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Newsletters Caledonia Wild! Winter 2006

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Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild!, Winter 2006

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The Power of Commitment

Alan and pine 92

The champion pine in 1992, two years after the area was fenced.

Alan and pine, 06

Alan with the champion pine in late September 2006.

The Coille Ruigh na Cuileige area in Glen Affric was Trees for Life's first major restoration project, in 1990, when we funded the fencing of 50 hectares (125 acres) for natural regeneration. Since then, I've been keeping a visual record of the growth of one particular Scots pine there, affectionately known as 'the champion'. I take a photograph of it every two years, to illustrate its growth, and as a symbol of the forest recovery that is taking place there.

Another picture was due this summer, so in the last week of September I went to Coille Ruigh for my biannual photographic date with this special tree. I have to confess to being somewhat in awe of the remarkable growth that it has put on over the years. It seems to have thrived not only due to its favourable location, but also because of all the attention it receives, not just from me, but from every volunteer group in Glen Affric during their introductory walk in the forest.

In the early years after the fence went up, when the pine was only a metre or so in height, I could easily tell its age by counting the sets of lateral branches (a pine produces one set each year). Now, it towers metres above my head and the profusion of foliage renders such chronological calculation much harder, at least from up close. It has been producing cones since 2000, and it is also taking on a characteristically unique form, shaped by the wind and the elements. I'm moved by its beauty and vigour, and can't help but smile every time I meet the tree.

A few days before this latest visit, I gave a talk at Findhorn about the history and accomplishments of Trees for Life, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Tree Programme (as it was originally known) in the community. That took place at the autumn equinox in September 1981, during a visit by Richard St Barbe Baker, the 'Man of the Trees', who was 91 at the time. He had dedicated his whole life to planting trees, and through his work, and that of his organisation, Men of the Trees (now the International Tree Foundation), billions of trees have been planted. I was deeply touched by meeting him (it was his suggestion that I publish a calendar about trees), and by experiencing the power of his commitment to furthering the cause of trees.

In 1986, almost exactly 20 years ago now, at the end of a major environmental conference I organised at Findhorn, I made a public commitment myself, to launch a project to help restore the Caledonian Forest. At the time, I had no idea how I would do that, nor did I have any prior experience or resources to help me. However, I had the most important ingredients - inspiration and passion - and those, combined with unshakeable commitment, are what have enabled Trees for Life to grow and flourish since then. Now, when I stand beside the champion pine, I see the power of commitment (mine, and that of all our staff, volunteers and supporters) made manifest in its vibrant growth and vitality.

Alan Watson Featherstone


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Nursery News

Nursery Improvements

Sir Nicholas Nuttall helping with aspen propagation

TFL life member Sir Nicholas Nuttall helping with aspen propagation in the mist unit of our poly tunnel.
Photo by Jill Hodge.

This autumn, volunteers on the Glen Affric Conservation Holidays that are based at Plodda Lodge have been helping to build a new 'standing area' for the tree nursery. Once complete, this area will house all the trees we grow in trays and pots, which currently includes approximately 450 holly, 1,100 juniper and 3,500 aspen. As we have been steadily increasing the quantities we grow of these species, a new area to hold them all had become urgently needed. My hope is that the new standing ground, which will be about 60 sq. m. in size, and will have good drainage, will prevent the trees from becoming waterlogged during autumn and winter. It will also enable us to install overhead sprinklers for irrigation during dry weather, as hand-watering was becoming very time-consuming. I'm looking forward to the completion of this project which should result in a major improvement for the nursery.

Other projects which volunteers are helping with this autumn include starting work on a new covered cold-frame for rooting holly and juniper cuttings, weeding around all of the trees grown in nursery beds such as eared willow, alder, bird cherry and rowan, and upgrading all the bark paths around the nursery beds.

A Record Year for Aspen Propagation

Aspen in nursery

Aspen abundance! Some of the thousands of new aspen trees propagated at Plodda this year.

The summer months were very busy on the nursery this year, and my thanks to the volunteers and staff who've helped with the work, such as taking all the aspen cuttings in the poly tunnel. Despite a set-back early in the season, when we had a problem with cuttings rotting-off instead of rooting in the mist-propagation unit, it still looks like we are heading for a record production year, with several thousand aspen trees rooted. We did, in fact, run out of space in the mist unit at one point, for the first time, as so many aspen shoots were coming up at once! We've also been busy potting up juniper cuttings, holly cuttings and pricking out nearly 1,000 willow seedlings which were grown from seed collected and sown in June this year.

Ground Flora Propagation Trials

Primrose plants

Spirit Mackenzie, a volunteer with us this year, with a bed of primrose plants which have just been divided up and re-planted.
Photo by Jill Hodge.

We've been continuing experiments with growing forest ground flora species of plants, for future planting under trees that have already been planted and established, to help restore the forest floor layer of the ecosystem. So we have been pricking out small seedlings of cowberry plants, dividing up primrose plants that have been grown from seed in previous years, and also harvesting and sowing more primrose seeds.

The pace of work and growth on the nursery will slow down as we move into winter, but there is still always plenty to do, such as collecting and preparing seeds for sowing or storage, grading and sorting trees ready for despatch to planting sites next spring, updating all our records of cuttings rooted and seeds germinated, etc., and of course, making plans for the busy times next spring - I look forward to seeing many of you then!

Jill Hodge


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Rising to the Challenge, with every breath you take!

Caledonian Challenge
Fiona Lindsay

Fiona Lindsay planting an aspen at Corrimony in October.
Photo by Mandeigh Wells.

Back in December last year, I got a phone call from Fiona Lindsay of the Scottish Community Foundation (SCF). For the last 10 years they have organised the Caledonian Challenge, a gruelling 54 mile hike in 24 hours on the West Highland Way, and with their 10th birthday this year they wanted to do something really special. An inspiring speech by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, at the 'Live 8' event in Edinburgh gave them the idea of planting trees to absorb the CO2 from the breath of the 1,500 Challenge participants, and of course we were thrilled that they chose Trees for Life to plant their trees for them.

The event happened on a rainy weekend in June with hard-core walkers and runners coming from all over the country. For each participant who raised £500 in sponsorship, the SCF will have 10 trees planted on their behalf. To give everyone a head start, the SCF provided funding to plant 1,500 new trees, one for each participant, back in the spring. This enabled us to plant new alder trees in Glen Cannich, where the existing alders had been suffering from dieback and really needed a helping hand.

Fiona came up in October to get a first hand view of the impact the Caledonian Challenge trees will have on the forest, and of course, we never miss an opportunity to give our honoured guests a spade and a tree! Pirouel and I took her to the RSPB reserve at Corrimony, where she expertly planted some new aspen trees.

The Caledonian Challenge raised a phenomenal £42,060 for Trees for Life! A very big 'thank you' to both the Scottish Community Foundation, and of course to all the participants of the Caledonian Challenge.

Mandeigh Wells

Nessie hats!

The 'Nessie' team walking on the Caledonian Challenge.


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

First published: Winter 2006. First published online, 10 January 2007.
Last updated: 31 January 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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