Tuesday 28 June 2016

Wyches in the Woods

The second year of our involvement in the UK National Tree Seed Project in partnership with Kew Gardens’ Millenium Tree Seed Bank is underway. And what better way to start than with an early summer collection of Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra).

After getting landowner permissions for a woodland near Galashiels I had a good look around and found that it was full of Wych Elm and plenty of beautiful ancient woodland indicating flora. A few follow up visits confirmed the presence of huge numbers of seed across the woodland which would make for a perfect seed collection day with volunteers.

Heading into the woods in search of Wych's
Around the time of expected natural dispersal the weather was particularly warm and accelerated the rate at which the seed matured. For that reason it became really important to get into the wood as soon as possible to collect the thin, wind dispersible seed before they disappeared.

The date was set, the volunteers notified and the seed primed for collection. We arrived in the wood on a particularly warm morning and after I had explained the plan of attack I was followed swiftly by the ominous sound of rolling thunder threatening to ruin our day (and attempt to collect seed).

Wet work but someone has to do it!
Sure enough, seconds later the heavens opened, but that didn’t put off the hardy volunteers. We decided to persevere and we all got to work picking seed, tagging trees, taking grid references and using some specialist equipment (and a little elbow grease) to collect some seed from higher up in the canopy.
Anna looking happy with her haul
It became clear soon after we started that there was plenty of seed to be collected and that we would likely exceed the target (of 10,000 viable seed). We moved around the wood and collected seed from a number of different individual trees as best we could manage. The rain eventually eased off giving everyone the opportunity to dry out a little as we collected all the bags of seed together and headed back to the minibus.
Myself and the seed collecting team showcasing the fruits of our labour in the woods
 As we left the wood I took a herbarium specimen to press, this will accompany the seeds when they are sent to the Millennium Tree Seed Bank Partnership in West Sussex so that the scientists there can confirm that the seed are from the correct tree species.

The pressed herbarium specimen that will accompany the seed to the seed bank.
The collection day is where the volunteer involvement ends for a seed collection. But, not where the work ends. After the collection I will take the seed back to the office and process them appropriately. In most cases this includes drying the seed before packaging as to avoid them becoming mouldy or rotten. I also input the data I recorded on the date of collection which includes the National Grid Reference of each individual tree that seed was collected from, the woodland type, soil types, aspect and any other additional information about the woodland that might be beneficial for those studying 
the seed.

Elm seed drying in our head office
Once the seed is dried and packaged with the additional information and herbarium specimen and a courier is organised. They will be collected from our head office and make their way down to the seed bank facility in West Sussex to be processed and stored at a low temperature so that they can remain viable for years to come.
A few thousand seeds bagged, boxed and ready for delivery!

To find out about volunteering opportunities with this project please email either myself (alasdair@bordersforesttrust.org) or Ali Murfitt (alison@bordersforesttrust.org). 


Woodland Habitats Officer

Thursday 9 June 2016

Planting trees with the next generation.

The Borders Tree Planting Grant has now finished its first year and had lots of successful applications and interest from many different applicants including private landowners, farmers, community groups, organisations and schools.

Both Chirnside and Howdenburn (Jedburgh) Primary Schools successfully applied for the Tree Planting Grant and accessed funding for around 50 well established trees each. My Colleague, Anna Craigen is currently working with these schools on the All Things Green Project which aims to improve the schools’ grounds for outdoor education and wildlife, and to help students have access to more inspirational outdoor spaces.

Anna and I decided that a small orchard area (with apples, crab apples and plums) would really provide a unique learning resource for the school children at these schools leading into the future. These were each to be accompanied by small woodland areas (Birch, Wild Cherry, Rowan and Sessile Oak) that would be planted in a way such that there were areas available for outdoor classrooms amongst the trees.
Trees and planting spears at the ready

On the 23rd and 30th March 2016 Anna and I met at Chirnside and Howdenburn schools respectively to meet the tree deliveries. We unloaded and set out tools, and carefully placed all of the trees and tree protection throughout the planned areas. During the days we worked with school pupils (ranging in age from nursery to P7), teachers and adult helpers at both of the schools whilst managing to dig lots of holes, bury their trees into the holes and all play the ‘stomping game’ (heel firming the trees into their new homes). Although the rocky ground made digging hard going at times everyone got stuck in and we managed to get all the trees planted on both the days!

Hard at work digging up turf squares

We spent some time identifying the tree species before they were planted and talked about their benefits for wildlife. We then learned about the things that trees need to grow such as water, sunlight and nutrients the knowledge of the pupils was very impressive!
Two expert tree planters back filling their tree

A great couple of days of outdoor education, tree planting, getting muddy and rescuing worms!

The new woodland at Chirnside Primary School

The Borders Tree Planting Grant is designed to fund the planting of copses, small woodlands, parkland trees, tree lines, fruit trees, hedgerow trees under 0.25 Hectares. If you are interested in applying for funding to plant trees and live in the Scottish Borders please contact me via email at alasdair@bordersforesttrust.org


Woodland Habitats Officer

Monday 6 June 2016

Corehead High Camp 2016

We were lucky enough to have bright sunshine and a cooling breeze for our second ever Corehead High Camp which happened a few weeks back.

Last year we focused on maintaining the fences that allow the trees to grow by excluding the sheep and deer (an on going task!).   This year, we were planting Juniper within the deer exclosure as part of  our project to restore Montane scrub habitat.  The aim is to transition from woodland to montane scrub to montane heath, spreading woodland up the hill, enhancing biodiversity and softening the boundary between large trees of the low grounds and open hill.

We were planting just below Whitehope Knowe at around 550 to 600m, conditions at this height are tough for trees, however some species such a Dwarf Birch, Juniper, and a variety of Montane Willows should do well here.

To give them a bit of a head start, we worked in pairs with one person using a mattock to remove vegetation and the other planting the Juniper into the prepared spot. Screefing the ground in this way reduces competition from grass roots whilst the tree is establishing.
Good luck Juniper!

It was a great spot to camp for the night, with stunning views of Lochan burn  and a sunset over the hills to the west. Not too icy in the morning this year either!

Walking back down through Tweedhope it was heartening to see how well the trees have established, as the spring flush of fresh young leaves shone a vibrant green in the sunshine.

They'll be more information about Montane scrub in the summer edition of the Green Shed, members magazine ...so look out for that. 

Many thanks for James and John of Treeserv for helping to lead the camp, and to all the volunteers who got involved.


Site and Community Officer