Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild! Winter 2005
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A Good Day in the Forest!
Autumn is my favourite season in the Caledonian Forest, as the brilliant golds and yellows of the deciduous trees make it the most colourful time of year. Each October I spend several days in Glen Affric, to immerse myself in the beauty of the forest, to strengthen my passion for its return, and to gain inspiration and ideas for the next stages of Trees for Life's work. It's also a time for some creative photography in the forest, and many of my most satisfying images, such as that on the cover of our 2006 Engagement Diary, have come from these autumn trips.
So it was that this year I went to Affric with the expectation, in part, of returning with some photographs of the trees bedecked in their autumn finery. However, Nature is not so predictable - when I arrived in the glen it began to rain, the wind picked up and it rapidly developed into a stormy day! The continuous rain and blustery winds rendered photography of the trees impossible, and brought a premature end to much of the autumn display, as the leaves were blown down all around me.
Seeking some shelter, I hiked into the narrow gorge of the Allt na Imrich stream, near the Coille Ruigh na Cuileige exclosure, hoping that it might be protected enough for me to get my camera out. In fact, it was just as wet and windy there, and I spent a lot of time watching the amount of water in the stream rise steadily, because of the rain, and thinking of John Muir, the famous Scottish-born naturalist, who loved going out in stormy weather!
As I stood there, I had a strong sense of how much the forest welcomes the rain for all the life it brings. I also began to notice the beauty it brought, from the flowing power of the cascading water in the stream to the perfection of the raindrops on the fallen leaves. My heart opened, and instead of seeing the rain as an obstacle to photography, I felt my love again for this most life-giving of elements.
Despite my best efforts, I still hold within me some of our modern cultural conditioning which views rain as 'bad weather' - an attitude which has become virtually universal with our society's increasing urbanisation and separation from Nature. In that moment however, I experienced what a good day it was for the forest, and as I opened to that, I began to feel a flow of ideas and inspiration for my work (including the theme of this article!). This simple transformation of perspectives is vitally important, both for me personally and, I believe, for us all, if we are to succeed in creating a truly sustainable culture, based upon a renewed respect for Nature.
At the end of the day I returned home, dripping wet, but with my spirits uplifted and my connection with wild Nature deepened. And, yes, I even managed, in some brief lulls in the rain, to take a few photographs, which feature here and as some of the images in this magazine's Caledonian Forest Photo Gallery!
Alan Watson Featherstone
Falling leaves ... rising hopes
Allt na Muic Phase 2 gets underway!
In the last issue of Caledonia Wild! I mentioned that, as part of Phase 2 of our Allt na Muic Forest Corridor Project, preparations were being made for a deer fence to be put up on the Wester Guisachan Estate. I am pleased to report that the fence is now in place, replacing 31 small stock fenced exclosures and covering 5 hectares (12.5 acres) of land. As with the recovering dwarf birch on Balnacarn, mentioned above, progress has been slow since the little fences went up in 1996 but the deer fence will provide added protection and we look forward to seeing montane scrub habitat gradually re-establishing itself on this exposed hill side which looks north to the majestic peaks of Glen Affric. Another little piece in the jigsaw which, one day, will play its part in creating corridors of wild land connecting up those isolated fragments.
'Beyond Conservation' by Peter Taylor
There is an exciting shift taking place in the world of conservation. Much traditional conservation has involved intensive management of small and disconnected reserves. While this has been vital in protecting much of our threatened wildlife, nature needs connection to survive and thrive in the long term.
Beyond Conservation gives an inspiring insight into newly emerging approaches to wildlife and ecosystem management. The author argues that for nature to be robust enough to deal with climate change and various human impacts, we need to restore and 'rewild' large areas of land and their natural processes.
Both passionate and scrupulously researched, Beyond Conservation covers a fascinating range of topics related to wildland management. This book is quite unusual in that it delves deeply into both the cultural and scientific sides of ecological restoration. Beginning with the more philosophical and poetic values of the forest, the book goes on to give an overview of some of the many and varied ecological restoration projects in Scotland, England and Wales. The Trees for Life Target Area is highlighted as a major core wild area for Scotland, and our sister project, Moor Trees in Dartmoor, would be a key area in England. The Rhinogydd in Snowdonia could play the same role in Wales.
Taylor offers a well thought-through strategy for creating large-scale corridors between projects. He examines the role changes in agriculture and other land uses will have to play in between the core wild areas, if we are to really promote the long-term ecological health of the British landscape. A series of clear maps in the book really help the reader to visualise these ideas clearly.
The chapters on restoring ecological processes are particularly fascinating. Restoring the vegetation of a degraded landscape is fundamental, and in the current climate, most of Britain would be forested had humans not interfered so much.
Peter Taylor is an advocate for the reintroduction of our missing species of native carnivores and herbivores, without which the forest can never be truly whole. He outlines the history and ecology of animals such as lynx, beaver, wolves, moose and boar, and dispels many commonly-held misconceptions. Looking at the scope for reintroductions, Taylor is both radical and realistic. He identifies some of the major obstacles to reintroductions - including attitudes and conflicting land uses - and how they could be overcome.
The science is thoroughly researched by a very experienced ecologist, yet Taylor does not shy away from the role the forest (and its restoration) has to play in healing the human spirit. Indeed he makes a plea for us to restore wildness in our own hearts as well as on the land.
I would heartily recommend this book, particularly as it has something to offer experts and non-specialists alike, with a mixture of some technical, and some very accessible chapters. To anyone interested in ecological restoration, the history (and future) of British forests and wildlife, and the healing power of nature, Beyond Conservation is both informative and hugely inspiring.
Beyond Conservation by Peter Taylor is published by Earthscan ISBN 1-84407-198-7
In contrast to virtually the whole of the rest of Europe, the Scottish Executive has blocked proposals to return beavers to the wild here.
Scottish Executive says no to beavers
Conservationists and wildlife advocates in Scotland and throughout the UK were shocked and deeply disappointed on September 1st, when, almost three years after it was submitted, the Scottish Executive announced that they were refusing the application from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for a trial reintroduction of the European beaver at Knapdale in Argyll. The reasons given for the rejection were that the beavers could damage a Special Area of Conservation, designated under EU legislation, and that it would be illegal to kill any of the beavers which caused problems because they are a protected species in Europe. These arguments have rightly been dismissed as spurious by conservation groups, and are probably just a smokescreen for the real reason - that a few powerful vested interests, including some large landowners, objected to the proposals.
Given that SNH have conducted the most extensive (and expensive) evaluation ever of a proposed beaver reintroduction, which showed that Scotland could support up to 1,000 beavers, and that a large majority of the Scottish public want beavers back, the Executive's decision flies in the face of both scientific opinion and democratic values. Beavers have been successfully reintroduced to 13 other European countries since 1920, including such densely populated nations as Holland, and the failure to approve this scheme here now means that Scotland is, embarrassingly, lagging almost 100 years in the past on this subject.
Following a discussion at a recent Board meeting, we have written to the Executive making our views known about the decision, and calling on them to positively encourage revised reintroduction proposals. We're also currently evaluating what steps we can take now to support the return of beavers.
Meanwhile, in late October the release of 6 European beavers into an enclosure on an estate in Gloucestershire in England gained widespread publicity and further emphasises the retrograde nature of the Executive's decision.
Alan Watson Featherstone
Wild boar project takes root(s), literally!
Liz Balharry reports on the Guisachan Wild Boar Project, on the edge of the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve, which got fully underway in Spring 2005.
On their arrival in the forest at Guisachan, the 8 sows and the boar were split into two groups and put into test plots of approx. 0.5 hectares (ha) for about 3 months. During this time, all the sows gave birth, to litters of between 2 and 7 boarlets. Each sow made her own maternal nest by scraping out a hollow, lining it with grasses and heather and then covering it in such a pile of vegetation that the sow was completely concealed when she went inside. It was a compliment to the dexterity of snout and hooves that there were no bits left sticking out at all!
The sows were very attentive mothers for the first few days, not leaving to feed and trying to keep other sows and their offspring away from the nest. Once the young were on the move they went on short forays, keeping in contact with their mother by replying to her low grunts with little squeaks. Within a week the boarlets joined the 'cr'che' of other boarlets, all sleeping and playing together in one large social group. The sows kept a fairly relaxed eye on them but showed no sign of aggression or distress towards the constant stream of human visitors who came to admire them.
At the end of June the boar and boarlets were moved into their second test areas, and three months later the boar were moved again into much larger areas of about 4-5 ha per adult group. The juveniles, by then fully weaned and minus their baby stripes, were moved into similar-sized but separate areas, each with about 20 animals.
The test plots indicated that even at a fairly low density the boar rapidly have an impact on the vegetation and create bare patches of well-dug ground. The boar favoured areas with bracken and would eat both the rhizomes (starch-containing roots) and the young and mature fronds. The two test plots which contained little or no bracken-rich areas had more severe damage to existing trees (bark scraping, root stripping and root exposing). Wetter areas became heavily impacted by the boar whereas drier areas recovered quickly.
We therefore changed from a policy of restricting the boar to 0.5 ha plots (moving on every 3-6 months) to one of giving them access to over 1 ha per adult boar for the next two or possibly three years - depending on the level of impact. Although tree seedlings established in the large areas could thus be uprooted by boar at a later date, the advantage is that each group of boar now has a far greater choice of habitat. If the boar choose to spend more time in the bracken-rich areas (where we ideally want them to be) they will spend less time in the more vulnerable areas (such as bogs and the base of pine trees). In terms of bracken reduction, repeated use of boar over a three year period may also be more effective than an intensive period of activity lasting only 3 - 6 months.
Background monitoring was carried out in each test area prior to the arrival of boar. Photographs were taken at regularly-spaced survey points, and the vegetation described in fixed 1 m2 quadrats. If bracken was present, a rhizome sample was taken and the average height of fronds and stem density recorded in the quadrat. The vegetation in each fixed quadrat will be re-recorded and examined for changes every June; above-ground bracken measurements made once the fronds are fully mature (approx. September) and rhizome samples will be dug out, dried and weighed at the same time each year (October /November).
In addition, at each survey point 5-10 seedlings/small trees have been tagged and their species, height and any damage recorded - their survival rate during and after boar will be recorded each year. Transects will also be set up to monitor the establishment of new seedlings and their survival rate. Outside the boar enclosures, similar-sized control areas are being monitored in the same way.
Trees for Life volunteers have greatly assisted with the bracken monitoring work, turning what would have been a gigantic task for one person into a much more enjoyable and social experience!
Treemail - because money doesn't grow on Trees!
This year, the Edinburgh-based financial services company Standard Life made the decision to demutualise and in the process encourage a paper-free communication system with their customers. Using less paper resources represents a substantial financial saving, as well as giving a boost to the company's eco-credentials, but Standard Life went one better and teamed up with Trees for Life as a tree-planting partner in a scheme they've entitled Treemail. Following on from their initial small-scale scheme with us last spring, they have pledged £1 per customer who signs up to receive their mailings electronically rather than in paper form, up to a capped amount, giving Trees for Life a potential £100,000. The letters went out in late October and in the first week 40% of those responding were taking up the offer. We're very grateful indeed to Standard Life for supporting us in this way.
We are looking now to develop similar schemes with other organisations. If you work for a company that would benefit by changing from paper to email communications, please get in touch with me here at the Trees for Life office with the contact details for the relevant person and I'll follow it up with them.
See Caledonia Wild! magazines, for excerpts from other editions.
Published: 30 January 2006
Last updated: 25 August 2010