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June 2010

The Skye Trail

Team Seatle wake up to a beautiful morning on Day 3.

Last week I walked the Skye Trail over seven days with a couple of friends from uni. Skye is a beautiful island, even though 90% of its surface seems to be bog. We were mega lucky with the weather; apart from a couple of occasions when it rained at night and we were kept dry by the tent, we were only rained on for about an hour for the whole week! Day 2 (Bank Holiday Monday) was an absolutely perfect hot summer’s day.

There aren’t many trees on Skye though: a few large patches of commercial coniferous forestry, a few small yet lush woods in the sheltered parts of the island, and a smattering of tortured-looking trees alone or in small groups, usually keeping some old ruins company.

Day 2 (30th May) – Peering over the edge of the mighty Trotternish Ridge at the trees and rocks a couple of hundred metres below.

Day 3 (31st May) – Looking out over the Sound of Raasay to the Isles of Rona and / or Raasay, separated from the mainland by Inner Sound. The mountains of Torridon on the mainland are far away in the distance.

Looking in the same direction as the previous photo, but from further south along the coast (near Holm).

From the same spot, looking north over Bearreraig Bay with its hydro-electric power station to the wooded cliffs at Rubha Sùghar.

Here’s the view looking west towards the rocky face of the Storr (719 m), which towers over a chunk of forestry and Loch Leathan, the outlet of which is damned for the hydro station.

Loch Portree, or the natural harbour of Portree (Port Righ) - the capital settlement of Skye – seen from the bridge spanning the River Chracaig.

Day 4 (1st June) – Standing on Allt Dubh’s waterfall facing south-west towards the brooding Cuillin Hills. In the middle distance, the River Sligachan flows lazily towards Loch Sligachan, just out of shot on the left. If you take a microscope to this photo you may discern the Sligachan Hotel (the Slig), whose bar kept us hydrated on our fourth night.

Day 5 (2nd June) – A luscious rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) radiates greenness in the late afternoon, posing in front of Loch Slapin off the eastern coast of the Elgol peninsula.

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Above the 60th parallel in Canada you feel that nobody but God has been there before you, but in a deserted Highland glen you feel that everyone who ever mattered is dead and gone.

- Hugh MacLennan

Posted in Holidays and field trips

Set A Scots pines update (Days 1162 & 1172). Set D beeches update (Days 232 to 255).

Set A: the Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris)

Scots pine Alpha on Saturday (Day 1172). Look how the next generation of needles have begun to spring out from the new candles!

Here it is again ten days earlier, on Day 1162 (June 2nd); notice how the needles haven’t yet started growing in earnest.

Here’s Scots pine Gamma on Day 1162…

…and here it is ten days later, on Saturday. What a difference! You can check out both pines (and the PSAUS) as they were on Day 1149 in the last Scots pine update.

Set D(b): the beeches (Fagus sylvatica)

It’s the cut- or fern-leaved beech on Day 235 (May 23rd). But is it a cut-leaved beech? Its mother certainly is, but look at its leaves…

…they just look like normal European beech leaves (photo taken on Day 245 - June 2nd). Will future leaves be cut-leaved? Here’s the is it / isn’t it situation as I currently read it:

While there may exist actual wholly cut-leaved cultivars (where every cell contains the freak cut-leaved DNA), it seems that most cut-leaved beeches are ‘chimaeras’. In these chimaeras the inner tissues are identical to the normal European beech, but they are enveloped by the cells of the sport [a sport is defined as ‘a genetic freak’ by the Collins Tree Guide]. In other words, a cut-leaved beech is really a normal beech tree coated in a cut-leaved beech skin. That’s why branches with normal leaves will sometimes sprout, especially after an injury: the freakish skin has been removed and normality has been exposed to the outside world. I don’t know for sure one way or the other – I can’t find an answer anywhere – but I can imagine that the nuts of a cut-leaved beech tree are normal beech nuts wrapped (or not) in a cut-leaved skin. If that’s right, I assume these nuts would grow into perfectly normal beech trees free of a cut-leaved skin. If my assumptions are on the money, it would mean that treeblog’s Set D(b) cut-leaved beech is just a bog-standard Eurobeech. Bah.

The cut-leaved (?) beech on Saturday (Day 255). I think from now on it’ll have to be called the Alpha beech instead.

This little chap is the Set D(b) European beech – definitely just a bog-standard European beech, albeit the miracle offspring of a magnificent mature tree. I first noticed this seedling, the Beta beech, on the 18th of May (Day 230). Here it is rising above the soil two and three days later.

A few days later (the 26th and 30th of May) and this tiny beech was standing erect.

By the 2nd of June (Day 245) its cotyledons had opened…

…and by Saturday (Day 255) its first pair of proper leaves were forming. Bravo, Beta beech, bravo. The last Set D(b) update has photos of Alpha beech from Days 213 to 228 and the first photos of Beta beech along with the story of the ‘miracle’.

PSAUS: hopefully a goat willow (Salix caprea)

The PSAUS on Saturday.

Photos from May 30th and June 2nd taken by my father.

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This month’s short but sweet Festival of the Trees, hosted by Casey of Wandering Owl Outside, has been up for a fortnight. Go read!

And as June is already half-spent, it’s probably a good time to think about your submission for July’s festival, which will be hosted by Yvonne of The Organic Writer.

Posted in The treeblog trees

Set A grey alders update (Day 1180)

Grey alder No. 1 – by far the best of the alders these days. Diameter of main stem at base (øα) = 9 cm. Diameter at breast height (øβ) = 4 cm.

Ye be warned: herein there be bad news... I went on a mission to check up on the grey alders (Alnus incana) on Sunday (Set A, Day 1180). It was a pretty warm day but it wasn’t a patch on yesterday and today (27 °C in Sheffield this afternoon!).

Alder No. 1 looks pretty fantastic. When I planted these four bad boys in April, No. 1 was the tallest of the bunch; I’d say it also ended up getting planted in the best position. It has not been slack in building on these advantages; even though its lower branches have been browsed by sheep, its upper branches are nice and leafy and it has a lovely, straight stem. This straightness was threatened by the development of a fork right at the top of the main stem, but I intervened with a wee prune to ensure a single leader.

Here’s the resulting (neat and tiny) wound at the top of No. 1’s main stem. I removed the left stem at the fork (only about 20 cm long), so the right stem can continue as the main stem, keeping the tree a single-stemmer. I think that’s the first instance of a treeblog tree being pruned!

Grey alder No. 2 – it was the shortest of the alders when I planted them in the wild, being about as tall as I am. It’s still the same height, and it doesn’t really have a whole lot of leaves, but at least the sheep haven’t inflicted any new damage. As with No. 1, No. 2’s lower branches are damaged and leafless, but most of this damage was inflicted in the first couple of weeks after planting. Unfortunately, the tip of its leader has died, but No. 2 has previously had to put up with having its leader nibbled off. øα = 9 cm. øβ = 2 cm.

Grey alder No. 3 – currently the second-tallest of the four, but looking distinctly scraggly. øα = 9.5 cm. øβ = 4 cm. Like Nos. 2 and 4, it is having to compete with quite a bit of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum). It’s also taken quite a mauling from the marauding sheeps:

Here’s a selection of some of the damage inflicted to No. 3’s stem by our ovine friends. The end photos show bark-stripping damage to the lower stem, while the centre photo shows a wound on the upper stem where a branch has been ripped off.

This sorry specimen is grey alder No. 4. Not so very long ago this was miles ahead of its fellow alders and treeblog’s flagship tree. Now it’s just a green stick, stripped of its leaves and dignity by a band of woolly bastards. What a tragedy to befall such a promising young sapling! Its leader is dead too. I have serious doubts that No. 4 will be able to survive in this state for much longer. øα = 9 cm. øβ = 2 cm.

Here’s the very top of No. 4, showing the dead leader on the right and two small and unhealthy leaves (arrowed).

The photo on the left shows bark-stripping damage, along with a few wisps of black wool (evidence). The centre photo shows one of the handful of tiny leaves yet remaining on the tree; as soon as these appear, the sheep must be eating them away. The photo on the right shows a horrible slash on the main stem near its base – could a sheep have done this too?

And there you have it: grey alder No. 4 is totally screwed. Nos. 2 and 3 aren’t doing as well as I hoped. No. 1 is doing fine, but the sheep could strike at any time. Bloody nuisances. I went out of my way to plant these four trees in places where they wouldn’t be touched by the hand of man, but ironically they’re suffering instead at the teeth of sheep. What makes it more frustrating is that Nos. 2 and 3 are in a supposedly sheep-proof enclosure, but I saw three sheep in there! Three sheep that seem to prefer the taste of alder over the abundant and plentiful supply of rowan and birch that’s on offer.

Posted in The treeblog trees

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