Trees (TGOC 3)

Unfortunately, the Scottish Highlands have been largely denuded of trees, largely because of human activities. Climate change has played a part, Scots pine does not like wet feet and a wetter climate, with increasingly boggy soils, since the 16th century has led to the loss of much of the old Caledonian forest, with remnants of bogwood found across the Highlands.

But trees such as birch can survive and thrive in the wet soils of the north-west. Sadly, however, the repurposing of the land as deer forest in the 19th century for so-called 'sport' meant that deer numbers exploded and young trees cannot survive their regular browsing. Experiments with fencing and control have been successful but are expensive. We will only see widespread recovery if we reintroduce large predators such as wolves to control the deer. I hope to see it in my lifetime.

This is an undistinguished image of a rowan tree, taken in the rain, outside Maol Bhuide bothy, south of Strathcarron. It has no photographic merit but I've included it here because I planted that tree in April 1980. We planted trees in an old sheep fank and repaired the wall to keep the deer out. Family and work committments meant that I hadn't revisited Maol Bhuide since the 1980s and I was delighted to see our trees had survived. A group of us renovated Maol Bhuide (pictures here) in memory of a good friend, Danny Garrad. Danny died after slipping on Beinn Alligan in April 1979 and Maol Bhuide was one of his favourite places. I think Danny would have been a Challenger had he lived - I still miss him. Of the three great passes through the Cairngorms, the Lairig Ghru, Glen Feshie and Glen Tilt, my favourite is Glen Feshie. The trees here are wonderful and enlightened land ownership means that these are now rejuvenating as deer are being more strictly controlled. This was a perfect and unforgettable camp - under an old, pine, by the river in the sunshine. As I was walking in the early morning from Braemar towards Invercauld, the mist was slowly clearing from the trees. Oakwood moss (actually a lichen) covered the old birch trees like beards which made the whole scene other-worldly. Birch is the natural vegetation of the Highlands and, while much of it has disappeared from the west, there are still some old birchwoods in the Eastern Highlands. The Morrone birchwoods are ancient birchwoods near Braemar and I always walk this way instead of along the road when walking from Mar Lodge to Braemar. This morning, the light on the trees showing the brightness of the young leaves was simply wonderful.

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