outdoors, Chris was a frequent hillwalker in the Highlands, and he shared our passion for the return of more native forest to the glens.
Following an approach from us for funds to buy the West Affric Estate when it was up for sale in 1992, Chris made a substantial donation to the National Trust for Scotland, which enabled them to purchase the property. The condition which he attached to his donation was that Trees for Life be a partner responsible for the restoration of native forest to suitable sites on the 4,000 hectare estate, and we've subsequently implemented a scheme of 10 exclosures there. Chris also made a generous offer of grant to Trees for Life in 1995, for our ultimately unsuccessful bid to purchase the Wester Guisachan Estate in Glen Affric. Then, in 1996, he made a large financial contribution towards the purchase of our field base, Plodda Lodge.
Always forthright with his views, Chris was an important ally for us and other organisations working for the protection of wild land in the Highlands, and he will be missed by many.
On March 24th, during our first Conservation Holiday of the year, we planted an aspen tree in the Alltbeithe exclosure on West Affric, with a special dedication in memory of Chris, in recognition and appreciation of all his achievements and support. This tree, as part of the regenerating native forest on the estate which his funding secured for conservation, should make a fitting living memorial to a great man who strongly believed in the importance of wildness.
Alan Watson Featherstone
Beaver reintroduction decision delayed
On 20th December 2002, Allan Wilson, the Deputy Minister for the Environment and Rural Development in the Scottish Parliament, issued a letter in reply to the application from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for a licence to conduct a trial reintroduction of European beavers to a Forest Enterprise-managed site at Knapdale in Argyll. The application was the result of the extensive ecological assessment and public consultation exercise which SNH carried out in 1998-9, which showed that Scotland's existing (limited) healthy riparian habitats could support up to 1,000 beavers, and that the overwhelming majority of Scottish citizens supported their reintroduction.
However, in response to concerns raised by a few local landowners and angling groups, Mr. Wilson wrote that he was unable to issue a licence and requested that further information be provided on "the potential risks to agricultural, forestry and salmon interests as well as a thorough assessment of any public health risks". He also stated that "It would be helpful to know more about the experiences of other countries where European Beaver have been introduced, including any longer term impacts."
In practice, the European beaver has been reintroduced to 13 other countries in Europe since the 1920s, including such densely populated nations as the Netherlands, with no serious problems at any of them. Experience in countries such as Norway indicates there is no conflict between beavers and fish such as salmon or trout - this was also confirmed by local people to the participants of the 1996 study tour to a beaver reintroduction site in Brittany (France), which I was part of.
The Scottish Beaver Network, which has been set up by individuals and groups supporting the return of beavers to Scotland, expressed disappointment at the Minister's decision, which it views as "a further unnecessary delay to a project which is now approaching ten years of study and debate", and is calling on concerned individuals to make their views known to the minister and the Scottish Parliament. For further information, please see the Scottish Beaver Network web site.
Alan Watson Featherstone
Pages about European Beaver on this site
- Restoring Missing Species: The Beaver
- European Beaver - species profile
- Beaver - species missing from the Caledonian Forest
- Mythology and folklore of the beaver
- Riparian Woodlands
- Beavers: Aspen heaven or hell?
- Beavers and Aspen: looking to the future
- Beavers are Back! Caledonia Wild! Summer 2009
- Beaver trial a milestone for Scottish biodiversity Press release 29th May 2009
- Beavers to return to Scotland at last! Caledonia Wild! Summer 2008
- Press release: trial reintroduction of beavers (29th May 2008)
- Scottish executive says no to beavers Caledonia Wild! Winter 2005
- Trees for Life calls for approval of a trial reintroduction of the European beaver 1 March 2005
- Beaver reintroduction decision delayed Caledonia Wild! Spring 2003
- Response from Trees for Life to the public consultation (1998) about beaver reintroduction to Scotland
- Beaver news Caledonia Wild! Winter 2000-01
- Reintroduction of the European Beaver (Castor fiber) into Scotland
External links to pages about European Beaver in the UK
- The Scottish Beaver Trial
- The Scottish Wildlife Trust's Beaver Campaign
- Scottish Executive approves a trial reintroduction of beavers (25th May 2008)
- Beavers believed to be on loose (18 April 2008)
- 6 Beavers released into an enclosed lake at Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswold Water Park, October 2005
- Beavers released into an enclosure at Aigas, Scotland, April 2006
- New Scottish Environment Minister, Michael Russell, calls for SNH to draw up new beaver reintroduction plans (Sunday Herald, June 2007)
See Caledonia Wild! magazines, for excerpts from other editions.
Published: 1 June 2003
Last updated: 25 August 2010