Aspen aflutter with new energy!
I'm delighted to report that there have been some exciting new developments within our Aspen Project over the last few months. Becoming Aspen Project Co-ordinator in January has given me the opportunity to make progress with a number of ideas and proposals we've had in the pipeline.
In 2001, a survey for aspen-dependent saproxylic insects (ie insects depending on the dead wood of aspen) showed us that the impressive old aspens along parts of the River Enrick (which runs through the RSPB's Corrimony Nature Reserve) are host to some very unique insects. One of these is the elaborately named Homalocephala biumbratum. This endangered fly is an aspen specialist - so specialised in fact that it is usually associated with the decomposing sap beneath the bark of decaying aspen over 30 cm. in diameter! To benefit this, and a number of other species, we planted some more aspen on Corrimony in April, to link the stands in the gorge with those further downriver. A number of aspen-dependent insects require fairly large areas of aspen to provide them with a continuous supply of dead wood habitat, so we hope the planting will do just that.
A particularly exciting part of the Aspen Project is the expansion of aspen sites around Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric, where we have been planting aspen around different parts of the loch since October 2000. The young aspens, grown from root sections in our nursery at Plodda Lodge, have been planted alongside existing stands, as well as in some areas where this species was absent.
Part of the strategy behind this is related to beavers. In the past, Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin has been identified as a site that meets the habitat requirements of the European beaver, an animal that plays a crucial role in freshwater ecosystems. They also have a penchant for aspen as a winter food source, so by expanding the aspen we are hoping to increase the site's potential as beaver habitat. The latest additions were three new stands on a peninsula on the loch, created during a Conservation Holiday in May, when Alan, myself and a group of stalwart volunteers spent a day in relentless rain erecting protective fences and planting the trees.
In another new development, we now have funding for an aspen project in partnership with the Abriachan Forest Trust (AFT), a well-established community forest project just north of Loch Ness. The idea is to establish some new aspen stands in Abriachan Woods, which, together with wooden sign boards and leaflets, will promote the ecological and cultural value of aspen. Local volunteers will plant and protect the trees, and we will invite school groups along to take part in various educational games and activities when the trees are established. Part of the Highland BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) Implementation Programme, the funding comes from EU North and West Highland Leader Plus, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Highland Council.
In late June I took part in a survey for the caterpillars of the rare dark-bordered beauty moth (Epione vespertaria) in Speyside. This moth has been found in very few places in Britain, and in the northern Scottish sites it has only been seen on regenerating aspen suckers. The amazingly camouflaged, tiny caterpillars were often poised motionless, attached at a 45 degree angle to a blade of grass near an aspen sucker. When we tried to pick one up for a closer look, it dropped off the sucker into the grass below: an effective defence strategy against predators - and naturalists! In future summers we'll be keeping our eyes peeled for these larvae in Glen Affric and elsewhere, as any new sites where the species is identified will be highly significant in extending its known range.
I've also started a systematic survey of the aspen sites we've protected or established over the years, to see how they're getting on. In some sites the trees seem to be taking a long time to get established, while in others of a similar age the trees are taller than me. There could be many factors involved in this variability, such as soil type, surrounding vegetation and mycorrhizas (beneficial fungi on the roots). It's given us plenty of food for thought, and ideas for potential research projects. If any members are aware of any literature on aspen mycorrhizas, I'd be very interested to hear from you!
The Trees for Life Aspen Project
- Aspen Project home page
- The Aspen Project - a short video clip about our aspen project (7.5 mb)
- The Trees for Life Aspen Project
Paper by Alan Watson Featherstone published in 'The Biodiversity and Management of Aspen Woodlands' - proceedings of a one-day conference held in Kingussie, Scotland, on 25th May 2001
- Aspen Regeneration at Dundreggan
- Aspen Project Update from our Winter 2009-10 magazine
- Aspen Project Update from our Summer 2008 magazine
- Aspen Project Update from our Summer 2007 magazine
- Aspen Project Update from our Spring 2006 magazine
- Aspen aflutter with new energy! from our Summer 2005 magazine
- Trembling in the Glens from our Winter 2003-04 magazine
Information about aspen in Scotland.
- Aspen in Scotland: biodiversity and management. Proceedings of a Conference held in Boat of Garten, October 2008 (PDF, 4.4mb)
- The Biodiversity and Management of Aspen Woodlands
Proceedings of a one-day conference held in Kingussie, Scotland, on 25th May 2001
- The Entomological Value of Aspen in the Scottish Highlands
- Local Biodiversity Action Plan for the Aspen Hoverfly
- Aspen Species Action Plan for South Lanarkshire
- The Lichen Ecology of Aspen Woods - A Preliminary Analysis
- Research on Aspen in Scotland
- Research on Aspen in other countries
- The Trees for Life Aspen Project