Trees for Life magazine, Caledonia Wild! Winter 2001-02
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Insights from a Miniature World
One day in September, I visited the site of an anomalous aspen stand on the north shore of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric. The site is unusual because there are young aspen suckers growing over quite a large area, but no sign of a parent tree anywhere nearby. This illustrates one of the aspen tree's remarkable characteristics - the ability of its root system to go on living for many years after the death of the above-ground part of the tree.
All of the suckers at this site were being overgrazed by deer, so last year a volunteer group erected several small stock-fenced exclosures to protect some of them. When I was looking to see what had happened to the suckers after a year's protection, I noticed a small insect on one of the young aspens.
Stepping inside the exclosure to get a closer look, I found myself drawn into a whole miniature world of activity ...
The aspen sucker showed the classic signs of overgrazing, with a stem as thick as my little finger, and which ended abruptly at heather height. The insect I had seen turned out to be a dead fly, which had been caught by a spider. Looking around, I soon discovered the spider on its web, strung between two of the new shoots of the aspen, which had grown in the year since the fence was put up.
As I continued to look at this young aspen, I noticed two other spiders on other parts of it. Then, while I watched, a fly got caught in the first web I had seen, and the spider began to immobilise it with further silk strands. After a minute or so, one of the other spiders attacked the first one, and succeeded in claiming ownership of the fly. This was a short-lived success though, as the first spider struck back, and during the next half hour the two arachnids battled, with each alternating possession of the prey. When I finally left the site an hour later, the spiders were still engaged in their contest.
Whilst watching this miniature drama, I realised that these spiders had made their hunting ground and home in the 15 cm. of new growth above the surrounding heather that had resulted from one year's protection for a single aspen sucker. As I thought about how many spiders could make their living on that aspen when it grows to maturity, I realised just how much our work is providing the habitat for a myriad of life-forms and ecological processes. Expanding that out to include all the other aspen suckers which are growing in those exclosures, and the 3,000 young aspens in our nursery which will be planted out next year, my mind reels at the scale of the endeavour we are engaged in.
For some years, we have been using the catch phrase of 'helping to reweave the web of life' to describe our ecological restoration work. Thanks to these tiny spiders I now have a fuller impression of what that really means, in both a literal and a figurative sense!
Alan Watson Featherstone
Autumn - a time for harvesting the fruits of our labours
11,000 trees planted at Allt na Muic
The first stage of this long-awaited project has come to fruition at last! The deer fence is in place and, over a two week period in September, 19 volunteers planted 11,000 trees on this impressive site. It's impressive both for its magnificent setting in Glen Moriston, and for the steep, wooded gorge that provided the inspiration for this scheme.
A mix of birch, rowan, willow, alder and pine trees were planted and all that remains is to plant the 577 aspens from our nursery, which were too small for planting this year, and 100 junipers, which were unavailable.
That planting will go ahead next year, along with work on the next stage of the Allt na Muic Forest Corridor Project, which aims to link up the woodlands of Glen Affric and Glen Moriston.
Your donations from last year's appeal are making this project possible, and the next stage involves felling a strip of non-native conifers in the Forest Enterprise plantation to the east of the Allt na Muic stream. This will allow for the subsequent establishment of native trees there, and these will form a link between our planting project of three years ago (on the Balnacarn Estate) with this year's planting. The result of all this will be a ribbon of native woodland along most of the length of the Allt na Muic stream. Two other small initiatives further upstream will also enhance this project: protecting young aspen trees in a small copse by a waterfall, and deer fencing another area for dwarf birch regeneration on the higher ground to the north.
It was a privilege for me to focalise one of those Conservation Holidays, and have the opportunity of seeing this project all the way from the drawing board to the spade. Our week was sunny, dry and free of midges (is this really the Highlands of Scotland, we asked ourselves?).
The group was hard working, inspired and a lot of fun. Small as the young trees are, they make an immediate difference to the landscape and it was a very satisfied bunch of people who walked away from the site on the Friday afternoon at the end of the week.
Earthworms can't eat plastic!
This autumn, we welcomed new Caledonian Custodians to our team from five primary schools in Forres, Balloch and Inverness. Contrary to popular belief, Caledonian Custodians are not small people who like eating custard! They are Primary 3 and 4 schoolchildren (6-8 year olds) who spent a day with us in the Glen Affric Caledonian Forest Reserve this autumn.
'Lady Caledonia', our magical guide for the day, set us her usual challenges of building human trees, watching ants on ant nests and looking at how the forest grows etc.
However, this year she also asked us to build a food web. In doing this we learned how each of the animals, insects and birds in our group, and therefore in the forest, are dependent on each other for food and survival. With this activity, alongside our newly introduced 'Waste Free Lunch' where we weighed up our compost and then the plastic we would have thrown away at lunch time, we learned that no one in our group can eat plastic and turn it back into the soil. Not even our beloved earthworm! So we then looked into how we could reduce our use of, or reuse, plastic a little bit more in the future, in order to help the trees.
Once again, these day trips for schoolchildren were a great success, and here's what some of our new Caledonian Custodians of Autumn 2001 had to say about their day in the forest:
"Thank you for our trip to Glen Affric, I absolutely loved it. My marks for it would be 11 out of 10 because it was the best trip in the world."
Wood mouse (Matthew), Anderson's Primary School, Forres
"... I liked the spiders web and we found out who ate who and we had all different names like lynx, earthworm and wood ant ..."
Wild cat (Ashley), Anderson's Primary School, Forres
"...the best bits were finding the camouflaged frog, planting the trees and playing the games with you ..."
Craig, Central Primary School, Inverness
"... all thirteen of us had a fantastic time. My best part was when we went over the thin bridge and saw the waterfall crashing against the rocks."
Daniel, Anderson's Primary School, Forres
"It was the bestest day in school."
Tanya, Central Primary School, Inverness
Many thanks to Scottish Natural Heritage, Selina Robertson, the Dishma Trust and the UK greeting cards industry for providing the funding which made these day trips possible, and to Sandra Paul of Forest Enterprise for her ongoing support.
10th Annual Sponsored Walks - 7th October
Our Glen Affric walk was great! There were over 50 walkers, superb weather, high spirits, children, dogs, high water to leap over, tea at the bothy, and everything went smoothly as well!
The Inverness Courier sent a photographer/reporter, and published a brief report and photo on the following Friday.The money isn't all in yet, as it takes some time for all the walkers to collect it from their sponsors, but the amount pledged is well over £2,000.
In actuality, there were two walks in Glen Affric that day; our annual lowland route around the loch, while another group, led by former Trees for Life board member, Jonathan Caddy took to the high ground on the hills in the glen on a separate walk. So the total money pledged includes this group's efforts as well - thank you to Jonathan Caddy and his co-organiser John Willoner for coordinating their monthly hillwalking trip with ours.
In Edinburgh, Mike Harrower and his wife Shonagh led the walk through the Pentland Hills. They had great walking weather and good fun was had by all (except for a blister or two!). Again, the funds aren't in yet, but Mike thinks they will have raised somewhere around £500. Mike is a stalwart Trees for Life member and supporter who has organised our Edinburgh walk for many years, and we send our heart-felt gratitude to him - thank you once again Mike! Many thanks also to Carol Pelham, who was inspired to assist with displaying posters and other preparations, after taking part in one of our Conservation Holidays.
Meanwhile, another very important kind of walk also took place - not in the forest, but a walk to the post box! - by many of you who couldn't get out on the land, but sent in donations to sponsor Alan's walk. The total raised to date from this is £851. As Alan said afterwards: "It was a wonderful feeling to know that I was walking with the support and sponsorship of so many people from all over the country. It felt as though they were all there with me in spirit, not only encouraging me on the walk, but also cheering on the growth of all the young trees in the forest which is returning to Glen Affric."
To all of you who walked the land in Glen Affric, in Edinburgh, or your own walk, and to those of you who sponsored Alan's walk, we want to tell you how much it matters - that we feel joyful, inspired and grateful every time a donation for the restoration of the forest reaches us. Thank you all!
See Caledonia Wild! magazines, for excerpts from other editions.
Published: Winter 2001-2002
Last updated: 25 August 2010