Alan Watson Featherstone, Founder of Trees for Life, writes about his experiences out in the Caledonian Forest, and about his work for the charity.

Seeds of a Good Anthropocene

The group of us who took part in the ‘Seeds of a Good Anthropocene’ workshop on an island in the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden in early June. (photo by Ashley Perl).

In early June I was invited to participate in a special three day workshop that was held on an island in the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden, with the rather unusual title of ‘Seeds of a Good Anthropocene’. This was a collaborative project organised by faculty members from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden and the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and was designed to develop scenarios for positive futures for humanity as we move forward in what is now being termed the Anthropocene epoch. Continue reading…

A night with the ‘wolves’

Chanel, Lotte and Liv, three volunteers on our Project Wolf at Dundreggan, patrolling the native woodland there on a snowy night in late April.

During the last week of April I spent a couple of days at Dundreggan, so that I could go out overnight with the volunteers who are taking part in our Project Wolf there. That’s the name for an experimental project we’re carrying out to see if we can replicate the natural disturbance effect of Scotland’s missing predators, such as the wolf (Canis lupus). By having volunteers walk through the edge of the native woodland on the estate at irregular and varied times during the night we hope to keep red deer (Cervus elaphus) from browsing on naturally-regenerating birch seedlings (Betula pendula and Betula pubescens), just as they come into leaf and are at their most vulnerable. Continue reading…

Signs of spring unfolding

Catkins of a goat willow (Salix caprea) bursting from their buds in Glen Affric at the beginning of April.

After a relatively mild and mostly snow-less winter, spring is well underway in the Highlands at this time. Leaves are reappearing on the trees, birdsong is abundant and the days are lengthening considerably now that we’re past the vernal equinox and are into the half of the year with more light than darkness. At the beginning of April I spent a Sunday out in Glen Affric and much of my time then was spent documenting some of the signs of spring.

Continue reading…

A magical snowy day in Glen Affric

Birch trees (Betula pubescens) and Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) covered in snow beside the Affric River, near Dog Falls.

As I write this we’ve just passed the equinox, and spring is well under way in the Highlands, with clear sunny days, lots of bird songs and the first flowers already in blossom. In some ways it almost seems like we didn’t have a winter this year, as the weather was generally relatively mild and the cold snowy days often associated with the season have been conspicuous mostly by their absence. There were occasional falls of snow, but usually the temperature warmed up again quite quickly, so the white covering on the ground and the trees never lasted for more than a day or two. Continue reading…

Misty day in Glen Cannich, part 2

Lichen-covered rock in Glen Cannich, with Loch a’Bhana and the old pinewood below the Mullardoch dam visible behind.

In early January I spent a day out in Glen Cannich, and during the morning my attention was focused on the wonderful atmospheric conditions created by the mist drifting along the hillsides and over the old Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) there. I also photographed some red deer (Cervus elaphus). By lunch time however, the mist was gone and the deer had moved away so in the afternoon I began exploring the rocky knolls in the area below the Mullardoch dam. There are no trees there at all, so I don’t usually spend any time in that spot, because it’s rather bleak and desolate. Continue reading…

A red squirrel translocation day

Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer, with a red squirrel trapped near Culloden, to the east of Inverness, that was released later the same day near Plockton on the West Coast.

On the 9th of February I spent a very interesting day with one of my colleagues, Becky Priestley, as she carried out the next phase of our newest project for the restoration of the Caledonian Forest. Becky is our Wildlife Officer and she’s working on a three year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and an appeal to our supporters, for the translocation of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) to suitable native forests in the northwest Highlands that are currently  missing these arboreal, bushy-tailed mammals. Continue reading…

Misty day in Glen Cannich, part 1

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) and mist in Glen Cannich in early January.

For my first trip out to the Caledonian Forest in 2017 I decided to visit Glen Cannich as it had been some time since I was last there. It was another mild day in this unseasonably warm winter when I went out in early January, and I was hoping to be able to photograph some red deer (Cervus elaphus) while I was there. One of the estates in the glen feeds deer near the road in the winter, so it’s often possible to see the animals at close proximity. Continue reading…

Fantastic fungi

Wrinkled crust fungus (Phlebia radiata) on the dead branch of a birch tree in Glen Affric in December 2016.

Jelly rot fungus (Phlebia tremellosa) on the dead branch of a birch tree in Glen Affric in December 2016.

Autumn is my favourite season of the year in the Caledonian Forest, and although I spend a lot of time appreciating and photographing the bright colours of the leaves on the deciduous trees, fungi run them a close second in terms of garnering my interest. This is the time when the majority of fungi produce their fruiting bodies and I’ve long been intrigued and fascinated by the diversity and beauty of the various forms they take. Continue reading…

Damp winter days in Glen Affric

Lichen-covered downy birch tree (Betula pubescens) on the north shore of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Lichen-covered downy birch tree (Betula pubescens) on the north shore of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

For a casual visitor, it may often appear like there’s not much to see in the Caledonian Forest in winter. By then, all the leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees, many birds have migrated south for the winter and insects have gone into pupal stasis, out of sight. My experience, however, is that there is in fact still plenty of interest in the forest, if I shift my focus to some of the permanent, year-round life forms, and take time to look closely for them. Continue reading…

An unexpected sight in an aspen tree

Aspen tree (Populus tremula) in autumn colour, growing out from a cliff over Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Aspen tree (Populus tremula) in autumn colour, growing out from a cliff over Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Each autumn I usually spend a couple of nights in Glen Affric, so that I can experience the early mornings there. At that time of year the days are often completely wind-still and the mornings in particular are characterised by mirror-perfect reflections in the lochs and the vibrant autumnal colours of the leaves on the trees. Overnight mist often lingers for several hours after sunrise, making it the most photogenic and memorable time of the year to be in the Caledonian Forest. Continue reading…