National Tree Week
This year National Tree Week . It runs from 25th November until 3rd December and marks the start of the tree planting season. It’s a chance for us to celebrate our trees and, if you can, volunteer to take part in tree-planting activities. These are organized by volunteer groups and conservation bodies. If you can’t manage to do this, you may be able to find a little Tree Time to connect with trees.
Trees are an important part of ecosystems across the planet and provide food, homes and shelter for many species and help stabilize eroding riverbanks. Also, as climate change is an issue of global concern, trees can help mitigate it. By storing carbon in tree tissue and sequestering atmospheric carbon from the key greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide releases oxygen.
Most of Scotland’s native tree and shrub species colonised the landscape after the last Ice Age (which ended roughly 9,000 years ago). Their seeds are dispersed by wind, water, and animals. Scotland’s native Caledonian pine forests used to cover the entire country. The landscape was dominated by ancient oaks and Scots pines, which have all but disappeared. Several events have contributed to the decline in tree numbers over millennia.
Over 4000 years ago the climate changed to become cooler and wetter. Trees were then unable to grow on higher ground. Around the same time, woodlands began to be cleared for agriculture. This has continued for centuries with even more being cleared to accommodate housing and infrastructure such as electricity pylons.
Early in the 20th century many trees were lost as part of the World War 1 war effort. Following the war and with the passing of the Forestry Act in September 1919, the Forestry Commission was founded to restore the nation’s woods and forests. The Commission bought large amounts of agricultural land on behalf of the state, eventually becoming the largest manager of land in Britain. At the time large pine plantations were established, but as time passed it became apparent that these densely planted, single-species plantations were not providing the range of tree species required to provide diverse wildlife habitats. The emphasis is now on a much wider range of species such as broadleaved and open ground specialist species.
In recent years Scotland has been battered by some severe winter storms. In particular Storm Arwen in November 2021. It is estimated about 16 million trees in Scotland were affected. Damage and loss were particularly significant in the north east and south of the country.
Furthermore, diseases such as Dutch Elm disease have wiped out many of Scotland’s trees.
Following devolution the Scottish government became responsible for forestry and set up Scottish Forestry with its own strategies and long-term plans. The website has lots of information about our native woodlands and much more!
Here in Scotland many volunteers, conservation groups and private estates are re-planting trees. So as to try to increase tree coverage and biodiversity through the benefits trees provide. Project Laxford is taking place on the Reay Forest Estate in Sutherland. One of the aims of the project is to boost North Atlantic salmon numbers in the River Laxford. Estate workers had noticed a massive decline in numbers and one of the measures suggested by scientists was to re-generate tree coverage which had been lost along riverbanks. Salmon are sensitive to rises in water temperature which may be caused by climate change. It is hoped that tree leaves will provide shade to help the salmon, invertebrates will fall into the river from the trees. This increases food stock and dead trees and branches which fall into the river will provide a habitat for spawning and feeding. In all, one million trees are to be planted across the estate to enhance biodiversity and improve the habitat of the river and surrounding landscape.
It’s not often that a tree makes headline news, but the recent felling of the Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrian’s Wall did just that. Estimated to be around 150 years old the tree has been featured in TV and film productions (Robin Hood- Prince of Thieves and Vera). It was a popular photographic subject and had won England Tree of the Year in 2016. Investigations into the unauthorised felling are ongoing and there has been much anger and sadness following the event. Many people had come to the tree for special events such as milestone birthdays, marriage proposals, and to scatter loved ones’ ashes. It held great sentimental value to them. The tree has now been removed with police investigations carrying on.
This solitary tree is the only one of its kind in Glen Affric. Sometimes called the Last Ent after the tree creatures in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is thought that the tree’s remoteness has prevented it from being affected by the spread of Dutch Elm disease which has wiped out many of Scotland’s elms. It’s not known how old the tree is, but it is thought to be the last remnant of an ancient forest and was a worthy winner of Scotland’s tree of the year 2019.
Thought to be around 5,000 years old this ancient yew stands in the grounds of the churchyard of Fortingall in Perthshire and draws in many tourists to the area. Yew trees are either male or female and the Fortingall Yew is male. The trunk is showing signs of damage which may have been caused by ancient rights being performed around it. It was used in funerals until the 20th century when there was a practice of passing the dead body beneath its arching branches. This passing of the body beneath the arch was a way of guiding the righteous spirit into the Christian afterlife. The yew tree, although poisonous, is also associated with life and resurrection, probably because the branches can take root and regrow as trunks, like a resurrection. The pagan festival of Beltane, held on May 1 used the grounds around the Fortingall Yew as a setting for fertility bonfires. If couples wished to conceive a child, they would leap over the flames of the bonfires hand-in-hand. If they did so successfully, the legend said they would have a child. The fires took their toll on the tree causing considerable damage over the years. Further damage was caused by people taking cuttings from branches for luck. Walls were constructed to try to protect the yew, but in recent years it seems that it is suffering from stress as a branch appears to have become female after sprouting red berries in the autumn of 2015.
This demonstrates how we can have an adverse effect on our trees and makes the work being done by conservationists and volunteers even more important.
Find out more
You can find books and articles about trees and conservation using Library Search.
By Vivienne Hamilton