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February 2009

Festival of the Trees 32

Hello there. Welcome to the February 2009 edition of the Festival of the Trees, hosted with great pride by your humble treeblog. Take my hand, hold it tight; and walk with me through Festival Forest. Over there, do you see them? Photographs! And what’s that by yon grizzled oak? A poem? There, by that pair of silver birches – see those videos? And all about us the branches hang heavy with a fine crop of blog posts, ripe for the reading! Perhaps today I’ll be able to show you a bark rubbing - ah! Sorry for getting your hopes up: a bark rubbing has never been seen in this forest before...

Let us begin with a stunning winter photograph because after all, in Britain at least, we are fast in the grip of winter.

Lonely Frosty Tree by Nikki-ann of Notes of Life

The beautifully wintry Lonely Frosty Tree by Nikki-ann of Notes of Life.

The yew at Strata Florida Abbey is one of Caroline of Coastcard’s favourite trees. The ruined abbey, founded in 1164, is the traditional burial place of the great medieval poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, to whom there is a memorial beneath said yew. Also near the tree, which has been damaged by storms and struck by lightning, stands an unusual headstone marking the grave of a leg. The brilliant poem, Lament for a Leg, by John Ormond elaborates, and as the poem includes the yew – and did I mention it was brilliant? – I shall post it here in full (or rather, copy it from Poem of the Week):

A short service, to be sure,
With scarcely half a hymn they held,
Over my lost limb, suitable curtailment.
Out-of-tune notes a crow cawed
By the yew tree, amd me,
My stump still tourniqued,
Akward on my new crutch,
Being snatched towards the snack
Of a funeral feast they made.
With seldom a dry eye, for laughter,
They jostled me over the ale
I'd cut the casks for, and the mead.
"Catch me falling under a coach",
Every voice jested, save mine,
Henry Hughes, cooper. A tasteless caper!
Soon with my only, my best, foot forward
I fled, quiet, to far America.

Where, with my two tried hands, I plied
My trade and, true, in time made good
Through grieving for Pontrhydfendigaid.
Sometimes, all at once, in my tall cups,
I'd cry in hiraeth for my remembered thigh
Left by the grand yew in Ystrad Fleur's
Bare ground, near the good bard.
Strangers, astonished at my high
Beer-flush, would stare, not guessing,
Above the bad-board, that I, of the starry eye,
Had one foot in the grave; thinking me,
No doubt, a drunken dolt in whom a whim
Warmed to madness, not knowing a tease
Of a Welsh worm was tickling my distant toes.

"So I bequeath my leg", I'd sat and sigh,
Baffling them, "my unexiled part, to Dafydd
The pure poet who, whole, lies near and far
from me, still pining for Morfudd's heart",
Giving him, generous to a fault
With what was no more mine to give,
Out of that curt plot, my quarter grave,
Good help, I hope. What will the great God say
At Dafydd's wild-kicking-climbing extra leg,
Jammed hard in heaven's white doorway
(I'll limp unnimble round the narrow back)
Come the quick trumpet of the Judgment Day?

John Ormond, 1973

One of my own favourite trees is the lonely oak on Whitwell Moor, or as I’ve started to think of it as, the Lonely Oak. Growing happily beside a path, I’ve walked by this stunted English oak (Quercus robur) more times than I can remember, and I always stop to say hello. I suppose I only began taking notice of the lonely one as an individual two or three years ago, but I would have been past it even as a young child ont’ way t’ trig point. It’s a great little windswept tree.

The Lonely Oak at sunset.

The Lonely Oak at sunset (22nd January 2009).

From a favourite tree to a favourite tree-eater. Dave of Via Negativa profiles the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) - replete with video of a porky pine troughing some eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)! I also heartily recommend his poem, Questions for the Porcupine.

Vicky of TGAW celebrates the fifth anniversary of the reloakation of Old Glory, a big old valley oak (Quercus lobata) in California. It’s an incredible story, and I’ll let Vicky have the telling of it; but if you haven’t heard about this before… prepare to be amazed! The Hertford Tree Memorial Park, the subject of another post at TGAW, is a place where trees are planted in the memory of late loved ones.

Four tree species are put under the spotlight in a quartet of spiffing posts: Seabrooke of the Marvellous in Nature handles the eastern white pine (Pinus strobes); Mary of A Neotropical Savanna takes on one of the autograph trees (Clusia pratensis); Zhakee of Sierra Nevada Ramblings addresses the California sycamore (Platanus racemosa); and Jennifer of A Passion for Nature has the eastern hemlock covered – aye, that old porcupine favourite.

Over at local ecologist, Georgia recollects her favourite trees, which range from fruit trees to baobabs. One of Karen of Rurality’s favourite trees is the monkey cigar tree (Catalpa speciosa), a catalpa with interesting seed pods. Karen also asks what the heck is that spongy black fungus?

Visit Drawing the Motmot for an extraordinary view from the canopy of the Amazonian rainforest, and then head over to the South Florida Watershed Journal where Robert shares what is really the opposite perspective of a different flavour of giant trees at Big Cypress Bend - one of only two stands of old growth cypress remaining in southern Florida. Also in the SFWJ: a short video of two pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) pecking a slash pine (Pinus elliottii).

Read about part of Bev of Journey to the Center’s special journey in return to the redwoods – part 2 and meet the totemic Corkscrew Tree.

My Bodhi by KGT of When I Wax

My Bodhi by KGT of When I Wax. A tree often in his dreams.

Here’s another poem, by Dave Lewis of the Welsh Poetry Competition. It is called Hope.

I went to the forest
To see what I could find.
I found a creature in the trees
Writing songs upon the leaves.
And his words were oh so true
And his words were oh so kind.

He told stories of Man's wars
He told stories of Man's greed,
But no one heard his lyrics
No one heard his cries.
The grown-ups wouldn't listen
And they told the children lies.
And all the time the forest
Was dying seed by seed.

Now the wind has blown like wintertime
And they've chopped the forest down.
The warnings and the prophecies
They're lost and dead and gone.
Except for this one precious leaf
Shouting its Autumn song.

The Lonely Oak shrouded in mist.

The Lonely Oak shrouded in mist (29th January 2009).

Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta asks how do you recognise a healthy forest? One indicator is a large amount of dead and decaying material, which means nutrients are being recycled back into the soil to be made available for other organisms. Go and have a wander through the deadwood – and woodpecker peckings.

Eric of Neighborhood Nature looks to birds and trees for signs of spring. He uses the maple in the post’s photo to track the changes from summer to winter and back.

Gardners’ Tips gives advice on growing birch – especially silver birch (Betula pendula) – in the garden.

Adea amici degli alberi (Adea friends of the trees) shares a tree-lovin’ video, and Praveen of Tao of Simplicity shares a quote attributed to Ricardo Semler:

I once took a physics course, at the end of which the professor had only one question: How far can you go into a forest?

The correct answer was midway. Go beyond that and you are leaving the forest.

The Lonely Oak in summer.

The Lonely Oak in summer (12th August 2007).

That’s it for this month’s edition of the Festival of the Trees. I hope that your time was spent in an enjoyable manner, and that you found something interesting! Next month’s Festival will be hosted by Georgia of local ecologist. Send your submissions to info [at] localecology [dot] org, or use the online submission form. The deadline is the 27th of February.

And as we left the Festival Forest, we spied some thing take flight through the tangled undergrowth. Could it be…?

common alder bark rubbing

Common alder (Alnus glutinosa) bark rubbing (31st January 2009).

Posted in Miscellany

A walk in the snow (2nd February 2009): Part One

Everything was white.

It snowed pretty heavily Sunday night and most of Monday up here - probably the biggest snowfall in our local area in seven or eight years. It put down a good six or seven inches in our garden; the roads were covered; the treeblog trees were covered; the roofs and lawns and trees and bushes were covered; the hillside was covered. Everything was white. So as a dedicated lover of snow, while the rest of the UK was plunged into chaos (according to the tabloid press), I strapped myself into snow-proof attire and headed for the countryside...

My first port of call: the ‘first wood’ on Whitwell Moor. The trees prominent in the foreground are Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), but this part of the wood also contains plenty of beech (Fagus sylvatica), English oak (Quercus robur), and larch (Larix decidua).

This split English oak on the edge of the wood featured heavily in a mid-January treeblog post on galls.

Snowy holly (Ilex aquifolium) leaves – those Christmas card favourites.

Hello! It’s the Lonely Oak, last seen with a bit on snow on treeblog in January 2008.

Snow-packed Scots pine needles.

A pair of heavily snow-laden beeches in Millstones Wood, a veritable winter wonderland.

The view south-west from the southern edge of Millstones. Ewden Beck courses through the wooded valley, which splits Broomhead Moor on the left from Upper Commons on the right.

It didn’t snow on Tuesday or Wednesday, so the roads cleared up. But we got another inch or so on Thursday morning. It’s Friday afternoon as I write this and there has been no fresh snow today. The roads are clear, but the gardens and pavements are still covered. To be continued...

Posted in Gone for a walk

A walk in the snow (2nd February 2009): Part Two

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) to the left of me, European larch (Larix decidua) to the right...

A row of most snowy beeches (Fagus sylvatica).

In the heart of Millstones Wood...

Out in the fields, the snow was drifting behind the walls. Walking along a footpath hidden beneath this drift, I was ploughing through waist-high snow in places. It was either that or slide down a gorse-covered hill! The wind blowing through the gaps in the dry stone wall was sculpting fantastic shapes – this and the next photograph have been altered to highlight these.

More snow-sculpture. The oft-mentioned Millstones Wood can be seen in the left half of the background.

Near Ewden Height, and the snow was coming thick and fast. The bush in the foreground is gorse (Ulex europaeus) – a.k.a. whin or furze.

Millstones Wood again. Beech, beech, and more beech.

Posted in Gone for a walk

Woodland expansion in Scotland between now and 2050

A recent BBC article caught my eye. The headline, rather sensationalist for a forestry story, was Scotland ‘needs a billion trees’. “Wow,” I thought. “What for?” The first paragraph of the article, which is basically just a rehash of this Forestry Commission news release, reads:

Scotland must plant more than a billion trees if it is to meet a target of having 25% woodland cover by 2050, Forestry Commission Scotland has said.

”What is this target for, and who has set it?” I thought, and started digging through strategies and action plans. The target was set in the Scottish Forestry Strategy 1, which is the Scottish Government’s framework for ‘taking forestry through the first part of this century and beyond’. It was laid before the Scottish Parliament in October 2006. From the Strategy’s Executive Summary:

We would like to see Scotland’s woodlands increase from 17.1% of our land area to about 25%. Work done for Forestry Commission Scotland by Macaulay Research Consultancy Services indicates that this is feasible.

According to the Forestry Commission’s Forestry Facts & Figures 2008 2 and Forestry Statistics 2008 3, there were 1,342,000 hectares of woodland in Scotland as of the 31st of March 2008 – approximately 17.2% of the land area. Therefore an increase to 25% woodland cover will require the creation of approximately 610,000 ha of woodland. I’ve no idea where the BBC got their ‘billion trees’ number from, as I’m sure that ‘trees per hectare’ is a highly variable figure.

The Scottish Government’s Rationale For Woodland Expansion 4 - their Woodland Expansion Strategy – lists a number of woodland creation priorities identified in the Scottish Forestry Strategy under the heading ‘Why do we want more woodland?’:

  • Helping to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Restoring lost habitats and adapting to climate change.
  • Helping to manage ecosystem services.
  • Underpinning a sustainable forest products industry.
  • Supporting rural development.
  • Providing community benefits.
  • Enhancing urban areas and improving landscapes.

The first two priorities are by far the most important in my opinion. As everybody knows, trees capture (or sequester) carbon through photosynthesis. By creating more woodlands, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere decreases and the amount of carbon locked up in forest soils and biomass increases, thus contributing towards the mitigation of climate change. Unsurprisingly, woodland creation features in the Scottish Climate Change Action Plan 2009 - 2011 5, which was launched on the 2nd of February 2009 by Scotland’s Minister for Environment, Michael Russell, and makes for very interesting reading. The Action Plan ties in with the Scottish Forestry Strategy. The November 2008 consultation paper, Climate Change and the National Forest Estate: Consultation on forestry provision in the Scottish Climate Change Bill 6, says it best in this passage:

Many types of woodland creation can contribute cost-effectively towards net emissions reduction, and there is potential to increase Scotland’s woodland and forest area in order to take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The Scottish Forestry Strategy includes an aspiration to achieve 25% woodland cover in Scotland by the second half of this century. Achieving this will mean creating about 10,000 ha of new woodlands each year, locking up an additional 0.2 Million tonnes per year (Mt/yr) of carbon by 2020 and an additional 1.2 Mt/yr by 2050.

That’s a fair old increase in carbon sequestration and woodland cover!

1 The Scottish Forestry Strategy is available from:
2 Forestry Facts & Figures 2008 is available from:
3 Forestry Statistics 2008 is available from:
4 The Scottish Government’s Rationale For Woodland Expansion is available from: (Woodland Expansion Strategy link).
5 The Scottish Climate Change Action Plan 2009 - 2011 is available from:
6 Climate Change and the National Forest Estate: Consultation on forestry provision in the Scottish Climate Change Bill is available from:

Posted in Miscellany

treeblog’s Second Anniversary

The crown of a beech (Fagus sylvatica) in winter. This photograph is contemporary with treeblog’s beginnings. It was taken in Edinburgh on the 3rd of February 2007, probably on Oswald Road in the Grange.

Today is a special day for treeblog; two years have passed since the first post here was published. Revisiting that post today, it reads like a manifesto. I laid down my intentions for this blog, and I have stuck by them.

The purpose of treeblog - the point of its existence - is to form a chronology of the development of a group of trees, right from being planted as seeds or nuts. To chart their development from germination to maturity… supposing that they don’t die before they get there.

And that is what I have being doing. Of course there is much more to this blog. I post the occasional sciencey bit, the occasional newsy bit, and more often than not I post sets of photographs I have taken on walks. But the treeblog trees remain the core of this site.

I planted seeds from three species on the 28th of March 2007. This Set A consisted of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii), and grey alder (Alnus incana). It was largely a success; almost two years later, two Scots pines, fifteen cider gums, and four grey alders are still going strong. View their progress via the Photo-timelines, or read all relevant posts here. I haven’t given a proper update on Set A since the end of November, mainly because the trees change so little throughout the winter, but expect something in the near future.

Fifty weeks after Set A was planted, it was Set B’s turn. This time seeds and nuts came from downy birch (Betula pubescens), mountain pine (Pinus mugo), European beech (Fagus sylvatica), weeping beech (F. sylvatica var. pendula), and sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Unfortunately, Set B was an embarrassing failure. Only one downy birch germinated, and it quickly died.

What will treeblog’s third year hold? The planting of Set C is a certainty. I’m going to have another attempt with sweet chestnuts, which I collected from the same tree as I did the Set B nuts. This time, I collected a lot more. I’m also reattempting birch, but whether or not I’ll be planting downy birch or silver birch (B. pendula) seeds I’m not yet sure. I’m having a bit of trouble deciding on what species the parent tree belongs to, y’see. The last time I saw it (about a fortnight ago), I was leaning towards silver. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) will complete the set. I don’t want to fail this time!

Enough of looking forwards, let’s have a look behind us. Last year, on treeblog’s first anniversary, I listed ten quite good posts from the inaugural annum. This time I’m listing just five fairly interesting posts from the past twelvemonth:

Thetford silver birch provenance trial (Part 1) (4th March 2008), in which I gather data for my dissertation.

Collecting berries from a favourite rowan, Upper Midhope (17th August 2008), in which I am dismayed at the fall of one of my favourite trees.

A wander in Millstones Wood (24th October 2008), in which I show off some very autumnal photos.

Five favourite photos from 2008 (11th January 2009), in which I explain my five favourite treeblog photos from last year.

Festival of the Trees 32 (1st February 2009), in which I have the pleasure of hosting this month’s edition of the FOTT.

And so begins a third year of tree blogging!

Posted in Miscellany + The treeblog trees

Photos from a walk down Ewden (21st February 2009): Part One

My legs took me on a wee walk down Ewden valley the other day... I found a tunnel in the woods.

This young holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) looked beautiful bathed in the late afternoon sun, but unfortunately this photo doesn’t do it justice! And I don’t know whether it was this particular holly, or if I’ve just never noticed before, but the butter-coloured leaf margins were quite striking.

The vigorous-looking leading shoots of the same holly.

Three hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna) provide the backdrop for this barb. The hawthorns have spikes too.

A weird little twig sticking out of a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) trunk. When this tree gets older the smooth bark will turn platey and flaky-looking, like this.

A tiny-weeny twig sticking out of the same sycamore. I think you can see it in the top left of the previous photo.

A reflection of sycamore and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) trees. Not in the Ewden valley, this one! Can you guess what is doing the reflecting?

Posted in Gone for a walk

Photos from a walk down Ewden (21st February 2009): Part Two

Carrying on from where I left off... While Part One was all about the broadleaves (and there was holly and hawthorn and sycamore and ash), Part Two is all about the conifers (and there is pine and Sitka spruce and larch, plus cameos from holly and oak). Enjoy!

Right on the edge of Broomhead Reservoir, a couple of the wee nippers that are springing up from seed dropped by the big forestry trees overhead. On the left, a luscious young pine (Pinus); on the right, a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) seedling.

One particular spot, again right at the edge of the reservoir, was rich in chewed up spruce cones. The one shown in this photo is wedged between the spikes of a holly leaf. I saw another also wedged on a holly leaf and one wedged upright into a crack in the stump of a felled tree (see photo below). This stump was the centre of the cone stripping activity - obviously a favoured eating spot for some creature. From my Animal Tracks and Signs book, by Preben Bang and Preben Dahlstrøm:

Cones are a very important food… and conifer seeds form the bulk of [a squirrel’s] diet for a large part of the year… Fallen cones… are generally gnawed on the ground. The squirrel will usually sit on a little hillock or tree stump, so it has a good view all around and can spot possible danger in plenty of time… Squirrels begin gnawing at the base of the cone, holding it tilted with their forepaws… When it cannot tear off any more scales… it holds the cone firmly against the ground or branch, with one forepaw on the tip and the other on the scale-bearing section… Squirrels do not normally gnaw off all of the scales, but leave the top ones like a little tuft at the top of the axis. Clearly it would be difficult for it to gnaw off these last few scales, as this is where it has hold of the cone with its paw… As a particular squirrel will always hold a cone the same way, squirrels can be divided into right- or left-handed…

The distinctive, redonculously long leader of a Sitka sapling in an area of natural regeneration following clearfelling.

A recently cut spruce stump. We planted you; we let you grow big and strong; and then we cut you down, because all we ever wanted was your body.

Don’t forget to look up! The green trees are Sitka spruce and the bare trees are larch (Larix), one of the few deciduous conifers.

Much of the land just north of Broomhead Reservoir is forestry plantations of pine, Sitka spruce and larch. It might be owned by the Forestry Commission, but I’m not sure. A few years ago they clearfelled a patch, and more recently some thinning has being going on. Some of the trees that consequently became more exposed have since blown over. The cone in the photo is right at the top of a windthrown Sitka spruce, somewhere I wouldn’t normally get to see. The cones of the other spruce commonly found in Britain, the Norway spruce (Picea abies), have pointy tips.

This is the very topmost tip of the same fallen tree. The distinctive twin blue-white bands on the underside of the needles are waxy strips where the stomata (‘breathing holes’ for photosynthesis) are located. Notice how the needles are pressed upwards close to the shoot at the top of the tree; lower down, the needles are held perpendicular to the tree (like those of the seedling in the first photo).

Posted in Gone for a walk

treeblog update (Set A, Day 702): grey alders & Scots pines

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally posting a treeblog update! It’s the first one of 2009 and the first one in almost 100 days - the last update was posted over three months ago on the 23rd of November. And in all that time… nothing has changed, apart from the grey alders losing the last of their leaves. That explains the lack of an update then, but with spring just weeks away I thought it best to crank one out.

What were the grey alders (Alnus incana) and Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) doing this time last year? Aside from all the trees being astonishingly small, in the update posted on the 12th of February 2008 there is a close-up of grey alder No. 4’s terminal bud… and the tiny green leaf inside can be seen, all ready for the unfurlage! But two weeks after that date in 2009, grey alder No. 4’s terminal bud remains firmly closed. If you’re good, I promise you can have a look later in this update.

Now without further ado, let’s get into this update proper:

Grey alders Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in their wintry guises. No leaves, no growth… they slumber on and dream of spring.

Grey alder No. 4: the Beast. This one is genetically superior, I have no doubt about that. It towers over the rest of Set A! Some say that it is the arboreal reincarnation of Henry VIII. I don’t know about that.

Scots pine Alpha, looking a bit wonky. I hope this year’s growth endows it with a much sturdier stem.

Scots pine Gamma, looking rather windblown. The two pine photos are not to scale; in real life the Alpha is a bit bigger than the Gamma.

Remember this fellow? What? You don’t? Well I can’t blame you. It’s the post-Set A unknown seedling, and it hasn’t appeared on this humble blog since the update posted on the 6th of October. Back then, the tip of its one and only stem had died, and I didn’t expect the rest of it to last much longer. I was wrong. It’s made it through the winter and its little reddish buds are looking radiant with health. I’ve still no idea what species it is, or even if it is a tree at all. All I’ve got is a gut feeling of willow.

Ah, très intéressant. I noticed these root nodules on grey alder No. 2. They contain nitrogen-fixing bacteria of the genus Frankia that take nitrogen from the atmosphere, where it is unusable by the tree, and ‘fix’ it into compounds that are used by the tree.

This photo shows a bit of damage to the main stem of grey alder No. 4. I don’t know what caused this, but as nothing has been rubbing against the stem I can only assume that someone has been nibbling the bark.

Budwatch 2009. Here it is, the terminal bud of alder No. 4, that great barometer of spring. When will it open? When will spring officially begin? I shall endeavour to keep you updated.

…Coming soon… the Set A cider gum update… and the planting of treeblog Set C!

Posted in The treeblog trees

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