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Newsletters Caledonia Wild! Summer 2007

Newsletter cover

Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild!, Summer 2007

* Links to articles in other parts of this web site, rather than on this page.

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Learning to ride the wave!

Birches in spring

Just like these silver birches in Glen Affric in spring, Trees for Life is undergoing a period of growth, as a wave of new support propels us forward.

Many years ago, on the west coast of Canada, I had a chance to try surfing, under a free scheme run in a national park there. I was provided with a wet suit and surfboard, and given a few words of instruction before heading out into the water. My memories now are mainly of how cold the water was, and how much time was spent waiting for the 'right' wave to come along. When it did, it was a matter of paddling as fast as possible, to get up to speed and then be carried forward by the wave itself. I still have a vivid memory of the first time I was successful, and of the exhilaration I felt as a wave propelled me shore-wards at seeming high speed, while I strove to keep myself on the board.

Those recollections have been in my mind a lot recently, as they seem to encapsulate what I've been experiencing with Trees for Life and our work. Like many people, perhaps, I have been waiting for many years it seems, for awareness of the multiple environmental crises that we face to gain the attention of the mainstream of our culture and society. Twenty years ago, when I launched our work to restore the Caledonian Forest, relatively few people knew about the extent of forest loss in Scotland, and concern about problems such as human-induced global warming and the loss of biodiversity seemed to be confined to environmental groups and a few scientists.

However, in the last 18 months there has been a sea change in public concern in the UK about the environment, triggered by widespread publicity about the threat of climate change. Here at Trees for Life we've been experiencing a substantially increased flow of donations, both from individuals and companies, all of whom are seeking to do something positive for the planet. Likewise, there's been a tremendous response to the increased number of Conservation Holidays we've scheduled this year to plant 100,000 trees, with most weeks being fully booked well in advance.

Vanessa Collingridge planting a tree

Writer and broadcaster, Vanessa Collingridge, planting an aspen in Glen Affric in early July to celebrate the success of our spring planting season.

It feels very much like we've been picked up by the wave of growing concern for the environment and are being propelled forwards in our work at a much faster pace. The important thing now therefore is to learn to keep our balance and to move ahead in the right direction - to ride the wave successfully - so that we can make best use of all the increased support coming our way. To do so, we are increasing our staff numbers, and we're considering a further expansion of our Conservation Holiday programme. We're also working hard to raise our public profile, and in that regard I'm delighted to say that following her recent planting of a special celebratory tree in Glen Affric, Vanessa Collingridge has agreed to become a Patron of Trees for Life, joining Muriel Gray in that role.

While these steps will allow us to expand the scope and effectiveness of our practical work, I hope that they will also serve a larger purpose - enabling us to play our part in ensuring that we in the UK learn to ride this wave of environmental awareness, and translate it into fundamental lifestyle changes, towards true sustainability.

Alan Watson Featherstone


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Woodland Ground Flora


Round-leaved wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia)

As I prepare to enter my new role as Woodland Ground Flora Project Co-ordinator, my eye has been repeatedly caught by such species as the cow wheat and wintergreens mentioned above. There has been a shift in my awareness and now, as I walk through woodland, I have to remember to lift my eyes off the forest floor from time to time to prevent repeatedly stumbling into the trees! Not only are the woodland flowers pretty to look at and fascinating in their habits (cow wheat seeds, for example, are distributed by wood ants that carry them off to their nests where they eat a fatty structure attached to the seed, known as an elaiosome, and then discard them) they are also an essential part of the woodland ecosystem.

The difference between a bunch of trees and a woodland is the diversity of life that exists within the habitat created by the shady canopy of the trees. This diversity is due in no small measure to the woodland ground flora which provides food in nectar, leaf and seed, and shelter in the microclimate in and under its foliage, for a range of invertebrate species including butterflies, moths, millipedes and aphids. These in turn provide food for little carnivores like spiders, ants and centipedes and so the chain goes on with birds and small mammals feeding on those, hawks, owls and pine marten further up and so on. This is a very simplified glance at the complex web of life that can be woven around a few key species like the woodland ground flora.

Bee on bluebells

Bumble bee (Bombus hortorum) feeding on bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in Glen Affric. Woodland flowering plants are a source of food for many insects.

In our new planting projects many woodland species will not be present on the site and the nearest seed source for them might be miles away. Thus it could take hundreds of years, in some cases, for these plants to colonise by natural means so we need to give nature a helping hand. Even in mature woodland, overgrazing and changes in management practices have reduced diversity in the ground flora, resulting in some species having become very rare or even absent when they should be common and abundant.

In the last issue of Caledonia Wild we ran an appeal, The Return of the Flowers, to launch our Woodland Ground Flora Project. I am very grateful to all of you who have supported us in this new and important project. However, we are only about a third of the way to reaching our financial target of £16,000. So, if you were overcome by a crop of birthdays, or had to pay up front for that summer holiday at the time of the appeal, or perhaps just did not fully realise the importance of these plants, I would be most grateful if you could reconsider and help us reach that target to carry this vital work forward.

Adam Powell


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Aspen Project Update

Tree tube

A teenager protecting a newly-planted aspen at Abriachan Forest this spring. Photo by Dan Puplett.

Interest in aspen conservation in the Highlands is steadily growing. What is it about aspen that's getting the attention? In a nutshell, aspen is a beautiful and charismatic tree which has a whole host of specialised organisms that depend upon it. For a number of reasons it is not as widely distributed as it would naturally be, so by giving it a helping hand there is huge potential to increase the biodiversity of the glens.

There have been some exciting developments in our Aspen Project since the last update in Spring 2006. Our trusty Conservation Holiday volunteers have planted and protected new aspens in quite a few areas. A group this spring took a long walk around Loch Affric to plant new aspen on the north shore of the loch. This is part of a plan to encourage aspen where it is currently absent. Yet more have been planted in Glen Moriston, as well as a grove at the RSPB's Corrimony Nature Reserve in memory of our friend and TFL supporter, Janice Short, who died last year. It felt like a fitting tribute to a person who loved Scotland's native forests so much.

Thanks to a grant from The Highland BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) Implementation Programme, last year and this spring we have been able to plant aspen with Abriachan Forest Trust and pupils from Glenurquhart High School. We had a great time planting, with fantastic views of Loch Ness. These teenagers were a fun group to work with, and we appreciate their contribution.

In November 2006 the North Highland Forest Trust held an Aspen Training Day in Dunbeath. Jill Hodge and I were invited to share the TFL perspective on aspen conservation. NHFT are doing some excellent work to promote aspen conservation in the far north of Scotland.

New aspen leaves

The new leaves of aspen, seen here on Dundreggan in May, are a coppery colour for the first few days, before turning green.

Aspen catkins

Female catkin of an aspen, with ripening seeds, in May 2007.

Root collecting

Early each spring we begin to collect root cuttings, so that we can propagate them and plant them out. This is always an enjoyable task, even when dealing with the challenges of frozen ground! I've also learned the wisdom of carrying spare secateurs, after a journey to a remote aspen stand by car, bike, then foot resulted in my pair breaking with the first root I cut! Even so, we are well on target, having collected even more roots for propagation than we did last year.


I've also been spending some time looking for new aspen stands. This is part of a long-term survey to find all the aspen within our Target Area, helping us to plan the priority areas for re-establishing aspen. It is also important to have a wide range of stands from which to collect root cuttings, so the trees we grow and plant out are genetically diverse. It's always exciting to find new sites. In particular there were some very large stands along a gorge in Strathglass that we hadn't previously recorded. We now know of over 370 aspen sites within our 1000 square mile Target Area, most of which we have detailed records for.

Seed collecting

Large-scale flowering and seeding in aspen is a rare event as it usually reproduces via suckers. The last big flowering year was 1996, triggered by the hot summer of 1995. 2007 has been another great year for aspen flowering. So in April we were on aspen red alert, trying to find as many flowering trees as possible. It is useful to know the sex of individual clones so that we can ensure that male and female trees are located close to one another. We also managed to return to female trees in the hope of returning to collect seed. Excitingly we managed to collect a number of cuttings with female catkins from an estate in the north-east of our target area. There were two fallen trees - a male and a female both in flower, so we took some cuttings of the flowering female tree and stood them in a bottles of water in the office. After a couple of weeks it was great to see the tiny fluffy seeds emerging from the catkins.

I had never seen aspen seeds before, and it struck me how incredibly tiny and light they are. Apparently there can be around 7-10 million seeds per kilogram! It was disappointing that a lot of the fluff didn't contain any seed at all. Presumably only a small proportion of it had been pollinated. Jill is now successfully growing seedlings from the small number of seeds we did get. Watch this space to see how they fare when they eventually reach their new homes!

Dan Puplett


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The Trees for Life Staff Team

The effectiveness of Trees for Life in implementing our ambitious vision for the restoration of the Caledonian Forest depends, to a large extent, on the dedication and commitment of our staff. Volunteers obviously contribute a lot as well, in terms of doing most of the practical work on our Conservation Holidays, and the Board of Directors has a crucial role to play in overseeing the strategic direction and overall operation of the charity. However, the day to day running of Trees for Life is very much in the hands of the staff, and it's because of their hard work and efforts that we've been able to accomplish so much.

This has never been truer than this year, when Trees for Life is undergoing a period of sustained expansion and further development of our work, especially with projects such as the planting of 100,000 trees in 2007 and the purchase of the Dundreggan Estate. To enable us to handle the increased workload that this represents we've expanded our staff team recently, and there have also been some other changes in personnel in the organisation, so here is our current staff line-up, together with their responsibilities:

Alan Watson Featherstone Executive Director
Elaine Dempsey Office Manager
Mick Drury Field Projects Manager
Adam Powell Woodland Ground Flora Project Coordinator (pt)
Pirouel Dickson Conservation Holiday Coordinator
Dan Puplett Aspen Project Coordinator & Conservation Holidays
Jill Hodge Tree Nursery Manager
Neil Armstrong Field Base Warden (pt)
Kerrigan Bell Marketing Manager
Anneke Klop Administration Assistant (pt)
Janet Barcis Book-keeping & Accounts (pt)
Ingrid Mahl Financial Supervisor (pt)

(pt = part-time position)

In addition, as soon as the purchase of Dundreggan has been completed, we will be taking over the employment of Allan Common, who has been working there as the estate manager for 12 years.

In July and August, there will be two further additions to our team: Kate Smith, who will be taking up the post of Personal Assistant to the Executive Director, and Colin Blyth, who will be fulfilling the role of Project Planning Officer for Dundreggan on a contractual basis. We look forward to welcoming them, and their passion and inspiration for return of the Caledonian Forest, into our group.

Colin Blyth

Colin Blyth

Kate Smith

Kate Smith

The increase in staff numbers brings new challenges as well, and foremost amongst those is the provision of adequate office space for everyone. We've just about shoe-horned everyone in to our existing office so far, but we're in urgent need of a larger working environment! When we moved into the present building in March 1992, there were just 3 of us working for Trees for Life - Louise Walsh, Elaine Dempsey and myself - and we occupied only one room in the building. Since then, we've gradually taken over the other 3 rooms as well, and a garden shed that is situated just outside. In addition to our staff members, we often have long-term volunteers, casual day volunteers and students on placement requiring work space in the office, so it can be quite crowded at times!

Now, our increased numbers necessitate a different solution to that of squeezing more people into the same, limited space. To this end we are planning to provide a temporary expansion to our present office by locating a Portacabin adjacent to it, and we are also in the initial stages of developing plans for a new, custom-designed office. The intention is that this will be built to the highest ecological standards on a site about 200 metres away, as part of the Ecovillage development at the Findhorn Bay Community - we'll have more information about this in upcoming editions of Caledonia Wild!

Alan Watson Featherstone


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Staff Corner

Adam in a suit

Adam Powell.
Photo by Kerrigan Bell.

This edition of Staff Corner features Adam Powell who joined Trees for Life in 1992.

Adam says, "When I started there were three staff members, now there are twelve. In 1993 we ran ten Conservation Holidays, and this year there are thirty-eight. I've seen Trees for Life grow in recognition, respect and professionalism, and long may it thrive."

After recently welcoming Mick Drury as the new Field Projects Manager, Adam is settling into his new role as Woodland Ground Flora Project Co-ordinator. "I feel enthusiastic about the new project; it is an important piece in the puzzle which will help increase the diversity of species in the woodland ecosystem."

His new, part-time role will allow him to spend more time with his partner Christina and family, and tend to his orchid collection. Thank you Adam for all your hard work and dedication over the last 15 years and best wishes for your new role!

Kerrigan Bell


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

First published: August 2007. First published online, December 2007.
Last updated: 01 May 2014

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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