Since moving to Scotland and hearing about the majestic Caledonian Pine Forests I have rediscovered my love of trees. Learning about trees is possibly one of the earliest memories I have of the nature studies class I took at primary school. A few years ago I realised that I had lost all of that knowledge. The Royal Botanic Gardens and the Midlothian Ranger Service at Vogrie Country Park often hold tree identification workshops but they always seem to be booked out well in advance. So with the help of a brilliant key to common trees by the Field Studies Council and a DK pocket nature guide to Trees of Britain and Europe, I take whatever opportunity I can to reacquaint myself with our common tree species.
Spending a week working with the inspirational charity Trees for Life back in September 2010 really opened my eyes to the devastation of Scottish forests. I knew that deforestation was a major problem but I was utterly ignorant of just how crippling currently accepted land management practises are to forest regeneration. I had long thought the Scottish Highlands to be both beautiful and bleak in equal measure but had no idea that this appearance was largely man-made. Many forests have been cleared in the Highlands to make way for agriculture, sheep and deer and for timber but even in areas that have not been cleared, natural regeneration was found to be impeded by the voracious appetites of the highly overstocked deer population. Deer eat young saplings long before they have time to mature and as a result the pine forests of Glen Affric are dominated by 200 year old trees nick-named Granny Pines. Without any younger trees to replace them, once these old trees die, this special habitat will be lost forever. Read this Trees for Life webpage for further information on deforestation. Thankfully Trees for Life have saved this pine forest through planting and erecting deer-proof fencing. But sadly because of the age gap between the old trees and those recently planted, there may be a generation of Scots who won’t get the chance to experience a mature pine forest in Glen Affric! The Cairngorms are home to other major stands of Calendonian Pine Forest although these have quite a different character to Glen Affric due to local climatic conditions.
Between deforestation and the spread of diseases such as Ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) we should take every opportunity to appreciate our beautiful native trees. Through 2012 I studied the different life stages of some of the more prominent tree species in Pilrig Park. This is by no means a comprehensive list and I suppose my first new year’s resolution should be to fill in the blanks! Please use this fantastic online guide to British trees hosted by the Woodland Trust for more expert information.
Hawthorn – Crataegus monogyna
This tree is incredibly important for wildlife, particularly insects and birds, both for forage and for shelter. It is an important component of hedgerows. In the top left corner, the distinctive small lobed leaves of the Hawthorn can be seen with the first flower buds in April. This tree is also known as the Mayflower as in this month the flower buds eventually unfurl into simple white five-petalled blossoms furnished with pink-tinged anthers (pollen producing part of the flower). By autumn, these flowers become bright-red haws, great bird food!
Rowan – Sorbus aucuparia
The compound leaf of the Rowan is comprised of up to 15 leaflets arranged in pairs and terminating in a single leaflet at the end of the stem. The leaflets have a serrated edge. It is so similar to Ash that it is often referred to as Mountain Ash. The bunches of tiny flowers that appear in spring/early summer can sometimes smell a little unpleasant! The subsequent bright red/orange berries are unmistakeable and good for making Rowan jelly as well as for wildlife.
Lime - Tilia x europea
Lime trees flower later than others. This year in Edinburgh Lime flowered in July although I am sure they flowered earlier in previous years. The flowers are unassuming and easily overlooked but they have the most beautiful subtle smell. This is one of my favourite summer aromas.
Oak – Quercus Robur
There are several species of Oak in the UK although I believe that this species of Oak, pedunculate, English or common Oak, is the most commonly occurring species. The catkins can be seen hanging from under the leaves in spring/early summer. These turn into acorns in autumn and apologies for not photographing that stage! Either I totally forgot or they weren’t accessible to me and my very simple camera phone. Oaks are famous for supporting the most insect species of any British tree and contribute hugely to our cultural and natural heritage. After some very stormy weather last October/November I enjoyed watching half a dozen grey squirrels busy themselves with burying every single acorn that had been blown down from a large oak tree.
Sycamore – Acer pseudoplanatus
The flower clusters of the Sycamore tree are technically referred to as a raceme. These appear in Spring, sometimes even before the leaves as in the first photo. Eventually they produce seeds know as helicopters, which always remind me of my childhood!
Following the annual life cycle of trees is such a lovely easy way of keeping in touch with the changing seasons. I recently found out about a website called Nature’s Calendar. It allows you to record significant natural events such as when you see your first butterfly of the year or swallow etc. and then the data is used to determine the impact of climate change on our wildlife. This year I hope to use it in a bid to stay more aware of how nature is constantly changing around us.