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

A rainbow day in Glen Affric

Rainbow over Scots pines and birches beside Loch  Beinn a' Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Rainbow over Scots pines and birches beside Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

On Sunday 16th March I had my first opportunity for a couple of weeks to spend a day out with my camera, taking photographs in the Caledonian Forest. I was undecided where to go, so I headed out from my home at Findhorn uncertain as to my destination. However, I had the intention of trusting my intuition to lead me to a place where I’d have an enjoyable day, and where I would gain the satisfaction of being creative with my photography. Continue reading…

A cornucopia of catkins

Catkins on a hazel tree (Corylus avellana) at Dundreggan.

Catkins on a hazel tree (Corylus avellana) at Dundreggan.

This is a remarkable year for hazel catkins. I don’t recall ever seeing quite as many in the area where we work as there are out at the moment. The hazels (Corylus avellana) are completely loaded with them, making them stand out very visibly from the other broadleaved trees in our forests in the Highlands. Some trees are utterly bedecked in hanging tassels, with the catkins crowded together, like sardines in a can. Continue reading…

Colourful autumn day in Glen Affric, part 1

Scots pines and birches in autumn, with early morning mist rising at the east end of Glen Affric.

Scots pines and birches in autumn, with early morning mist rising at the east end of Glen Affric.

In late October I spent a couple of days in Glen Affric, as I do most years, to photograph the autumn colours of the trees there when they’re at their peak. The weather forecast for the day seemed ideal for me – it was predicted to be a wind-still, overcast day with morning mist and fog – so I made an early start from home, arriving in the glen just as it was getting fully light. On my way past the village of Cannich, in upper Strathglass, there had been a lot of low-lying fog. I knew from past experience that as the day warmed slightly, this would most likely rise up out of the strath and move into the eastern end Glen Affric, where the River Affric discharges through a narrow gorge into Strathglass itself. Continue reading…

Fallen giants

One of the large Scots pines at Dundreggan that was blown down by the storm that hit Scotland on the night of  5th- 6th December.

One of the large Scots pines at Dundreggan that was blown down by the storm that hit Scotland on the night of 5th- 6th December.

On the night of Thursday 5th December, an unusually powerful storm hit the north of Scotland, with winds gusting at over 100 miles per hour. It caused widespread disruption, with all train services cancelled the next morning, numerous roads closed by fallen trees and a loss of power to thousands of homes. At Dundreggan, our staff were left without power and telephones for almost 48 hours, and had no water supply for a while either, but otherwise were not harmed by the storm. Continue reading…

Misty autumn day in Strathfarrar

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), birches (Betula sp.) and aspen trees (Populus tremula) beside the Farrar River in autumn, in Glen Strathfarrar.

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris), birches (Betula sp.) and aspen trees (Populus tremula) beside the Farrar River in autumn, in Glen Strathfarrar.

Updated on 14 January 2014 with video footage at the end of the blog.

On a Sunday in mid-October, after a beautiful, still and misty morning at Loch Achilty, I drove to Glen Strathfarrar, where I was hoping to catch the autumn colours of the trees in their prime. Strathfarrar contains one of the best remnants of the original Caledonian Forest, with a large expanse of native pinewood, which rivals that of the much better known Glen Affric. It is therefore something of a hidden secret in the Highlands, and it is at its best in autumn, when the leaves on the broadleaved trees change colour before being shed. Continue reading…

Tranquil autumn morning at Loch Achilty

Peaceful reflection and early morning fog over Loch Achilty.

Peaceful reflection and early morning fog over Loch Achilty.

Every year in October, I set aside two weekends to go out camping in the Caledonian Forest, to make the most of the opportunities to photograph the autumn colours of the trees. It’s my favourite time of year to be in the forest, especially as there are often wind-still mornings with mist or fog, which provide a wonderful atmospheric ambience to the landscapes. Continue reading…

Return to the Wonder Tree

The rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) beside the Allt Ruadh, or Red Burn, on Dundreggan that was home to aphids (Dysaphis sorbi) and lots of other life.

The rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) beside the Allt Ruadh, or Red Burn, on Dundreggan that was home to aphids (Dysaphis sorbi) and lots of other life.

At the beginning of September, I posted a blog about the ‘Wonder tree’ – a rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) on Dundreggan that I’d visited with some aphid surveyors in July, and which was supporting a whole host of invertebrate life. About 10 days later I spent a week at Dundreggan, when I was co-focalising a special ‘Up Close to Nature’ volunteer Conservation Week, so I took the opportunity during the day off in the programme to re-visit the tree, to see if the aphids were still there, and what else might be on the tree.

Continue reading…

Portrait of a micro-moth

Large dwarf birch (Betula nana) bush on Dundreggan.

Large dwarf birch (Betula nana) bush on Dundreggan.

In the summer of 2012, my colleague Steve Morris, our Operations Manager at Dundreggan, discovered some previously unknown large bushes of dwarf birch (Betula nana) in the large exclosure of new native woodland established by the previous owner of the estate in 2002. The fence for that area includes some ground reaching up to about 450 metres in elevation, and there must have been some dwarf birch plants already there, which began to grow once they were protected from overgrazing by red deer (Cervus elaphus).

When I was out looking at those dwarf birch plants myself in July, I spotted a small caterpillar inside a partial silk wrapping around some of the leaves, and took a couple of photographs of it, thinking it would be easy to get the species identified. Continue reading…

A day at Dog Falls

The Affric River, looking upstream from where it plunges over Dog Falls.

The Affric River, looking upstream from where it plunges over Dog Falls.

At the end of June I went up to Glen Affric for the day, intending to visit Glac Daraich, the site of the third fenced exclosure in the glen that we funded in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland, back in 1993.  However, it was one of those days when I decided to stop for a quick look at the forest near Dog Falls on the way into the glen, and I ended up spending the whole day there never making it to my destination … Continue reading…

The wonder tree

Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) beside the Allt Ruadh, or Red Burn, on Dundreggan that proved to be a treasure trove of life and interesting ecological interactions.

Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) beside the Allt Ruadh, or Red Burn, on Dundreggan that proved to be a treasure trove of life and interesting ecological interactions.

In late July, we had two specialists, Bob Dransfield and Bob Brightwell, come to Dundreggan for a week to do a follow-up survey for aphids to that which Ed Baker had done there in 2012. As usual when we have biodiversity surveyors at Dundreggan, I spent a couple of days there with them, and in this case that turned out to be the first and last days that the Bobs, as they call themselves, were there. In comparison to the phenomenal abundance of aphids we experienced in 2012, there have been comparatively few apparent this year, but the Bobs did find a number of species that hadn’t been recorded last year, particularly on herbaceous plants. Continue reading…