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Newsletters Caledonia Wild! Winter 2007

Newsletter cover

Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild!, Winter 2007

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Return of the Wild Garden!

The difference the deer make

Inside the fence at Athnamulloch, blossoming heather forms a wild garden amongst the regenerating birch trees. Note the stumps visible amongst the grass outside the fence.

Common frog

Common frog (Rana temporaria) on acute-leaved bog moss (Sphagnum capillifolium) at Athnamulloch.

One day in early September I visited the Athnamulloch 1 exclosure, just west of Loch Affric, where 63 hectares of land were fenced by Forestry Commission Scotland in 1990. The volunteers on our first ever Conservation Holidays planted 21,400 Scots pines there in 1991 and 1992, and broadleaved trees, such as rowan and birch, have regenerated naturally since then. In recent years we've supplemented those by planting other species, including alder and aspen.

The area contains the oldest trees that we've planted, and I make regular visits to see how they're doing. Periodically, I also make specific photographic trips to document the growth of the trees, and this year it was time to do so again. As it turned out, my visit coincided with the peak flowering of the heather, which made a dramatic symbol for the changes since the area was protected.

Walking towards the exclosure, I was struck immediately by the huge difference between the two sides of the fence. Inside, the young trees were displaying healthy and vigorous growth, amidst widespread patches of heather in full bloom. In stark contrast, the vegetation on the surrounding land, outside the fence, consisted mostly of grass. The ground there was also scarred by peat hags - running sores in the land, where the vegetation has been eroded, exposing the underlying peat.

Regeneration and reduced peat hags inside the exclosure

In the exclosure at Athnamulloch, planted pines, heather and bog myrtle are flourishing, while outside, peat hags are open wounds in the landscape.

Crossing the stile, I spent a few minutes looking at the pines we'd planted, now over three times my height. Naturally-regenerating birch, rowan and eared willow were prolific, and it was difficult to walk around, because of the lush, deep growth of heather, knee-deep bog myrtle and other vegetation. Mosses, too, abounded, and it was hard to avoid stepping on the extensive mats of bright red sphagnum. At one point, I came across a frog sitting on some of the moss, and it seemed almost as though it was posing there for me, while insects and spiders were plentiful on the trees and vegetation. There had been peat hags inside the fence too when the area was planted, but they are now healed over, as mosses and other plants have grown freely, in the absence of grazing.

Looking around, I was overwhelmed by emotion at how much life there was, and I felt as though my heart could burst with joy and wonder at the transformation that has taken place. I was standing amidst a veritable wild garden - a vivid and colourful testament to the abundance and beauty of Nature.

I've long known that much of the Highlands are kept in a state of highly suppressed vegetation due to overgrazing, but the results at Athnamulloch graphically show what happens when that pressure is removed. Not only the trees grow, but the vegetation itself changes profoundly, with heather replacing the grasses, and the full diversity of plants and mosses are able to flourish again. For me the return of this wild garden is a potent symbol of what we seek to achieve in our restoration work for the Caledonian Forest. Beyond that, though, it's also an example of what is required all over the world, if we are to heal the environmental damage done to the planet, and create a truly viable future for humanity and all other life.

Alan Watson Featherstone


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Coille Ruigh na Cuileige

Rainbow over pines

Rainbow over mature pines at Coille Ruigh. Photo by Mick Drury.

Some 17 years ago TFL took its first major step towards forest restoration with the funding of a 50 ha exclosure on Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) land at Coille Ruigh na Cuileige. This is the place where a generation of Conservation Holiday groups have been introduced to the wonders of the forest on the introductory walk in Glen Affric. I've spent a few days tramping around in sun, showers and glorious rainbows, re-surveying the plots that were set up to monitor tree regeneration just before the fence went up in 1990. The full Gaelic name translates as 'the wooded hill of the biting midge' and when it was wind-still on the hill it certainly lived up to its name!

I was accompanied by Clare Cummings, who used to run our tree nursery at Plodda Lodge, and who has undertaken previous surveys at Coille Ruigh. For two days, we were also joined by Sarah Everitt, a student from Aberystwyth University, and her family. No planting has been undertaken within the deer exclosure, so that all the new growth is the result of natural regeneration. Initial results from the survey indicate gradual progress, with a new generation of trees forming an open, mixed woodland of pine, rowan and birch, with occasional eared willow and juniper. We now have 17 years of data from successive surveys of the site, providing a good insight into the dynamics of forest processes. Of course, by totally excluding the deer the area is not being browsed at all, so we cannot say that it is yet in balance. However, a new generation of trees is getting established there, and that is the priority right now.

Mick Drury

Clare Cummings measuring the height of a Scots pine regenerating inside the Coille Ruigh exclosure in August 2007. Photo by Mick Drury.


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Flowers of the Forest

It's been a busy summer for me, transiting from Field Projects Manager to Woodland Ground Flora Project Coordinator. Handing over former responsibilities to Mick Drury and seeing through several items of business I've initiated has limited my time to get involved in the new role. I've focussed my efforts on collecting seed and cuttings of the creeping ladies tresses orchid (Goodyera repens) and undertaking a distribution survey of it at the Coille Ruigh site in Glen Affric.

Orchids in heather

Orchid abundance! Creeping ladies tresses growing prolifically amongst heather and blaeberries at Coille Ruigh in Glen Affric.

Orchid closeup

Close-up of the delicate flowers of creeping ladies tresses.

On the doorstep

We are fortunate to have a Scots pine plantation near our office at Findhorn, where enough light now reaches the forest floor for mosses and some higher plants to grow. I have wondered for some years how creeping ladies tresses has managed to establish itself here, miles from a native pine woodland seed source, and I watched these plants through the summer, eagerly awaiting the ripening of their little seed pods. When I picked a single stalk with about a dozen pods on it and popped it into a clear plastic bag, the question of how they got there became a little more understandable: the seeds are so tiny that they can only be described as dust! They are so very fine they could easily be carried for miles on the wind, maybe even ascending into the atmosphere as fungal spores do. This one little stalk must have yielded thousands of seeds.

Toe in the water

Probably the most appropriate time to sow these seeds is spring. However, I couldn't resist trying a few sown on moss and pine needle litter collected from the parent site, in which there may be mycorrhizal fungi growing in association with the orchid. The remainder of the seed will stay in my fridge until spring. This is all part of small scale propagation trials to determine the best methods of reproduction for some of the scarcer woodland plants.

My kitchen window ledge has served well for this purpose so far with cuttings of common, intermediate and serrated wintergreen (Pyrola minor, P. media and Orthilia secunda respectively), along with some cuttings of creeping ladies tresses. I have been speaking with Jill, our Nursery Manager, about setting up facilities at Plodda Lodge for the propagation and growing on of plants to supply our ground flora reintroduction plan. The funds raised from our recent Return of the Flowers appeal (now totalling £6,387 - many thanks to everyone who has donated to this project) will be used to put up a new polytunnel, cold frames and irrigation systems to facilitate moving into production next year.

In the undergrowth

One day in August, I went to the Coille Ruigh na Cuileige exclosure in the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve, which is owned and managed by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). This site was the first joint project between Trees for Life and FCS, when we funded the 50 hectare fence there in 1990. Not a single tree has been planted there, yet with the protection from browsing, the forest and an understory of flowering plants is returning. We had seen creeping ladies tresses growing there but felt it would be useful to have a clearer understanding of numbers and distribution within the woodland.

As I made my way under the canopy of beautiful mature pine trees, I was rewarded immediately with the sight of elegant little flower spikes, adorned with up to 20 perfect, white, miniature orchid flowers. Continuing up the hill, then zigzagging my way back down to cover all the ground under the canopy, I saw more of these plants than ever before in this area. On the first 500 metre transect they were so prolific that I lost count somewhere in excess of 100 plants!. By comparison, in identical habitat on the unfenced 300 metre approach to the exclosure I had seen none.

Wherever light levels were right to allow an understory of blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) to flourish, the orchid was abundant and even grew through the tough common heather (Calluna vulgaris), where that wasn't too tall. I was amazed at the vigour of this seemingly delicate plant, when I groped my way down through 30 cm. of vegetation and a similar distance of moss in tracing back its slender rhizomes to ground level. With the kind of determination shown by this plant, sending seed on the wind for miles and growing through 60 cm. of competing vegetation, I hope, with a little help from us, to see some successful reintroductions in new and established woodland in the near future.

Adam Powell


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Over 100,000 trees planted in 2007!

As I write this article the forest is changing from its autumnal to wintery state with the recent winds bringing down the last of the falling leaves. Like the forest, the schedule of the Field office is also changing to its winter mode now that our autumn Conservation Holidays have come to an end and the nights are drawing in.

This year we have cause to celebrate as we exceeded our 100,000 trees target, by planting a total of 104,000 altogether! When the idea was first proposed to support UNEP's 'Billion Tree Campaign', it seemed a very ambitious task as it meant planting three times our yearly average amount of trees. Luckily this year saw an unprecedented number of volunteer bookings with many Conservation Holidays being fully booked. So with the support of nearly 350 volunteers and our dedicated team of focalisers TfL can proudly present the '100,000 Trees Planted' achievement of 2007.

Despite the extra planting load the volunteer teams have also managed other necessary work such as felling non-native trees, removing redundant fencing, supplementing trees with rock phosphate, helping out in our tree nursery and getting involved with the wild boar project in Tomich. Most of this season's work has been carried out in Glen Cannich, Cougie, Achnashellach, Skye and Glen Moriston.

Pirouel Dickson


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A tribute to Sir Nicholas Nuttall

Sir Nicholas

Sir Nicholas helping with aspen propagation in the mist unit of our poly tunnel in 2006. Photo by Jill Hodge.

In late July, Trees for Life lost one of our best and longest standing supporters when Sir Nicholas Nuttall died, at the age of 73. A frequent donor to our various projects, he was a life member and took part in our half-millionth tree planting in 2005. After the tragic loss of one of his daughters in 1997, he and other family members raised a substantial sum in her memory, to fund our nursery at Plodda Lodge. More recently, Nicholas had been tremendously inspired by our Dundreggan project, and agreed to buy the cottage there, as part of our purchase of the Estate. Here, his widow Genie, reflects on his involvement with us:

'It is difficult to put into words just how much Trees for Life and Dundreggan meant to Nicholas. I suppose the best way to describe the impact that they had on him is to recount a conversation I had with him almost 2 years ago.

He'd been staying at Plodda Lodge helping with the propagation project and had gone for a walk on the Dundreggan Estate, to count Scots pine saplings. In any event, he called me to say that he'd gone down on his knees that night, to thank the universe, or the powers that be, for having sent him to Findhorn all those years ago.

It was in 1986 that his friend, the sculptor David Wynne, had invited him to go to Findhorn for the conference, 'One Earth: A Call to Action'. The problem was that David didn't show up. Nicholas called me - should he stay or leave that truly foreign place? At the time, he was mildly interested in, but not particularly knowledgeable about the state of the environment. Luckily, curiosity got the better of him and he stayed. The rest, as they say, is history, for both Trees for Life and BREEF (the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation) were the direct result of that conference.

Nicholas re-educated himself on all matters connected with the sea, then fought (and succeeded, against all odds) to get BREEF established in the Bahamas. Through the sheer force of his personality he ensured that reef environment studies were added to the curriculum of the College of the Bahamas, and that legislation was enacted to protect endangered species of fish. It is no exaggeration to say that he fired, almost single-handedly, the imagination of generations of Bahamians.

Once that was accomplished, he turned his mind and his phenomenal energy to the Highlands and the forests, for while he was passionate about the sea, he had a deep and abiding love for the earth. I don't think that he was ever happier than planting, or learning about the history and habits of trees. Nor do I think that he'd ever experienced such profound contentment as he did on those walks at Dundreggan. It was where he had hoped to spend the rest of his life.

I am so very sorry that he did not achieve that ambition, but I am immensely grateful that he got to experience the wondrous peace he described. That, I suspect, was worth a lifetime.'

I knew Nicholas for over 20 years, and although we came from very different backgrounds, we were very much kindred spirits in our passion and care for the Earth. I was honoured to represent Trees for Life at both his funeral and the special commemorative service, held at the Guard's Chapel near Buckingham Palace in London. His family all commented on how much Trees for Life meant to him, and I'm delighted that their involvement with our work will continue, through their purchase of the cottage at Dundreggan.

Alan Watson Featherstone


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Company Connections

Standard Life employees planting at Corrimony

Gill Baker, Paul McKenna & Susan Shaw of Standard Life, at Corrimony during their visit with us in September.

Jeremy Bacon being filmed. Boar in background.

Sherwood Press Managing Director, Jeremy Bacon, being filmed for one of our promotional web film clips, at the Guisachan Wild Boar project site during his recent Conservation Holiday.

I recently had the pleasure of accompanying Pirouel and Alan, as we took Paul McKenna, Gill Baker and Susan Shaw of Standard Life on a site visit to Glen Affric and Corrimony. On the way into Glen Affric, we saw a golden eagle coasting on the wind, and were treated to the sight of sunlight illuminating fresh snow on the mountain peaks. We met up with Stuart Findlay of Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), and our visitors heard about the alliance between Trees for Life and the FCS, and the complexities involved in striking a balance between forest regeneration and deer stalking.

Susan Shaw planting a rowan

Susan Shaw planting a rowan seedling at Corrimony - one of the 150,000 trees that Standard Life has provided the funding for us to buy.

After seeing some of the recent planting in the Ghuibhais area in Glen Affric, we proceeded to Corrimony and got stuck in with planting a few rowan trees. There was even talk of a Standard Life Conservation Holiday, and interestingly some of the staff from The Sherwood Press, another big company supporter of our work, were attending a Conservation Holiday at the same time. We were very lucky with the timing of the visit from Standard Life and the Sherwood Press staff attending a Conservation Holiday as we have been filming some new promotional video clips for our website and we roped them all into giving us some nice quotes to the camera! You can see the new clips at We hope they will give many people a taste of all the work we do.

At Corrimony, it was great to see what Alan called the 'green stubble' of tiny trees growing on the hills and to know that in time, the stubble will turn into a flourishing forest. We rounded the day off with a quick trip to the stunning waterfall in Corrimony and I came away with my hat full of wild chanterelle mushrooms! It was great to be able to show Paul, Gill and Susan exactly how the support from Standard Life is being used, and to foster a close connection with the company that has been our biggest single supporter so far. And I think we all quite enjoyed getting our hands stuck in with the planting too! Going on a site visit really renews my enthusiasm for the job I do. The donations we receive translate directly to a visible resurgence of nature in the glens, and long may it continue.

Kerrigan Bell


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Roy Dennis is new Patron of Trees for Life

Roy Dennis planting juniper

Roy Dennis planting a juniper, our 100,000th tree in 2007, at Corrimony in early November.

We're delighted to welcome Roy Dennis as our third Patron, joining Muriel Gray and Vanessa Collingridge in that role. Roy is a professional ornithologist and wildlife consultant, and formerly worked for the RSPB, where he was involved with the reintroduction of red kites and sea eagles. He was awarded an MBE in 1992 for services to nature conservation in Scotland, and was a director of Trees for Life for 10 years. We're delighted that, on his retiral from our board in the summer, he accepted our invitation to become a Patron instead, and in this role he planted the 100,000th tree of our pledge this year to the UNEP Billion Tree Campaign.

Alan Watson Featherstone

Related pages

  • The Highland Foundation for Wildlife, a non-membership charitable trust dedicated to wildlife conservation and research, with a special emphasis on species recovery projects and the restoration of natural ecosystems.


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Staff Corner

Dan collecting pinecones, spring 2006

Dan Puplett.
Photo by Rupert Hutchinson.

Dan Puplett joined Trees for Life in 2000, initially as a full-time volunteer. As Aspen Project Coordinator, he is responsible for the Aspen Project, which aims to restore this uncommon tree and the wildlife that depends on it to a much larger area of the Highlands.

He is also very much involved with the Conservation Holidays and in seven years has focalised over sixty-five weeks. Dan is responsible for training new focalisers as well as organising student research projects.

'I was attracted to Tree for Life's combination of inspiration, passion and good science. I've always loved TFL's approach to restoring whole ecosystems, from lynx to lichens, on such a large scale. It's exciting to see fresher thinking in the conservation world generally - I feel it's what we really need if we are to restore healthy ecosystems again. I also feel privileged to have witnessed many great friendships formed through TFL. It's heartening to see how people can be brought together by a shared love of nature.'

Dan lives with his wife Kristy, whom he married in September. He loves spending time watching wildlife, practicing martial arts, conducting strange wild food experiments and playing music. So, thank you, Dan for your commitment to TFL and for all the marmite porridge (just kidding!).

Kerrigan Bell


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

First published: November 2007. First published online, December 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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Photos © Alan Watson (unless otherwise indicated) - Banner Credits - Illustrations © Caragh McAuley

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