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.

An inordinate fondness for aphids

Aphids (Macrosiphum rosae) feeding on the stem of a devilsbit scabious flower (Succisa pratensis) at Dundreggan.

Aphids (Macrosiphum rosae) feeding on the stem of a devilsbit scabious flower (Succisa pratensis) at Dundreggan.

In late August and early September I was at Dundreggan for meetings on several different days, and had some extra time on each of them before I had to return home. I used those occasions to visit a patch of devilsbit scabious (Succisa pratensis) just outside the lodge, where a rare mining bee (Andrena marginata) had been observed harvesting pollen from the flowers in 2007 and the following two years. However, after an incursion by sheep had resulted in the scabious being eaten, the mining bee had not been seen again, so we’ve taken steps to encourage the healthy growth of the scabious, hoping that this revitalisation of its habitat will promote a return of the bee. Thus, I was visiting the scabious regularly on sunny days when it was in flower in August and early September, to see if the bee was there. Continue reading…

A wild and wet day in Glen Affric

Heather (Calluna vulgaris) beside the Allt na Imrich, swollen by hevay rain in Glen Affric.

Heather (Calluna vulgaris) beside the Allt na Imrich, swollen by heavy rain in Glen Affric.

In the middle of August I had planned a trip out to Glen Affric one Sunday for one of my bi-annual photographic visits to the Coille Ruigh na Cuileige exclosure there. That was the first fenced area we protected in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland back in 1990, and every two years since then I’ve been taking some fixed point photography of selected trees there, to visually document the changes as natural regeneration takes place, in the absence of overgrazing by red deer (Cervus elaphus). Continue reading…

Summer day in Glen Strathfarrar

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) in the sunshine in  Glen Strathfarrar.

Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) in the sunshine in Glen Strathfarrar.

On the 20th of July I went out to Glen Strathfarrar for the day with my partner, Pupak, and an old friend, Sharon, who used to live at Findhorn, and did some volunteering with me in the very early days of Trees for Life, back in 1989. Neither of them had been in to Glen Strathfarrar before, so it was a chance to introduce both of them to the beauty of the area, and to the native pinewood remnants there.  It was some months since I’d been there myself as well, so it was a good opportunity to enjoy the fullness of summer in one of my favourite old pinewood areas. Continue reading…

The unusual contents of a tea cup!

Burying beetle (Nicrophorus investigator) found at Dundreggan in an unlikely location!

Burying beetle (Nicrophorus investigator) found at Dundreggan in an unlikely location!

On Sunday 10th August, I spent the day at Dundreggan, leading one of the series of biodiversity skills training courses we’ve scheduled for this summer, as part of the programme of work funded by the £50,000 grant we received from the People’s Millions scheme late last year. This particular course lasted for a day and was focused on one of my special interests – plant galls. Although we spent most of the day outside (in the rain!) locating galls on various trees and plants, we began with a Powerpoint presentation I’d prepared about plant galls. Continue reading…

The way to Coire Loch, part 2

Coire Loch is a small lochan nestled amongst old Scots pines (PInus sylvestris) at the east end of Glen Affric.

Coire Loch is a small lochan nestled amongst old Scots pines (PInus sylvestris) at the east end of Glen Affric.

After spending a couple of hours at the oak tree (Quercus petraea) and young hazel (Corylus avellana) near Badger Falls in Glen Affric in early July, which I wrote about in the first part of this blog, I headed further west to Dog Falls, where the footpath to Coire Loch begins. Before setting out to walk to the loch though, I spent some time looking around the area near the falls themselves – in previous years I’ve found quite a lot of interest in a small clearing there. Continue reading…

The way to Coire Loch, part 1

VIew up the Affric River towards Dog Falls, from the footpath that leads to Coire Loch.

VIew up the Affric River towards Dog Falls, from the footpath that leads to Coire Loch.

I wrote a blog recently about a day in Glen Affric in early June, when I was suffering from sciatica in my leg, which limited my mobility. Unfortunately, the sciatica got worse after that, so I wasn’t able to make any more trips out to the Caledonian Forest for a couple of weeks. By 6th July, I was feeling somewhat better again, so I decided to return to Glen Affric, with the goal of walking from the Dog Falls area to Coire Loch, to give my leg a gentle work-out, as I’d been encouraged to exercise as part of the recovery process. Continue reading…

Life on a bird cherry tree

Red-legged shield bug (Pentatoma rufipes) on the leaf of a bird cherry at Dundreggan.

Red-legged shield bug (Pentatoma rufipes) on the leaf of a bird cherry at Dundreggan.

On the 3rd of July I was out at Dundreggan for a couple of meetings, and in between them there was a gap of an hour or two. I decided to go and have a look for some invertebrates on some of the trees near the buildings there, thinking especially of some aspen trees (Populus tremula) along one of the burns. However, on my way to them, I made a slight detour to a couple of bird cherry trees (Prunus padus) at the far end of the field where our tree nursery is situated.

Continue reading…

Early summer in Glen Affric, part 2

Chickweed wintergreen (Trientalis europaea) in flower near Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Chickweed wintergreen (Trientalis europaea) in flower near Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

On Sunday 8th June, after spending more than two hours with an oak tree (Quercus petraea) and a young hazel (Corylus avellana) beside the road at the eastern end of Glen Affric, just above Badger Falls (see Part 1 of this blog), I drove a little further into the glen. As I often do, I stopped near Dog Falls, as I wanted to look at some aspen trees (Populus tremula) that are growing beside the road there, just at the falls themselves. Continue reading…

Early summer in Glen Affric, part 1

Aspen (Populus tremula) and Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) over looking Loch Beinn a'Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

Aspen (Populus tremula) and Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) overlooking Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin in Glen Affric.

On the 8th of June I went out to Glen Affric for a gentle day of photography. I’d been suffering from sciatica in one of my legs recently, so I wasn’t very mobile, but the advice I’d received was that exercise is good for the condition. My plan therefore was to see if I could find some good subjects for photography along the roadside in the glen, so that I wouldn’t have to walk too far. I reasoned that this would avoid putting undue stress on my leg, while at the same time enabling me to fulfil my creative desires with the camera. Continue reading…

Life and death in an aspen tree

Trunks and leaves of an aspen tree at Dundreggan.

Trunks and leaves of an aspen tree at Dundreggan.

In a recent blog I wrote about the fallen giants – some of the large Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) and oaks (Quercus petraea) that were blown down by the powerful storm that hit Dundreggan on the night of 5th December 2013. Since then, we’ve continued to find other trees throughout the woodland on the estate that were either uprooted and blown over, or had substantial limbs broken off them. This blog entry is about one of those – an aspen tree (Populus tremula) – that lost part of a major branch in the storm. Continue reading…