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Newsletters Caledonia Wild! Spring 2008

Newsletter cover

Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild!, Spring 08

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Envisioning a positive future

Dead tree

Sights such as this, of deforestation in Glen Affric, stimulated the founding of Trees for Life.

For me, one of the most important attributes of Trees for Life, ever since I launched the project in 1986, is the positive nature of all that we do. I felt impelled then, as I still do today, by my love for the old Scots pines of the Caledonian Forest, and by the plight of the land itself, to take action to help restore the forest and all its life. By responding to the care and concern I feel in my heart, and giving expression to that through words, photographs and practical action, I've discovered the power that I have as an individual to make a positive difference in the world.

From small beginnings - just me as one individual, with no prior experience, working in my spare time - Trees for Life has grown to become a highly effective organisation, with a staff of 13, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters, that is achieving significant results in bringing back the forest. Key to this success is that we work with a positive vision, of a future where the Caledonian Forest is restored to complete health and diversity, with its full complement of species, over a significant part of its former range. It's a vision that stretches 250 years into the future, yet is alive in each moment, and becomes clearer and more focussed with every tree that is planted.

I believe that some of the most important things needed in the world today are positive visions for the future. We live in a human culture that is, to a considerable extent, embedded in negativity, both through its impact on other species and natural ecosystems, and through the themes of violence, crime and greed that dominate the media. Visions of the future tend to be limited, for the most part, to the outdated concept of endless economic growth, or to those of the Hollywood type, of ever more technology, war in space etc. Positive visions, that offer real hope for the future, for humans and all the other species that share the world with us, are rarely given much attention or publicity.

Alan and regen/planted

A positive vision made manifest - Scots pines we've planted and regenerating rowans herald the return of the Caledonian Forest at Athnamulloch in Glen Affric.

In the past few months, I've spent a lot of time envisioning a positive future for our work. In meetings with the staff team, we've developed an ambitious set of three-year goals for the expansion of both our practical work in the forest and the fundraising efforts needed to achieve that. As part of the management planning process for Dundreggan, I've outlined a vision for how we'd like to see the land there in 50 years time. Now, I'm engaged in a similar process for a presentation I'll give, at the Wildlands Network Conference that we're co-hosting in September, about a possible scenario for the return, in the decades ahead, of Scotland's missing mammals.

All of these are exciting prospects, drawing forth new ideas and possibilities that haven't existed before. This is some of the most important and challenging work that I do, not only for Trees for Life, but also, I believe, in a larger context. That's because whenever I, or anyone, articulates a positive vision, we're helping to chart a new course in human endeavours - one that can act as a magnet for the hopes, aspirations, creativity and hard work of all those who want to be part of creating a better world for all life.

Alan Watson Featherstone


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Real Field Work!

Rainbow, Cougie

Rainbow over the Barrach pinewood at Cougie, with the snow-covered peaks of Glen Affric visible behind.

Dan and aspen

Dan Puplett with one of the superb old aspen trees on the Scatwell Estate.

With all of this going on it's been a relief to get out to re-connect with the forest and do some work on the ground. Back in November I was out with Dan looking at how the newly planted trees were doing after the autumn Conservation Holidays. As we arrived at Cougie, there was a sudden hailstorm battering the van but it blew over quickly (the storm, not the van!), leaving a rainbow over the Barrach pinewood across the glen, framed by the snow-capped peaks of Affric beyond. Unfortunately, some trees were damaged by voles but hopefully the owls will have brought their numbers down over the last few months - these populations tend to be cyclical in this way. We've set up some plots to monitor the trees' progress both here and in Glen Cannich. It's important for us to get a good picture of the success of previous work and I hope to revisit some of our work sites this year and set up further monitoring plots.

Over the winter there have been a few trips to the Comrie Wood on the Scatwell Estate where we are starting work to expand the fine aspen stands there... It's a special place of majestic old oaks too. Not far away to the west, along the northern edge of our target area, is FCS's Grudie Oakwood in Strath Bran, overlooking Loch Luichart. We have worked here in the past and have a small number of trees in the nursery at Plodda, grown on from collected seed (oak, aspen, holly and bird cherry), some of which we have now planted out. We are looking forward to helping with surveys and monitoring here as part of a new management plan which is being prepared for the site. The woodland has an interesting ground flora and its notable species include the pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly (Boloria euphrosyne).

Mick Drury

Montane Scrub

Jill at dwarf birch site

Jill Hodge at the dwarf birch protection site on Wester Guisachan in November.

Another day I was out with Jill, visiting the dwarf birch (Betula nana) exclosure on the Wester Guisachan Estate to check on progress and, with luck, to collect some seed. As we came over the crest of the hill, feeling the wind freshen in our faces, we disturbed a pair of whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) feeding on the lochan. The male became alert and watched our progress. We steered a course away from them across the bog, which, although it was early November, was relatively sound underfoot after the recent dry weather, and climbed up towards the gate.

The recent review of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan has given greater priority to the protection and restoration of the montane scrub zone including dwarf birch and the less frequent montane willows. We have good survey information for these species covering a number of estates in the Glen Moriston area, with 3 exclosures established some years ago, including at Wester Guisachan. Last autumn we funded a survey of the Fasnakyle area, within the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve, which found that there is a particularly strong population of dwarf birch there. This information will feed into the management plan review for the reserve, currently being undertaken by FCS.

It's now time to re-visit our montane scrub work and I've been drawing up an action plan for the next 3 years. This will include further surveys, further exclosures, perhaps some experimental work to foster regeneration and, hopefully, propagation at the nursery. At Wester Guisachan the dwarf birch has recovered from the former browsing pressure. Although it has not spread, it is now flowering and we did indeed find and collect seed for trials at the nursery.

Mick Drury


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Funding the Forest

Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills

Welcome to our new Patron, Hayley Mills

We are very pleased to welcome Hayley Mills as our fourth patron. Hayley is an actress who started work in the film 'Tiger Bay' at the age of 12, opposite her father Sir John Mills. During her childhood years she made many films including 'Whistle Down the Wind', and 'Pollyanna', for which she won a special Oscar. She has continued to work consistently in film, on the stage and on television. She is currently working on the series 'Wild at Heart' for ITV. Hayley says, 'I am very proud indeed to be a patron of the remarkable and wonderful organisation Trees for Life'.

Kerrigan Bell


Kate Smith

Staff Corner

Kate Smith's connection to Trees for Life began in 2003 while visiting the Findhorn community. First she dedicated a tree to a friend, and later did a Conservation Holiday at the bothy in Glen Affric. 'It was brilliant, the best thing I've ever done - not just the work, but the group itself - I'm still in contact with some of them!' Kate ran the Trees for Life stall at Treefest in Edinburgh for several years, and last year joined the team as Alan Watson Featherstone's Personal Assistant. She says, 'The thing I love about Trees for Life is that the organisation is so practical - that's what makes us different. I enjoy my role as it lets me see what goes on with all areas of the charity - it is so varied'. When not working tirelessly for the return of the forest, Kate loves patchworking, especially Italian quilting, yoga and reading. Thank you Kate for your commitment and the positive energy you bring to your work.

Kerrigan Bell

Wish List

Jill in polytunnel

Jill Hodge in the propagation unit at our nursery, Will you help us buy another polytunnel now, so that we can grow more trees and woodland flowers?

Please take a look at the following and see if there's something that you would be happy to help us get in order to enhance our work:

  • Two Pentax Optio W20 Waterproof digital cameras. £360
  • Two GPS Garmin Etrex units. £120
  • Twenty-two Midge Hoods. £5 each
  • One Waterproof Mountain Leader First Aid Kit. £40
  • A new polytunnel for Plodda Nursery. £600

If you can supply us with any of these items, or can contribute towards their purchase, we'd love to hear from you. Thank you! Tel: 0845 0458 3505

Kerrigan Bell


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See Caledonia Wild! magazines, for excerpts from other editions.

First published: Spring 2008. First published online, 1st June 2008
Last updated: 25 August 2010

Trees for Life is an award winning conservation charity working to restore the Caledonian Forest
and all its species to a large contiguous area in the Highlands of Scotland.

Trees for Life is a registered charity Scottish charity No. SC021303, and a company limited by guarantee No. 143304 with its registered offices at Forres, Scotland.
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Photos © Alan Watson (unless otherwise indicated) - Banner Credits - Illustrations © Caragh McAuley

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