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

A day at Loch an Eilein

Female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) on Loch an Eilein in the middle of June, Rothiemurchus, Cairngorms National Park.

Female mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) on Loch an Eilein in the middle of June, Rothiemurchus, Cairngorms National Park.

Loch an Eilein was a slightly unusual destination for one of my photographic trips, as I usually go to the glens west of Loch Ness, where Trees for Life carries out most of its forest restoration work. However, my partner’s son was staying with us for a few days in the middle of June, and he and his mother were keen to visit the Cairngorms, to climb one of the peaks there. I was more interested in the native forest than the high peaks (which I’ve climbed on various occasions in the past) so we traveled together to the National Park, and they dropped me off at Loch an Eilein before going on to climb Cairngorm Mountain and hiking on the summit plateau. Continue reading…

A great year for rowan flowers

Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) in flower, overlooking cascades on the Allt na Imrich burn in Glen Affric.

Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) in flower, overlooking cascades on the Allt na Imrich burn in Glen Affric.

It has been a different experience to usual for me this spring, as I was away in southern South America for over 3 weeks from the middle of April onwards, where it was autumn in the forests. For the first time in many years therefore, I’ve missed out on some of my favourite phenomena in the Caledonian Forest – the return of the leaves on the trees, and the exuberance of the spring flowers, such as primroses and wood anemones, on the forest floor. Continue reading…

The first signs of spring

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) and birch trees (Betula pubescens) near Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) and birch trees (Betula pubescens) near Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

By the middle of March the days are getting longer and the equinox, when there’s 12 hours between sunrise and sunset, is not far off. The first indications of new life were already visible where I live on the Moray Firth coast at Findhorn, with daffodils getting ready to flower and pussy willows appearing on the willow trees, so I headed out to Glen Affric to see if spring was also making its presence felt there. Situated inland, amongst the mountains to the west of Loch Ness and at a higher elevation, Glen Affric is always behind Findhorn with the return of life each year, but nevertheless I hoped there would be something to see already. Continue reading…

Frosty morning at Dundreggan

Birch trees covered in frost and backlit by early morning sunlight at Dundreggan.

Birch trees covered in frost and backlit by early morning sunlight at Dundreggan.

During early March we held a three day conference for our staff at Dundreggan, to look at our organisational strategy, and the direction that Trees for Life is going in with its work. Those of us based at our Findhorn office stayed over at Dundreggan for two nights, and on the third day I woke up early to find it was a clear and cold morning, with a thick frost covering all the trees and grass etc. Dressing quickly, I headed outside to enjoy the beauty of the morning for an hour or so before the final session of our conference. Continue reading…

A torrent in the forest, soon to be diverted?

The Abhainn Gleann nam Fiadh in full spate, cascading past epiphyte-covered alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) and hard ferns (Blechnum spicant) in Glen Affric.

The Abhainn Gleann nam Fiadh in full spate, cascading past epiphyte-covered alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) and hard ferns (Blechnum spicant) in Glen Affric.

This winter continues to be one of constant change, with wildly fluctuating weather and frequent storms hitting the north of Scotland. After a cold spell of two or three days in the second half of January, with snow and freezing, sub-zero conditions, a warm front moved in quickly from the west, and within less than 24 hours the temperature rose to 14°C. As a result, the snow held in the mountains melted very rapidly, swelling the rivers and burns, making for spectacular torrents where there are normally more sedate and gentle flows of water. Continue reading…

Ice formations on the Red Burn

Ice formation beside a small cascade on the Allt Ruadh, or Red Burn, at Dundreggan.

Ice formation beside a small cascade on the Allt Ruadh, or Red Burn, at Dundreggan.

It has been a very mild winter so far in the Highlands this year, with only a couple of relatively small snowfalls that haven’t lasted for more than day or two before the temperatures have risen again. During a recent visit to Dundreggan for a meeting, therefore, on a frosty day when there was still some snow on the ground, I took the opportunity of spending an hour and a half with my camera to document some of the beauty of the winter weather. Continue reading…

Hair ice and frosted lichens

Lobes and apothecia of a dog lichen (Peltigera sp.) and moss covered in frost, in the gorge at Inverfarigaig.

Lobes and apothecia of a dog lichen (Peltigera sp.) and slender mouse-tail moss (Isothecium myosuroides) covered in frost, in the gorge at Inverfarigaig.

In the middle of December, on a cold and frosty morning, I decided to make a return visit to Inverfarigaig, to explore more of the temperate rainforest in the gorge there. I’d spent a very satisfying day at the site in early November, which featured in a recent blog I wrote, and my appetite had been whetted then to discover more of this special area, on the southeast side of Loch Ness. On that day I’d spent almost all my time in a very small section of the gorge, and I suspected that there would be a lot more of interest, if I looked at other parts of the area. Continue reading…

Winter meets autumn in Glen Affric

Autumn leaves of a large eared willow (Salix aurita) with birch trees (Betula pendula and Betula pubescens) behind, in the first snow of winter, near Dog Falls in Glen Affric.

Autumn leaves of a large eared willow (Salix aurita) with birch trees (Betula pendula and Betula pubescens) behind, in the first snow of winter, near Dog Falls in Glen Affric.

At the end of November, the weather in the Highlands turned cold after having been relatively mild throughout most of the autumn. The unseasonably warm temperatures we’d had in October and much of November resulted in many of the deciduous leaves remaining on the trees for longer than usual. So it was that when it finally became colder and the first snowfall took place, we had what is a relatively rare experience in Scotland – fresh snow on the autumn-coloured leaves of the trees. Continue reading…

Remembering Doug Tompkins

Doug Tompkins piloting his own plane, past the shoulder of the Michinmahuida Volcano in his Pumalin Park in Chile in February 2015.

Doug Tompkins piloting his own plane, past the shoulder of the Michinmahuida Volcano in his Pumalín Park in Chile in February 2015.

The world lost one of its leading and most effective conservationists this week, with the passing of Doug Tompkins, as a result of a kayaking accident on Lago General Carrera in southern Patagonia in Chile. Although he was perhaps not well known in the UK outside of conservation circles, he made a huge impact with his life in two very different fields. Firstly, as a founder of the North Face outdoor clothing and equipment company and as a co-founder of the Esprit clothing chain, he was a successful businessman. However, it was only when he left the business world behind, and devoted the last 25 years of his life to his true passion – the protection of wilderness areas – that he began to build a legacy that will persist for decades and even centuries to come. Continue reading…

Autumn in the Inverfarigaig rainforest

Bracket fungus (Inonotus radiatus) growing out of the broken trunk of an alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) beside a small burn at Inverfarigaig.

Alder bracket fungi (Mensularia radiata) growing out of the moss-covered broken trunk of an alder tree (Alnus glutinosa) beside a small burn at Inverfarigaig.

Inverfarigaig is a small village on the southeast side of Loch Ness, about halfway down the loch’s 23 mile length, which takes its name from the River Farigaig that discharges into the loch there. ‘Inver’ is derived from the Gaelic word ‘inhbir’,  meaning ‘the mouth of a river’ and the Farigaig flows from the Monadhliath Mountains, which lie between Loch Ness and the Strathspey valley to the east. Near its confluence with the loch, the river flows through a narrow gorge which provides both an important habitat and some degree of protection for a special area of woodland. Continue reading…