Glen Affric and my week with Trees for Life has been on my radar for a while and this May I was finally able to get my hands dirty and help. I have long been inspired by habitat restoration and woodland ecology.
The glen itself is a beautiful blend of long, sweeping lochs, characterful and gnarled old pines, pitted birch and younger areas of regeneration, all overseen by snow-capped hills. The setting immediately relaxes and motivates you, allowing a switch off from the fast-paced modern world. Throughout the week I felt a strong connection to nature and we were encouraged to take time to enjoy the surroundings. I have long enjoyed bird song and as someone who has depression, the peace and relaxation of these moments, listening to willow warblers and cuckoos, was recuperating and relaxing. There were also lots of butterflies and moths out, which made my week.
The weeks are really personal and the group sharing the bothy was a fantastic bunch of people. Working together all day and sharing the cooking, you soon get to know each other and form a strong bond. We often spent the evenings sat around the fire, swimming in the river and by the end of the week my face ached from laughing. The social side of the week and being surrounded by likeminded passionate people was a real highlight.
Each day was varied and fulfilling with a mixture of planting birch by the loch to act as a seed source for future regeneration, but also planting in the montane zone with species such as dwarf birch and downy willow. This upland habitat is so depleted in the UK that it was interesting to learn more about the techniques being used to reverse this loss and recreate a transition between woodland and hilltop. Other work included removing non-native species such as Sitka spruce and monitoring the regeneration of the woodland.
Ecologically I found the work very positive and forward thinking. We regularly hear about species declines and losses in nature, yet this work felt so positive, putting something back in a depleted landscape. The work is big scale and long term and so much fun to help with. I felt that Trees for Life is creating something beautiful in Glen Affric, that will stand the test of time, driven by natural processes. This week ultimately made me realise I’d love to spend the rest of my life supporting this important work. I really would recommend the week to anyone with an interest in nature, conservation or with mental health issues, by the end of it you will feel so relaxed and a pure happiness.