Thursday, 29 March 2012

Trees for Life

Last night I attended the Millionth Tree lecture held by the charity Trees for Life in Glasgow. The speaker was Alan Watson-Featherstone, almost definitely the most incredible person. Ever. He is such an inspiring speaker as well, he’s funny and quick and obviously so passionate about the work that he does that I could listen to him forever. He started off with an engineering degree and has formed this unbelievable charity that is single-handedly restoring the Caledonian forest.

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks up in the forest at Dundreggan doing research for my master’s project. The subject was the effects that two large mammalian herbivores have on the biodiversity of the forest. Ah, those halcyon days. Even now when I hear a Tree Pipit’s song it transports me back to that oh-so-magical of forests, and to think that that is it in its denuded state. Alan had lots of fabulous pictures showing what the forest should look like and one of the features that Dundreggan is perhaps lacking in (due to over-grazing all these previous years by sheep and deer) is an undisturbed understory. Some of the pictures he showed us were of marvellously bumpy ground, made up of a succession of hummocks. These hummocks are examples of succession in miniature. Occuring on top of rocks which are initially colonised by lichens, then mosses and finally blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilus), creating little mounds ,or hummocks, throughout the forest floor.

The research itself was the bees knees. It was just great being out and about all day, seeing the natural world with my own eyes, and getting properly involved in it. Absolutely fantastic. There is also a great satisfaction that comes from having identified the item and to be able to rattle off both its names, common and scientific, without much thought. Even better if they are characteristic of pine woodlands, or any area which you are in.

As such I have decided to take part in the Trees for Life sponsored walk – the Treelay. As this is the year that they will be planting their millionth tree there is a variety of different events going on, one of which is this Treelay. The tree itself, or a representative of it, will be carried round by the participants which will be walking a route which encompasses the main body of the Tfl project area. The whole route is 279 km, and the leg that I will complete is 23km long, going from Attadale to Inverinate. I shall be walking on the 15th of May and am hoping to raise £175. Please help! All the money raised goes straight into rebuilding the forest and this is something which is so special. It won’t be yourselves that get the full result of the forest replanting, or even your children, but rather their children. And is that not a wonderful thought in itself?

Here is my fundraising page, please do help, even if it is not much that you can donate, everything is something and many little things do build up to something big. Thanks,

And here’s where you can find more about Trees for Life if you want to see where your money goes:

Blackthorn vs the Hawthorn

Walking along is always an adventure. Getting outside clears away any lingering cobwebs and brings fresh thoughts to your head. Sometimes things can become stifling sitting indoors, sorry, scrub that. That should be that things always become stifling after sitting indoors too long and thought processes become warped. Stepping outside the front door changes that and helps make everything clearer.

I walk my dog, Jill. She’s a great happy-go-lucky dog. I never have to worry while walking her about her wandering off or just disappearing while I’m pausing to study some interesting fungi or to identify a previously unseen tree that’s coming into bud or to use my binoculars to identify which one of those birds is singing that particularly lovely song.

Today’s walk took us on our usual route but I love seeing the changes that spring is a-bringing. The birds were singing and the hawthorn leaves are emerging.

It is curious how they emerge at different times. One bush in the hedge can be almost in leaf when the one next may still have tightly curled up winter buds still intact. The difference between the trees is interesting too. The blackthorn in the hedge is still dormant, and none of them show any sign of life. I love the differences between the hawthorn and the blackthorn. The Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa (Draoighinn in Gaelic) has a wonderful saying associated with it: “Better the bramble than the blackthorn, but better the blackthorn than the devil”. Very evocative! And those thorns are sharp; they’ll tear your clothing with any provocation and tear your skin even worse. But what I love is that the thorns are only young twigs. You can tell the difference between a hawthorn and a blackthorn (while not in leaf) by checking the thorns. The blackthorn’s thorns (this could get confusing!) have buds on them, and when they are around 5 inches long the thorny tip breaks off and they become a bona fide twig! Hawthorns thorns are true thorns, and that is what they are destined to be throughout their lives.

Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is native to Scotland and northern England (the south of England has its own species, C. oxyanthus). It is widespread and an early coloniser, so if any forest canopy opens up, or an area is allowed to re-wild itself you are sure to find hawthorn. And that’s great because it is a lovely tree! It’s very popular as a hedge, and features in my own chaotic hedge, but as a tree it is absolutely beautiful as well. And it can be ancient, living to 300 years old. Thorns don’t develop on the hawthorn unless it’s subjected to grazing pressure, like the Holly, and presumably that must be because thorns are expensive. Hmm, I wonder if that’s why blackthorn has dual purpose thorns: makes it less of a waste of energy growing these things if they are going to have another purpose later in life. Interesting! I like hawthorn though, in part perhaps due to the ancient lore associated with her (she’s definitely a lady tree species). The hawthorn is marked as the ultimate symbol of all that is wild, sacred and untouchable.

Within the hedge there was a pair of Bullfinches, such a beautiful bird. They were flitting about from branch to branch but I couldn’t get a clear view of what they were doing. The male did wipe his beak off the branch quite a lot and I was wondering at the significance of that. I saw a male chaffinch doing it the other day, and although I’m thinking it may have some significance (display??) it may just be that they’re cleaning their beaks!

It is really incredible what thought processes your mind can go through on a walk, and this fits in nicely with a new charity event I’m going to be taking part in…Trees for Life Treelay. More about that later. For now, cheerio!