- Deer and Trees: To Fence or Not?
- Glen Strathfarrar
- Friends of Dundreggan
- Payroll Giving
- New look web site
- Winter Gift Leaflet
- Sponsored Tree Planting - Sunday 1st November 2009
- Staff Day out at Assynt
- Thank you!
- New life members
- Wish List
- Staff Corner
* Links to articles in other parts of this web site, rather than on this page.
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One day in July I was out at Dundreggan, with the intention of photographing the old birchwood, as part of my ongoing visual documentation of the estate and its biological diversity. Before setting off, I spent some time as usual with Steve, our Project Manager there, discussing plans, projects and funding needs for the estate. While we were talking it began to rain heavily outside, so our chat became quite extended, and it was lunchtime before the precipitation had reduced to a drizzle and I was ready to go.
Walking west from Dundreggan Lodge I came to an area of abundant ragwort, on the edge of the birchwood. Last year I had spent some time looking at and photographing that ragwort patch, largely due to the enthusiasm of Jane Bowman, local amateur naturalist and near neighbour of Dundreggan, who extolled the species' virtues as a food plant for all sorts of insects. Approaching the patch now, the yellow flowers were vivid and brilliant after the rain, and I decided to have a quick look at them before walking into the forest itself.
As I wandered amongst the plants, I began to notice a wealth of insects on the individual flowerheads. A variety of hoverflies were landing and taking off, flitting from plant to plant, collecting nectar and acting as pollinators along the way. I spotted a couple of different longhorn beetles, heads buried in the ragworts' petals as they fed, and several harvestmen were sitting motionless amongst the blossoms, waiting for an unwary insect to come close enough to catch. On one ragwort plant alone I counted almost a dozen soldier beetles, including three pairs that were mating, while on another I found a stiletto fly feeding on a hoverfly it had caught. A lone thistle growing amongst the ragwort was covered in aphids, which were being tended by wood ants.
Marvelling at the abundance and diversity of the minibeasts I was seeing, I photographed as many of them as I could, until the rain returned in a gusting, windy squall, making it impossible to take pictures. Putting the camera in my backpack, I walked to another patch of ragwort some metres away, and, much to my surprise and delight, found a common hawker dragonfly clinging to a ragwort stem. Sheltering from the wind and rain, it stayed there unperturbed as I approached to within an arms length and watched it for about ten minutes. When the rain relented, I took some close-up photographs, and, an hour later, it was still there when Steve came out to ask me a question, so I could show it to him as well.
I never made it into the birchwood that day, but, thanks to the ragwort and the rain (which made the insects sluggish and therefore easier to see and photograph) I had a very satisfying and inspiring experience. The diversity and beauty I observed seemed particularly significant when I consider our prevailing cultural attitudes, which see ragwort vilified and removed from fields because of its toxic effects on horses, and rain routinely denigrated as 'bad weather'. At a time when there's an urgent need for people everywhere to re-connect with Nature, ragwort in the rain is a good place to start!
Alan Watson Featherstone
Birch will regenerate well when conditions are suitable, even if there are a few deer around. As a pioneer species it produces large quantities of wind blown seed and the young trees then establish in thickets where the outer individuals are to some extent 'sacrificial', allowing the inner trees to grow on if there is browsing pressure. Other species are more vulnerable.
Last summer Emily Moore from St Andrews University undertook a project to study the differing effects of fencing and deer culling on birch regeneration. I spent a day out with her in Glen Affric, looking at the Athnamulloch 2 exclosure erected on FCS land in 1994, where young birch has grown very well via seed from the old trees on the craggy hillside above. Our volunteers have planted some Scots pine here but all of the birch trees are natural. Deer have been excluded by fencing although Emily did notice some evidence that a few animals had got in. She was comparing this site with the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve, where Scottish Natural Heritage have erected minimal fencing but relied on culling over the past 25 years to keep deer numbers at a level that will allow the trees to regenerate.
Emily's project has now been written up and presented for her degree. She found little difference between the amount of birch at the two sites although there are more taller trees found at Athnamulloch and greater deer damage found at Creag Meaghaidh. Both methods are allowing new woodland to establish. However, the recruitment of new seedlings has dropped off at Athnamulloch, probably due to the density of the relatively undisturbed ground vegetation allowing fewer gaps for seeds to germinate.
Emily also recorded other tree species when she came across them, principally rowan, and some eared willow. Interestingly, she found that the rowan, being very palatable to the deer, was selectively browsed at both sites; however at Athnamulloch, at very low deer densities, some rowan has escaped and now stands 3-4 metres tall; the tallest rowan at Creag Meaghaidh is in the 1-1.5 metre range, still within browsing height and therefore suppressed. This pattern is borne out by evidence on the ground at Dundreggan, where pockets of birch have established but other species are heavily browsed; recently, I came across a flowering rowan that had escaped from the deer by growing up through a prickly juniper. There has been a wide debate over the last few years about the historical structure of woodland in Europe, with the Dutch ecologist Frans Vera arguing that the large herbivores would have helped to create a relatively open landscape. He noted how prickly shrubs would allow palatable trees to establish.
Similarly, from discussion with Trees for Life board member Bill Ritchie about oak regeneration up in Assynt, the deer, even at low numbers, will find the trees they like to eat and continually browse out their leading shoots.
This study would seem to point towards fencing as the more viable option in allowing species other than birch to regenerate and therefore the establishment of a more diverse woodland. There are drawbacks to fencing though ... expense, possible hazards to birds, especially woodland grouse, and issues regarding public access and landscape. The jury is out and there is no easy verdict. Meanwhile the wider debate about deer management in Scotland is progressing, with new measures proposed to deal with an unsustainably high deer population; we will be contributing to the Scottish government's consultation on this issue within the proposed Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill.
The tree nursery at Plodda has undergone a transformation in the last twelve months; a new polytunnel and standing-out area are making a real difference in terms of efficiency and scale of production for trees in containers.
One year ago, in summer 2008, I took a break from working on the nursery whilst on maternity leave and in my absence, not only was the day-to-day work all taken care of, but also major works began, for the expansion and improvement of the nursery.
Firstly, a new deer fence went up around a piece of land to the west of the existing nursery and then, in the autumn, volunteers staying at Plodda on Conservation Holidays helped to clear the land of vegetation and construct a new standing-out area for containerised plants. Increased production of juniper (Juniperus communis) in particular, which is rather slow growing, has meant that the nursery urgently required more space for containerised plants. This spring the new area was first used for aspen (Populus tremula) and hazel (Corylus avellana) in trays, but now is nearly full of potted juniper.
In order to improve our aspen propagation facilities in the existing polytunnel a small beech tree had to be felled. As this was at the centre of the nursery, it was shading out many areas we are using for growing trees, particularly the aspen cuttings in the polytunnel. With hindsight, looking back at the last few seasons, the lack of light in the polytunnel was definitely the main cause of stem rot problems with our aspen cuttings, which resulted in a poor rooting success rate in the mist propagation unit.
Also over the winter, the existing misting bench, which had been in place for nearly twelve years and was badly rotten, was replaced with a fantastic new, larger bench. This stretches the full length of the polytunnel and was operating in time for the first of the aspen cuttings this April. It is now producing many more trays of wonderful, rooted aspen trees than ever before, unaffected by the stem rot problem of recent seasons!
More covered area offers many advantages for the nursery, including space to start off trees like hazel, juniper and holly (Ilex aquifolium) from seed, space to grow on aspen cuttings when they first come out of the mist propagation unit, as well as dry space for work such as potting trees. So we have long been seeking a second polytunnel for the nursery - but deciding on a location for it, suitable for power and water supply, was not so easy. In the end we decided the best site was next to the existing polytunnel, but it required a lot of preparation work! Again, volunteers on last autumn's Conservation Holidays helped to get the ball rolling by digging out great stumps and roots to remove part of the beech hedge, which both myself and the birds were very sad to see go! Then cold frames and a small greenhouse had to be moved to new locations, to make space for a lovely new covered cold frame built for rooting juniper and holly cuttings and for growing forest ground flora plants, as well as space for a new 40 foot-long polytunnel.
Footings were dug and the frame went up early in March this year when there was still snow on the ground. Then trenches were dug all around for the polythene, and on a warm spring day, a group of volunteers finally put the cover on! As a bench had already been built inside the frame, the polytunnel was in use immediately. It is now full of young aspen, but perhaps just as importantly has given us a dry work area, in which we now have a cement mixer (for easy mixing of our potting composts) and plenty of bench space for potting cuttings, pricking out seedlings and packing plants for despatch. All of this has taken the nursery a giant step forward in terms of efficiency and productivity.
Many people have enabled this transformation of the nursery over the last twelve months. Special thanks go to Louise Lamonby who supplied funds to purchase the new polytunnel and also to the other donors whose contributions have helped the nursery expansion to take place. Huge thanks to Malcolm for all the day-to-day work on the nursery, to Neil for the construction work, and to all the hard working volunteers who have made the nursery transformation a reality!
May 29th 2009 was a landmark day in British conservation history. Three beaver families were released in Knapdale Forest, Argyll, as part of a five-year trial reintroduction. Beavers are back in Scotland after more than 400 years - the first formal reintroduction of a native mammal to the UK!
The Scottish Beaver Trial is being run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and Royal Zoological Society for Scotland (RZSS) on Forestry Commission land. It will be monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage, and an exit strategy is in place in case of any major, insurmountable problems. However since twenty-four other European countries have already reintroduced beavers, there is a lot of experience to draw upon! At the end of the trial, wider releases may be considered.
This is exciting news, as beavers are extremely valuable 'conservation managers'. They are complete herbivores and selectively cut trees. Far from being destructive, this provides openings for flowers and insects to thrive. These trees usually coppice, meaning they are not killed but send up a thicket of shoots that support many nesting birds. Beavers sometimes build dams and these create great habitat for otters, frogs, dragonflies and much more!
The project partners want to encourage visitors to the reserve, but also emphasise that the beavers need time to settle in and suggest visiting in late summer or autumn. There is a marked beaver trail at the site, and visitors are asked to take care to avoid disturbing the beavers. You may well see signs of them, and perhaps even get a glimpse of the animals themselves! Dawn and dusk are the best times to spot them. Trees for Life congratulates SWT and RZSS on this fantastic achievement and wishes them the best of luck with the trial.
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)
Funding the Forest
The purchase of Dundreggan last year was a significant milestone for TFL and was one of the largest recent land purchases in the UK dedicated to forest restoration. The extensive programme of native forest and habitat restoration at Dundreggan requires a long-term commitment from TFL; not only with the large-scale vision but also the amount of innovative planning, funding and resource allocation needed.
Our new initiative, 'Friends of Dundreggan', will help provide this funding, so I would like to invite you join this exciting programme with an annual payment of £1,000 (or £84 a month Direct Debit). As a Friend of Dundreggan, you will:
- Be making a personal contribution to the permanent restoration of 10,000 acres of remote wild land at Dundreggan.
- Receive an exclusive photographic print.
- Receive regular personal updates from our Dundreggan Project Manager.
- Receive an invitation to our Annual Friends' Event at the Estate.
Please become a Friend of Dundreggan and make a major and significant contribution to taking the vision of a restored Dundreggan forward. Join today by downloading the form here and send or fax it back to TFL. Fax: 0845 458 3506.
As an alternative to our annual Sponsored Walk we've organised a huge sponsored tree planting event on Dundreggan Estate! Join us for an enjoyable day of hands-on-activity to actively support our work on this beautiful 10,000 acre Estate. Hundreds of young aspen, birch and other trees such as hazel are waiting for you and your friends to plant them out into the wild!
Transport will be available from Findhorn and Inverness to Dundreggan and back. Bring a packed lunch, flask and rain-gear.
To register, please download the sponsor form or call the office for further details at 0845 458 3505. Please make sure that you contact the office to reserve your place!
We are looking for the following items and funds for specific purposes, to assist in our day to day operations:
- Contributions towards our focaliser training programme £1,000
- Tools and equipment for Conservation Holidays £500
- Plodda Lodge improvements: seating, blankets, exterior paint and curtains £1,400
- Two office chairs £220
Any contributions towards the above list would be greatly appreciated. To donate, please get in touch by calling 0845 458 3505 or email us.
See Caledonia Wild! Magazines, for excerpts from other editions.
First published: Summer 2009
Last updated: 21 February 2013