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March 2008

Thetford silver birch provenance trial (Part 1)

For my Honours dissertation, I am assessing variation within and between two silver birch provenance trials; one in Thetford, Nofolk, England, and the other at Drummond Hill near Loch Tay, Scotland. For an excellent explanation of what these trials are all about, see this page by BIHIP (British and Irish Hardwoods Improvement Programme), the people who set up the trials. Provenance is essentially the area of seed origin, so for example birches of provenance 'Eastern Moors, Sheffield' are from seed collected from Eastern Moors, Sheffield. Different provenances vary in attributes such as growth rate. Essentially, the provenance trials aim to determine which provenances are most suitable for timber production.

For my dissertation I am collecting data on 32 different silver birch provenances from England, Scotland, Wales, Denmark and Norway (plus 8 from France) at two trials, Thetford 312 and Drummond 34. I will then assess variation between provenances within each trial and within each provenance between the two trials. Each trial contains three 'blocks', and each block contains square plots of 25 trees for every provenance; thus each provenance is represented by 75 trees at each trial. This replication helps ensure a fair trial. My data collection involves assessing the following attributes: height; girth at breast height; number of main stems; and number of bends in main stems. I am sampling the middle 9 trees of each plot of the 32 provenances I am interested in, which means I will be sampling a total of (9 x 3 x 32) 864 trees (plus some French ones that I am doing separate because they were planted later).

Trees best suited for timber production will be fast growing (tall and large girthed) with a single straight stem. You can't get a good, long piece of wood out of a tree that is bending all over the place!

Anyway, I have now collected all the data I need from the Thetford trial, with my father acting as my assistant. It took us three and a half days, starting on Wednesday the 27th of Feburary and finishing on Saturday the 1st of March. Now I just need to get up to the Highlands and do it all again at Drummond Hill!

thetford silver birch provenance trial

A typical view of Thetford 312 silver birch provenance trial. Look how neat and perfect it all is! I did some smaller scale data collection at the Scottish Kintyre 20 silver birch provenance trial in September 2007 and it was an overgrown pain in the ass, the complete opposite of the Thetford trial.

estimating height with a measuring stick

My paternal assistant with our homemade, 5.6 metre long measuring stick. Each coloured band is 20 centimetres. He would stand with the stick next to the sample tree, and I would stand back to make a good estimate of height to the nearest 10 centimetres. The sample tree in this photo is the champion for height - just over 8 metres tall I believe.

a fighter jet over the trial

The trial is very close to Feltwell Royal Air Force Base so we got fighter jets roaring through the sky all day. At five o'clock they would play music though loudspeakers and on Wednesday it was Reveille.

identification tag

Wooden poles with an identification tag are found at one corner of each plot. Not sure what 'EDC 19' means. I believe 'B 101' is a typo - it should read 'BI 01' which stands for birch, seed collected in 2001. In 'RPN 404', the RP stands for 'region of provenance' and the N probably stands for 'native seed-zone'. This awesome map on the BIHIP site shows regions of provenance and native seed-zones. The tag in my photo is for provenance 'Rushmore Estate, Tollard Royal', just in case you were wondering!

measuring girth

Girth at breast height (about 1.6 metres) was measured to the nearest 5 millimetres with a tape measure. This data will be converted into diameter at breast height (DBH). The tree in this photo doesn't really have a girth in the 40s - the tape measure was cut to begin at 30 centimetres because the first day of intense girth-measuring had worn all the lower numbers off!

the edge of the trial

The edge of the trial. The trial was surrounded on all sides by Scots pine plantations of various age. In this photo one such plantation is on the far left, then moving right there is a forest road, a fence to keep out grazers (which had failed to keep out rabbits), young Scots pine invaders from seed blown in, and furthest right a buffer strip two silver birches wide before the actual trial trees begin.

Now read Thetford silver birch provenance trial (Part 2) !

Posted in Holidays and field trips

treeblog seedling update (Set A, Day 351)

Why hasn't there been a treeblog post in almost a fortnight? The computer was poorly-sick. Now I'm in Edinburgh for one night, and one night only, before heading north to Loch Tay for more provenance trial fun. But enough of that: to the update! On Thursday (Day 351 for Set A) I took photos of some of the treeblog gang. Enjoy!

Alpha Scots pine

The Alpha Scots pine, all set to embark on a second year of growth.

Gamma Scots pine

Look! It's the Gamma Scots pine!

grey alders 4 and 3

Grey alders 4 (left) and 3 (right). Look at the size of Number 4 compared with Number 3! It's some kind of super-tree.

a closer view of common alder 4

A closer view of the top end of grey alder Number 4. It's multitudinous buds are just beginning to unfurl. Let's hope there aren't any severe late frosts.

post-Set A unknown seedlings

The alleged alders 6 (left) and 7 (right). My doubts about these two have grown. I bet they are birches. [Update (August 2008): They aren't birches or alders, and I still don't know what they are so I'm calling them 'post-Set A unknown seedlings'.]

cider gums 3, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 14

Feast your peepers on a selection of the best cider gum seedlings (plus the special Number 3, far left). From second left to far right are Numbers 7, 9, 10, 12 and 14. Which one do you reckon looks best? I'm just about going with Number 10.

And the very next day (Friday), I repotted grey alder Number 4 and the biggest cider gums (Numbers 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14). And whilst I was messing around getting mucky... I planted treeblog's eagerly anticipated Set B!

Posted in The treeblog trees

treeblog Set B planted (Friday 14th March, 2008)

Fifty weeks since the planting of treeblog Set A, Set B was planted on Friday the 14th of March. I have made a few improvements in the planting process for Set B. I know exactly how many seeds or nuts of each species I have planted, and the spacing between each seed and nut is much more uniform. All together, I planted the following 105 nuts / seeds:

20 European beech nuts and 10 weeping beech nuts

Twenty European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) nuts (top) and ten weeping beech (Fagus sylvatica L. var. pendula) nuts (bottom). The European beech nuts were collected from the edge of Broomhead Park at Wigtwizzle in South Yorkshire, England, on July 7th, 2007. The weeping beech nuts were collected from the University of Edinburgh's Kings Buildings in Edinburgh, Scotland, on October 4th, 2007.

Thirty sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa Mill.) nuts. My father collected some chesnuts on October 20th, 2007 from a tree at Wigtwizzle (next to the aforementioned beech). It turns out that he also went back a few days later and collected several more - these can be seen in the photo below. The chestnuts I planted came mainly from his latter visit.

Thirty downy birch (Betula pubescens Ehrh.) seeds. I collected these from our garden (South Yorkshire) on July 9th, 2007 with a stepladder!

Fifteen mountain pine (Pinus mugo subsp. mugo Turra) seeds. I collected these from Val Canali in the Italian Dolomites on August 23rd, 2007. These seeds were all I could extract from four pine cones. I don't have any hope that many of these will germinate - if the top left seed in the photo is the norm, then the rest are woefully undersized.

So that is how Set B shaped up on Day 0. Judging by how Set A went, I expect that we'll start to see things sprouting from Set B in about four to six weeks. I can't wait!

Posted in The treeblog trees

Thetford silver birch provenance trial (Part 2)

A follow-up post to this one all about my time at the Thetford Forest silver birch provenance trial, replete with photos of trees and bark and twigs and stuff like that.

common or pearl-studded puffballs

The trial was rife with these little horrors: common or pearl-studded puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum), well past their prime. These little bags are full of spores, so mind you don't step on them. The spores are spikey and will irritate the lungs if enough are inhaled, causing lycoperdonosis.

red bryophyte

A normally-green-but-for-some-reason-red bryophyte. Isn't it pretty?

silver birch seed catkins

A pair of female silver birch catkins. These will be packed with tiny winged seeds!

twisting twig

This is very strange. A twig coming in from the right has made contact with a twig from a different tree and has coiled around it like a vine tendril. Why has it done this? Is it some freakish genetic mutation? Can we cultivate vine birches???

sweet chestnut

A sweet chestnut. There were a couple of big sweet chestnuts and a few big oaks around the edge of the provenance trial. These probably grew up when the land was in its previous use as a pine plantation and were retained when the pines were felled. There were loads of chestnuts covering the ground beneath this tree. I hereby conclude that this part of the forest has a squirrel shortage, and that rabbits don't like chestnuts (there were a lot of signs of rabbit activity).

bark on a Scots pine stump

Looking down at bark on a pine stump. A few of these stumps were scattered about the trial, remnants of the old plantation. Most of the stumps had been removed and were piled outside the trial. I guess the ground was then rotovated to level it off again.

young pines

These young pines, probably Scots pines, were growing right next to the birch trial. One day they might look like...

mature Scots pine

... this. A mature Scots pine plantation, just a couple of hundred metres from the birch trial. These can't be far from being harvested now.

And today I am fresh back from another silver birch provenance trial, this one overlooking Loch Tay up in the Highlands. I shall tell you all about it in the next post!

Posted in Holidays and field trips

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial

I spent the last week up in the Highlands by Loch Tay, collecting data from the Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial at Boreland (Drummond 34). About three weeks previous to my Highlands trip, I'd been down in Thetford for a week at another silver birch provenance trial (see this post and this post). Whereas the Thetford site was a model provenance trial, all perfect neat rows and level ground, the Drummond Hill trial was a bit of a 'mare. Not as bad as the provenance trial in Ormsary (Kintyre 20) that I visited in September, but still a bit of trouble. The site was split in two by a forest road, and the lower portion was a right weird shape. The ground was all stoney and uneven, and holes made during mounding were often hidden by dead vegetation. It was a pain to traverse, and was real ankle-spraining country. Luckily no injuries were sustained, and I was accompanied at all times by my assisstant forester in case any such sprainage should have ocurred. The upper section of the site was less stoney, but was still full of stumps and holes. And the trees were planted all higgledy-piggledy! Some of this was understandable because of all the stumps and stones and whatnot, but some of it seemed a bit unnecessary. As a result, whilst in some parts of the trial clear rows of birches could be seen and we knew exactly where we were, in other parts we were a bit lost, especially when trees were missing, out of line, or just plain not planted in a nice five-by-five square!

Nevertheless, these difficulties were overcome and I now have all the data I require for my dissertation!

the provenance trial from afar

The provenance trial from afar (viewed from the other side of Loch Tay).

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial

Drummond Hill silver birch provenance trial from a much closer perspective. The birches are behind the deer fence, and in the background you can see a spruce plantation.

view over Loch Tay from the trial

A typical view over Loch Tay from the trial (only typical when the Sun was shining!) - isn't it beautiful?

an old shieling within the trial

I think this is part of a ruined old shieling. There were a few ruins in the lower portion of the trial site, and I think they were all once shielings. The OS map for the Loch Tay area shows an abundance of old shielings all over the place, but the ones in the provenance trial aren't marked on. I wonder whether or not these ruins are known to archaeologists? This page at 'Comunn Eachdraidh Nis' has a good description of what shielings were.

Loch Tay at sunset

Loch Tay. This pleasant scene was seen as we were leaving the trial site at half six on the second day, Tuesday the 18th of March.

fallen ash

When all the hard work was done, it was time for a little sight-seeing. The map showed an incised cross very close to the provenance trial, so I went to look at that. A plaque on the back identified it as the Fernan (or Fearnan) Fair or Market Cross. Right next to the cross a huge ash tree had fallen over, its upper branches reaching over the cross.

wooded isle

In Killin, on an island in the middle of the River Dochart just below the impressive Falls of Dochart, is the Clan Macnab Burial Ground. There was a nice spot of woodland on the island.

farm with snowy mountain in distance

And finally, a view of the farm complex on the Kinnell Estate where I stayed for the duration of my visit.

One last thing. We also made a visit to the nearby Fortingall Yew, the oldest tree in Europe, which is estimated to be between two and five thousand years old! The Wikipedia page gives a basic description.

Posted in Holidays and field trips + Notable trees

treeblog Set A - One-Year Anniversary!

Alpha Scots pine (Set A) - Day 0 to Day 351

The development of the Alpha Scots pine (Day 0 to 351).

Today is the first anniversary of the planting of treeblog's Set A! In celebration of their first year in earth, I have prepared this special post to list the major milestones that they have experienced so far.

Day 0 (28th March, 2007) The day of treeblog's inaugural plantage! Seeds of three species were planted as Set A: cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii Hook. f.); grey alder (Alnus incana (L.) Moench); and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.). The Scots pine seeds came from a packet given to me by a representative of the Forestry Commission at a University of Edinburgh careers fair in October 2006. The cider gum seeds came from a packet liberated from a university lab session in February 2007. The grey alder seeds were collected on a university field trip in February 2007.

Day 30 (27th April, 2007) Cider gum and grey alders had definitely sprouted by this day. There was no sign of any seedlings six days earlier on Day 24 (21st April, 2007).

Day 31 (28th April, 2007) Nine cider gums and four grey alders had sprouted so far.

Day 38 (5th May, 2007) Some of the grey alder and cider gum seedlings had gone missing! Cause unknown; probably slugs. The first Scots pine seedling is thought to have sprouted.

Day 47 (14th May, 2007) The Alpha Scots pine had definitely sprouted by this day.

Day 55 (22nd May, 2007) The Beta Scots pine had definitely sprouted by this day. Alpha Scots pine has grown fast, but worries were raised about about the apparent lack of growth in the alder and cider gum seedlings.

Day 69 (5th June, 2007) The above ground parts of the Beta Scots pine were devoured in the night! The surviving seedlings (one Scots pine, three cider gums, four grey alders) plus the Beta Scots pine root and a germinated alder seed were transplanted from seed trays into individual pots.

Day 87 (23rd June, 2007) The second wave of cider gums, consisting of six new seedlings, is transplanted from the seed trays into individual pots. A further cider gum (Number 10) is left behind in the seed trays because of its 'sickly and runtish form'. Despite exceptionally wet weather, the treeblog seedlings 'don't appear to be suffering from any adverse effects'.

Day 89 (25th June, 2007) The day of the Great Sheffield Flood! The treeblog seedlings were not swept away, but they were sitting (some partially submerged) in water-saturated soil. 'One of the poor cider gum seedlings had keeled over and was stuck, submerged, to the soil. I righted it as best I could and it appears to have recovered somewhat.'

grey alder Number 4 (Set A) - Day 0 to Day 351

The development of grey alder Number 4 (Day 0 to 351).

Day 95 (1st July, 2007) The Beta Scots pine root and the germinated grey alder seed were pronounced 'missing, presumed dead'.

Day 103 (9th July, 2007) The third wave of cider gums, consisting of a further six new seedlings, is transplanted from the seed trays into individual pots. The 'sickly and runtish' Number 10 'no longer looks sickly, but has its first set of proper leaves on the go'.

Day 122 (28th July, 2007) A third (Gamma) Scots pine is discovered! I transplanted it into an individual pot on Day 124 (30th July, 2007). The Alpha Scots pine was also repotted, correcting its lean.

Day 130 (5th August, 2007) On this day I carried out a review of all the cider gums. All are noted to be doing well, with the exception of Numbers 3, 6 and 15.

Day 154 (29th August, 2007) Grey alder Number 4 is easily the largest of all the seedlings, a fact that holds to this very day. The other three alders are still small, but the Alpha Scots pine has corrected its lean. The tall cider gums are looking rather spindly, but the weird Number 3 is putting out plenty of lateral growth.

Day 202 (16th October, 2007) The 'treeblog surprises' were revealed to be common alders [Update (August 2008): they are actually grey alders].

Day 221 (4th November, 2007) Autumn is seen to be beginning to turn the grey alders' leaves brown.

Day 264 (17th December, 2007) For the cider gums, Number 6 is still a runt and Number 3 is still a freak, but Number 15 is doing well. Numbers 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 14 are all noted as being tall – although 12 and 14 are a bit wonky. All the grey alders are leafless (except for Number 3, which still has one green leaf). Two seedlings are discovered to have sprouted in the grey alder tray! But are they really alders or are they sneaky birches?

Day 319 (10th February, 2008) The two new 'alders' are transplanted into a pot.

Day 351 (13th March, 2008) The grey alders' buds are just beginning to open, as are the buds of the two 'alders' that may be birches.

Day 366 (28th March, 2008) Today - the first anniversary of treeblog's inaugural planting!

cider gum Number 9 (Set A) - Day 0 to Day 351

The development of cider gum Number 9 (Day 0 to 351).

Posted in The treeblog trees

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