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August 2009



Habitat restoration in Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve

Flowers of the harebell (Campanula rotundifolia).

I recently returned from a week in the Highlands where I stayed in a cottage in Glen Lyon, just over an hour’s drive from Killin and Loch Tay. On Sunday the 2nd I walked up Beinn Ghlas (1103 m / 3620 ft) and Ben Lawers (1214 m / 3984 ft), two of the local Munros (mountains over 3000 feet). Most of the main path is within the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, a 4,722 ha area of land encompassing the southern slopes of the Lawers and Tarmachan ranges owned and cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

Adapted from the National Trust for Scotland’s Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve page:

… [The] Reserve [is] especially important for the arctic-alpine flora, and is also of international importance. We manage it in collaboration with Scottish Natural Heritage, to achieve a wide range of conservation objectives [including] the long-term survival of the native species of plant and animal and their habitats… some of the habitats are now so rare and vulnerable that extinction is either imminent of inevitable if we do not act to prevent it. Much of our work is designed to reverse such a process, with ‘species recovery’ and ‘habitat restoration’. For example, you can se the first British attempt to restore montane willow scrub, a rare and declining habitat in Scotland, as part of a continuum also including herb-rich birchwood. [A] Nature Trail is mostly within an ‘enclosure’ fence, within which the vegetation is recovering from the heavily grazed condition still seen outside the fence. Many of the trees and shrubs have been planted during the 1990s, but some of them, and the herbaceous plants, have regenerated without such intervention.


This photo shows the enclosed area mentioned in the above passage – it’s the reddish-brown patch in the centre of all that green. The green is mainly grass and low-growing herbs that are tolerant of being grazed by sheep and deer. The enclosed area is a different colour because a more natural flora has been allowed to regenerate thanks to the deer fencing – it appears reddish-brown from a distance because a lot of the ground cover is currently made up of heathers and flowering grasses. The mountain in the background is Beinn Ghlas; it obscures Ben Lawers.

The concentrated sheep grazing since the 18th century, and increasingly large deer populations now [deer have no natural predators since the wolf was hunted to extinction in the 17th or 18th century], have had a profound effect on the vegetation. Trees, shrubs and tall herbaceous plants cannot survive and regenerate and are now confined to cliff ledges. Farmers have rights to graze their sheep on Trust land on the Ben Lawers range, but the red deer is a native of the hills and its presence is important to the land. However, numbers are such that seedling trees cannot escape the many hungry mouths, so culling of deer is carried out on the reserve.

[Taken from a leaflet available to download from the National Trust for Scotland’s Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve page.]


Several birch (Betula) saplings and a rowan sapling (Sorbus aucuparia) – far right – growing amongst heather, ferns and lichen (the creamy-white patches) inside the enclosure. Much nicer than a vast, monotonous expanse of overgrazed grassland, innit. As well as birch and rowan, I saw plenty of willow growing; the Burn of Edramucky flows through the enclosure and you know how willow loves its water.

A wee rowan rising above tall, flowering grass; something you just don’t see outside of the enclosure.

The view south over the beautiful Loch Tay from the enclosure. I ♥ the Highlands.

This horsetail (Equisetum sp.) – a “living fossil” - is also benefiting from the habitat restoration scheme. I found this one growing with its friends by a waterfall.

Looking back through the enclosure towards Beinn Ghlas. The day started off overcast and drizzly, but by late afternoon the weather turned lovely for the ascent.


* * * * *

Featuring in the next few posts: photos of the Set A and Set C trees; a huge spruce and a money tree; a huge ash and a hoary rowan; & some big mushrooms and a big bracket fungus!


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips





A huge ash in Glen Lyon. The Falls of Acharn.

One really, really big ash.

Somewhere in Glen Lyon grows a bloody huge veteran ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Though it has a girth of truly enormous proportions, it is sadly lacking in the height department after a recent pollarding. I reckon this major piece of tree surgery was carried out about ten years ago in order to make the tree safe – it stands at the side of a road – by removing a diseased / rotten / dying crown. Happily, the tree is looking super healthy and vigorous today and has put on plenty of new growth since it was pollarded, forming a nice ball-shaped crown.

All photos taken on Tuesday the 4th of August.

Two ashes.

A look round the other side.

The longest drop at the Falls of Acharn.

Later in the day after a drive around the eastern end of Loch Tay we parked the car in Acharn and went for a walk up by the burn to see the Falls of Acharn. July was very wet and the few days prior to our visit had been quite rainy, so the Falls were an impressive sight with Acharn Burn in good spate. There isn’t just a single fall, but rather a series of spectacular falls; the photo above shows the biggest drop, which can be admired from a wee viewing platform accessed through a “hermit’s cave” (read small T-shaped tunnel apparently built in the 1760s). Further upstream are a series of smaller yet equally (if not more so) impressive waterfalls in a rapids-stylee. If you’re up in the Loch Tay area they are definitely worth a visit.

This page on the Walking Highlands site and this Wikipedia page have a few of photos that show the same views as a couple of mine, but with the burn in a much reduced flow.

Part of the series of smaller falls further upstream of the big drop. Note the daredevil tree (centre top of the photo) growing right out of the rock and leaning over the churning pool.

Even further upstream. If you like waterfalls, treeblog will soon be treating you to more watery goodness in the form of Killin’s Falls of Dochart and the Lake District’s Aira Force.

Rogues and beeches.

And still in the vicinity of the Falls, a luscious young hazelnut (Corylus avellana) is coming along nicely.


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips + Notable trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 875): Scots pines (& grey alders). Eggs & caterpillars. Eucalyptus flowers.

Scots pine Alpha earlier today (Day 875).

Scots pine Gamma.

A bit of an eclectic post is this one, gang! First of all there’s a bit of a treeblog Set A update, but only for the two Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), the post-Set A goat willow (Salix caprea - formerly the PSAUS), and one of the grey alders (Alnus incana). Normally I’d lump the pines, willow and all the alders together but I haven’t been able to this time because the grey alders are too big. I like to have a nice, clear background on these update photos y’see, and for most of the Set A trees I have a piece of plywood that’s perfect for the job. This summer the grey alders have outgrown it by quite a ways. I had a background trick up my sleeve for the last Scots pine & grey alder update (27th June – Day 822) though: I hung a grey blanket from the washing line. But in the intervening one-and-a-half months (sorry for the wait) the alders have rocketed up and are now so big that even my double-bed sheet hung from the line is too small to make do! What I tried for a background this time around – a wall of conifer – has proved so useless I’ve only bothered putting up one of the photos. A green alder against green conifer scales. It doesn’t exactly stand out from the background…

Grey alder No. 1 (with decreased brightness and increased contrast). Well camouflaged, eh?

Ohhh, by the way, I got out the tape measure and took some heights. I did the same when I did the last update, so now we know how much the trees grown in the last 53 days:

Scots pine Alpha: 27 Jun: 48 cm  //  19 Aug: 50 cm  //  Difference: 2 cm.
Scots pine Gamma: 27 Jun: 27 cm  //  19 Aug: 30 cm  //  Difference: 3 cm.
Grey alder No. 1: 27 Jun: 105 cm  //  19 Aug: 196 cm  //  Difference: 91 cm.
Grey alder No. 2: 27 Jun: 71 cm  //  19 Aug: 150 cm  //  Difference: 79 cm.
Grey alder No. 3: 27 Jun: 109 cm  //  19 Aug: 170 cm  //  Difference: 61 cm.
Grey alder No. 4: 27 Jun: 120 cm  //  19 Aug: 186 cm  //  Difference: 66 cm.
Post-Set A goat willow: 27 Jun: 25 cm  //  19 Aug: 33 cm  //  Difference: 8 cm.

That’s right! Grey alder No. 4 has lost its status as treeblog Champion to grey alder No. 1!!! Sensational!!! Grey alder No. 4 (the Beast) has been the tallest treeblog tree since early June 2007, when it took the crown from Scots pine Alpha. Other changes in the last month and half include grey alder No. 1 nearly doubling in height and grey alder No. 2 more than doubling in height! Some of my trees, that I planted two-and-a-half years ago, are now taller than me!

The post-Set A goat willow. See that bit of yellow on the uppermost leaf on the right-hand branch of the fork?

It looks like some kind of nasty fungus that is killing the leaf and the terminal leaf bud. I think the same thing may have happened last autumn which caused the seedling to fork. Will this branch end up forking again? Why is this happening? Is it something young willows are prone to?

Back to grey alder No. 1. On the underside of one of its leaves, this strange caterpillar that looks a bit like it’s covered in tiny flakes of coconut (like those you get on Tunnock’s Snowballs). No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the bugger in focus, but I think it’s clear enough for someone out there to make an ID. Anyone?

That was today. I photographed this patch of eggs on one of the alders’ leaves on the 9th of August just as tiny-weeny caterpillars were hatching out.

These insect eggs were spotted on Scots pine Alpha the same day. I don’t know what was in them, but they have all hatched and a new batch has been laid since.

Cider gum No. 14’s flower buds still haven’t opened. Here they are on the 9th, and they look pretty much the same today.

When I was up in the Highlands for the first week of August, the cottage we stayed in had a young eucalyptus (about ten to fifteen foot tall) growing in the garden. This is one of its flowers. I don’t know what kind of eucalyptus it was, but it’s quite possible it was a cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) like mine.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 876): cider gums Nos. 1 to 8

Everybody loves a good graph. This one ranks the heights of all twenty-one treeblog Set A trees plus the post-Set A goat willow as they were on the 20th of August / Day 876 (cider gums) and the 19th of August / Day 875 (the rest). The lighter section of each bar represents the previous height of each tree, as recorded on the 1st of July / Day 826 (cider gums) and the 27th of June / Day 822 (the rest), so the darker top sections represent height growth in the intervening period. As always, you can access a larger version of the image by clicking on it.

As you can see, the grey alders are now by far and away the tallest trees in Set A. Even the shortest alder, No. 2., is almost half a metre taller at 150 cm than the next highest tree, cider gum No. 7, at 110 cm. Since the end of June, the Scots pines have barely put on any height growth (probably just needle lengthening, actually). Scots pine Gamma is now only taller than the three cider gum runts, Nos. 3, 6 and 15. (Cider gum No. 3 is shown to be 9 cm tall but if its dead top is not counted, its living parts are only 4 cm tall. Runty!) The cider gums have all put on a bit of height growth in the last two months, but the growth of the grey alders has been phenomenal! No. 2 more than doubled in height, No. 1 almost doubled… and No. 1 came from being the third tallest alder at the end of June to being the tallest alder today. Perhaps if grey alder No. 3’s top hadn’t been chewed off by the mystery alder attacker, causing it to fork, it would be even taller than No. 1 is today…

If you need to do a bit more obsessing over heights, you can go back and have a look at the similar graph I made for the June 27 / July 1 heights in this post. Otherwise, let’s fire up the cider gum update! Photos taken on Thursday the 20th (Day 876).

Cider gum No. 1.

Cider gum No. 2.

Cider gum No. 3. It continues to recover from its frosty near-death experience, but will it be able to survive the upcoming winter?

Cider gum No. 4.

Cider gum No. 5.

Cider gum No. 6. Looks to be suffering from some kind of black mould on some of its leaves, but its health doesn’t seem to be affected.

Cider gum No. 7. The tallest of all the cider gums, and the fifth tallest of all the treeblog trees.

Cider gum No. 8.


Posted in The treeblog trees





treeblog update (Set A, Day 876): cider gums Nos. 9 to 15

The latest cider gum update continues… Photos taken on Day 876 / 20th of August.

Cider gum No. 9.

Cider gum No. 10.

Cider gum No. 11. The flimsy waver.

Cider gum No. 12. Joint second-tallest cider gum with No. 2.

Cider gum No. 13.

Cider gum No. 14. The very young flowerer.

Cider gum No. 15. Like No. 3, this gum was feared dead after a powerful hoar frost last winter. Look at those new shoots either side of the old dead leader and weep in awe at its determination to get really big.


* * * * *

I found a brilliant video over at trees, if you please last week: The Lorax, by Dr. Suess. It’s the animated version of the book from the early Seventies, and while quite long at 25 minutes I really can’t recommend enough that you go and watch it if you haven’t seen it before. Karen at trees, if you please enthuses: “One of the best ‘tree books’ EVER is a children’s book. But it’s not really a children’s book… one of the most lovable tree advocates I’ve ever come across happens to be a little guy straight from the brain of Dr. Seuss… our friend, The Lorax.” It is simply an absolutely, brilliantly, amazingly clever little film.


Posted in The treeblog trees





Aira Force: the money tree, the waterfall, & the GIANT spruce

Three weeks ago yesterday I was travelling back from a week’s stay in the Highlands. Seeing as the road passed so close to Aira Force near Penrith, a detour was made. I discovered Aira Force completely by chance with a load of my eco-mates in May 2008 when we day-tripped out of Center Parcs. It was an awesome little trip that made a lasting impression on me, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. There are a number of highlights to a visit to Aira Falls: there’s the money tree, there’s the actual waterfall, there’s the beautiful bit of river above the fall, there’s the whopping huge Sitka spruce, and there’s the general ambiance of the place… All this can be taken in and enjoyed in a couple of hours, but if the weather is tozzing I’d be more than happy to spend a whole day there.

And there it is! The famous Aira Force Money Tree! It is a tree wrapped in coins inside an enigma. How did it begin? Who hammered in the first coins? Who remembers to bring a hammer and coins along? How long did it take to completely cover the tree in coins, and how long since it was covered?

Coins galore, all bent by hammering. 1ps, 2ps, and a few 5ps.

A-ha! A bracket fungus growing (on alder? on hazel?) down by the beck. Q: What flavour are you? A: I think I’m a Laetiporus sulphurous - chicken of the woods, sulphur polypore. But I’m not sure. Can you help us, dear reader?

A quadruple hazelnut cluster (Corylus avellana).

A-ha! Another bracket fungus, definitely growing on an alder this time (Alnus glutinosa)! Q: What flavour are you? A: I think I’m a Ganoderma, perhaps G. applanatum - artist’s conk - but I’m not sure. These days I am old and blackened, but have a look at me as I was last year:

The same bracket on the 14th of May 2008. Again, dear reader – can you help ID?

Aira Force itself: an impressive 20 m / 65 ft drop (force, from the old Norse fors or foss, meaning waterfall.)

Downstream of the fall, Aira Beck flows through a gorge. Some of the oaks growing on the steep slope above the water were festooned with epiphytes. This photo shows a section of trunk about thirty feet up covered with mosses and ferns. I’ve seen trees dripping with lichens, but I can’t remember seeing British trees covered in ferns to this height. Remarkable.

This gargantuan Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) grows with one tree-sized limb hanging right out into space over the gorge. I have yet to see the ridonculous dimensions of this tree done justice to by a camera. Even with a bloke stood at the base, you cannot appreciate the scale of this thing the way you can when you’re actually stood gawping at it. The spruce is apparently part of an arboretum planted by the Howard family of Greystoke Castle in 1846. Well big.


* * * * *

And if you’re in the mood, how about a bonus poem by William Wordsworth?

The Somnambulist
Composed or suggested during a tour in the summer of 1833.

This poem might be dedicated to my friends, Sir G. Beaumont and Mr. Rogers, jointly. While we were making an excursion together in this part of the Lake District we heard that Mr. Glover, the artist, while lodging at Lyulph's Tower, had been disturbed by a loud shriek, and upon rising he had learnt that it had come from a young woman in the house who was in the habit of walking in her sleep. In that state she had gone downstairs, and, while attempting to open the outer door, either from some difficulty or the effect of the cold stone upon her feet, had uttered the cry which alarmed him. It seemed to us all that this might serve as a hint for a poem, and the story here told was constructed and soon after put into verse by me as it now stands.

LIST, ye who pass by Lyulph's Tower
At eve; how softly then
Doth Aira-force, that torrent hoarse,
Speak from the woody glen!
Fit music for a solemn vale!
And holier seems the ground
To him who catches on the gale
The spirit of a mournful tale,
Embodied in the sound.

Not far from that fair site whereon
The Pleasure-house is reared,
As story says, in antique days
A stern-browed house appeared;
Foil to a Jewel rich in light
There set, and guarded well;
Cage for a Bird of plumage bright,
Sweet-voiced, nor wishing for a flight
Beyond her native dell.

To win this bright Bird from her cage,
To make this Gem their own,
Came Barons bold, with store of gold,
And Knights of high renown;
But one She prized, and only one;
Sir Eglamore was he;
Full happy season, when was known,
Ye Dales and Hills! to yon alone
Their mutual loyalty--

Known chiefly, Aira! to thy glen,
Thy brook, and bowers of holly;
Where Passion caught what Nature taught,
That all but love is folly;
Where Fact with Fancy stooped to play;
Doubt came not, nor regret--
To trouble hours that winged their way,
As if through an immortal day
Whose sun could never set.

But in old times Love dwelt not long
Sequestered with repose;
Best throve the fire of chaste desire,
Fanned by the breath of foes.
"A conquering lance is beauty's test,
"And proves the Lover true;"
So spake Sir Eglamore, and pressed
The drooping Emma to his breast,
And looked a blind adieu.

They parted.--Well with him it fared
Through wide-spread regions errant;
A knight of proof in love's behoof,
The thirst of fame his warrant:
And She her happiness can build
On woman's quiet hours;
Though faint, compared with spear and shield,
The solace beads and masses yield,
And needlework and flowers.

Yet blest was Emma when she heard
Her Champion's praise recounted;
Though brain would swim, and eyes grow dim,
And high her blushes mounted;
Or when a bold heroic lay
She warbled from full heart;
Delightful blossoms for the 'May'
Of absence! but they will not stay,
Born only to depart.

Hope wanes with her, while lustre fills
Whatever path he chooses;
As if his orb, that owns no curb,
Received the light hers loses.
He comes not back; an ampler space
Requires for nobler deeds;
He ranges on from place to place,
Till of his doings is no trace,
But what her fancy breeds.

His fame may spread, but in the past
Her spirit finds its centre;
Clear sight She has of what he was,
And that would now content her.
"Still is he my devoted Knight?"
The tear in answer flows;
Month falls on month with heavier weight;
Day sickens round her, and the night
Is empty of repose.

In sleep She sometimes walked abroad,
Deep sighs with quick words blending,
Like that pale Queen whose hands are seen
With fancied spots contending;
But 'she' is innocent of blood,--
The moon is not more pure
That shines aloft, while through the wood
She thrids her way, the sounding Flood
Her melancholy lure!

While 'mid the fern-brake sleeps the doe,
And owls alone are waking,
In white arrayed, glides on the Maid
The downward pathway taking,
That leads her to the torrent's side
And to a holly bower;
By whom on this still night descried?
By whom in that lone place espied?
By thee, Sir Eglamore!

A wandering Ghost, so thinks the Knight, 0
His coming step has thwarted,
Beneath the boughs that heard their vows,
Within whose shade they parted.
Hush, hush, the busy Sleeper see!
Perplexed her fingers seem,
As if they from the holly tree
Green twigs would pluck, as rapidly
Flung from her to the stream.

What means the Spectre? Why intent
To violate the Tree,
Thought Eglamore, by which I swore,
Unfading constancy?
Here am I, and to-morrow's sun,
To her I left, shall prove
That bliss is ne'er so surely won
As when a circuit has been run
Of valour, truth, and love.

So from the spot whereon he stood,
He moved with stealthy pace;
And, drawing nigh, with his living eye,
He recognised the face;
And whispers caught, and speeches small,
Some to the green-leaved tree,
Some muttered to the torrent-fall;--
"Roar on, and bring him with thy call;
"I heard, and so may He!"

Soul-shattered was the Knight, nor knew
If Emma's Ghost it were,
Or boding Shade, or if the Maid
Her very self stood there.
He touched; what followed who shall tell?
The soft touch snapped the thread
Of slumber--shrieking back she fell,
And the Stream whirled her down the dell
Along its foaming bed.

In plunged the Knight!--when on firm ground
The rescued Maiden lay,
Her eyes grew bright with blissful light,
Confusion passed away;
She heard, ere to the throne of grace
Her faithful Spirit flew,
His voice--beheld his speaking face;
And, dying, from his own embrace,
She felt that he was true.

So was he reconciled to life:
Brief words may speak the rest;
Within the dell he built a cell,
And there was Sorrow's guest;
In hermits' weeds repose he found,
From vain temptations free;
Beside the torrent dwelling--bound
By one deep heart-controlling sound,
And awed to piety.

Wild stream of Aira, hold thy course,
Nor fear memorial lays,
Where clouds that spread in solemn shade,
Are edged with golden rays!
Dear art thou to the light of heaven,
Though minister of sorrow;
Sweet is thy voice at pensive even;
And thou, in lovers' hearts forgiven,
Shalt take thy place with Yarrow!


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips + Notable trees












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