Spectacular tree fossils unearthed

An amateur geologist has discovered an array of fossilised trees, which date back 350 million years.

Take Cover library image The Natural Environment Research Council’s Planet Earth website reports that the fine specimens were found by keen fossil hunter Elsa Henderson on the Isle of Bute, Scotland.

She reported her find of more than 300 fragments to Dr Howard Falcon-Lang, a tree fossil expert at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Dr Falcon Lang selected some of the best samples to examine under a microscope, which revealed them to be specimens of the extinct Pitus primaeva.

“These were big, woody trees, up to 40-45m tall,” he explained.

“They are a primitive type of tree related to conifers and an ancestor of modern pines and spruces.”

While the recent find is not the first time that fossilised trees have been found in Scotland, Dr Falcon-Lang said that they were among the best preserved samples to be unearthed.

The rings of the tree revealed that there were “growth interruptions that suggest a degree of climate irregularity”, he observed.

He published the findings, with Ms Henderson as co-author, in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

Source: Planet Earth website

Date: 13/05/2010

Planting trees amid chaos of war

In the Tree Garden of Kilravock Castle is what looks like a giant octopus, says Steven McKenzie, a reporter for the BBC News website.

Called a layering beech, its limbs snake out from a sturdy trunk and bend to the ground where they have taken root before twisting skywards.

More than 300-years-old, it is classed as “extremely rare” in the Forestry Commission‘s list of Heritage Trees.

It would have been relatively young at the time Bonnie Prince Charlie visited the castle in the days before the Battle of Culloden.

The castle and its grounds lie a few miles east of Culloden Moor.

In a bizarre twist, Hugh Rose, the 17th Baron of Kilravock, played host to the warring cousins Charles Edward Stuart – Bonnie Prince Charlie – and the Duke of Cumberland in the days before the Battle of Culloden.

According to the Genealogical Deduction of the Family of Rose of Kilravock by Rev Hugh Rose, a book later updated by historians Lachlan Shaw and Cosmo Innes, the Young Pretender stopped at the castle as his forces massed in the surrounding countryside.

The baron, who is thought to have had no role in the later fighting, played the prince’s favourite Italian minuet on a violin before showing him his tree planting operations.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was said to have remarked: “How happy are you, Mr Rose, who can enjoy these peaceful occupations when the country round is so disturbed.”

The following day – 15 April – the Duke of Cumberland headed for the castle, according to the genealogical deduction.

The book goes on to tell how the baron feared reprisals for hosting the Jacobite figurehead, but was told by the duke he could not have refused hospitality and had no choice but to treat him like a prince.

Kilravock Wood also played a part in the downfall of the Jacobite night march, according to historian Christopher Duffy’s recent book The ’45.

Soldiers were delayed as they negotiated a breach in a wall around the woodland and elements became lost among the trees.

Nicole Deufel, learning manager at the National Trust for Scotland’s Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, said the night march was recognised as one of many factors influencing the outcome of the Battle of Culloden.

She said: “The main problem was that the men were exhausted even before they set off on the night march. Some drifted away looking for food and sleep.

“The story goes that, on their return, Prince Charles only slept for an hour and there was just one biscuit per man for food.”

On whether the march could have succeeded, she said: “It’s hard to say. There probably would have been another battle after this.

“A successful night march would not have prevented another battle in the future, but there may not have been a Battle of Culloden.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 20/03/2009

Bleeding cankers continues to take its toll

The avenue of 43 horse chestnut trees at Barrington Court, near Ilminster, in Somerset is being cut down and replaced with a variety of oak, the Telegraph reports.

The National Trust decided the trees had do go for safety reasons, following an infection of bleeding canker that causes the trees to lose bark and branches and eventually die.

The Trust has already had to cull a number of other horse chestnuts at properties around the country, with 28 trees recently chopped down in Avebury, Wiltshire.

Home-owners around the country have also had to cut down horse chestnuts because of the disease, which the Forestry Commission say has killed 3,000 tree in recent years.

The disease is spread by spores in the ground and can cause the tree to bleed a reddish brown liquid. It can be controlled by cutting out infected areas but will eventually kill the tree.

Christine Brain, head gardener at Barrington Court, said: “Bleeding canker is rife in England’s horse chestnuts.

“It kills the tree from the inside out, and while doing so makes it susceptible to other infections which hasten the trees death.

“We’ve been maintaining the trees over the last few years in an effort to extend their life and keep the disease as controlled as possible, but removal is now our only sensible option.”

Horticulturalists have warned that conker trees are in danger of dying out in Britain unless more is done to control the disease.

The call comes as the UK government announced a £25m package to curb the spread of sudden oak death through woodlands in England, Wales and Scotland.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 03/03/2009

Plant diseases threaten woodlands

Some of the finest gardens and woodlands in Britain are under threat from two closely related and aggressive fungus-like plant diseases, the BBC News website reports.

UK Environment Minister Jane Kennedy said they were attacking “pristine” locations and could potentially damage the landscape and the tourism industry.

The government has allocated £25m in a bid to eradicate the diseases which are spreading across the country.

They are Phytophthora kernoviae and Phytophthora ramorum .

Rhododendrons, a carrier of both diseases, are likely to be removed in woodland in order to curb the spread of the pathogens.

The flowering shrubs, popular as an ornamental species in many gardens, also grow wild in wooded areas and an area of the New Forest has already been cordoned off to allow rhododendrons to be cut down and burned.

Phytophthora kernoviae , first found in the south-west of England in 2003, reached Scotland five years later.

It attacks and kills many trees and shrubs, including the oak and beech trees which make up so much of Britain’s woodlands.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says 69 sites in England and Wales are currently affected, with Cornwall the worst-hit region.

Phytophthora ramorum , first identified in 1995, has devastated woodland on the west coast of the United States where it has been responsible for the syndrome known as “sudden oak death”.

Few control mechanisms exist for the disease, so the importance of early detection – and proper disposal of the infected plant material – is key.

The government is to earmark some of the money for new research and development, and there will be a campaign to make landowners aware of the threat.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 03/03/2009

Douglas fir is ‘tallest tree in UK’

A Douglas fir in Argyll has been named the UK’s tallest tree by a team of experts, the BBC News website reports.

At 63.79m (209ft) the Stronardon Douglas fir near Dunans Castle beat the grand fir at Blair Castle, Perthshire, to the title by more than a metre.

Arborists from Sparsholt College, Hampshire, have been gathering official measurements for the Tree Register.

Mark Tansley, who organised the project, said Scotland provided the ideal environment for tall trees.

He said: “Scotland has excellent growing conditions, such as a damp environment and deep valleys that allow conifers to reach extraordinary heights.”

Mr Tansley’s team measured four trees picked out by the Tree Register as possible contenders for Scotland’s largest tree.

This included the UK’s previous tallest tree, the Douglas fir at Reelig Glen, Inverness at 62.02m, and a Douglas fir at The Hermitage, Dunkeld, Perthshire, which measured 61.31m.

The team are taking their project to England but are confident Argyll’s Douglas fir, which stands about 12m (40ft) taller than Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square, will retain its title.

Chris Hunter, who scaled the tree, said: “I’ve been climbing trees for 17 years and have never tackled anything so tall, challenging and rewarding.

“They were truly breathtaking trees set in breathtaking locations. Every one was worth the visit on its own.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 26/02/2009

Battle on to save Scotland’s red squirrels

More than £1m is to be spent over the next three years on saving Scotland’s red squirrels and protecting routes into their northern strongholds, the BBC News website reports.

The number or reds has been in decline since the arrival of the grey squirrel from North America in the 19th Century.

Greys compete with reds for food and can also carry the squirrel pox virus, which can kills reds in about 14 days.

There are currently about 121,000 red squirrels in Scotland and the country is home to 75% of the UK’s reds.

There are thought to be between 200,000 and 300,000 greys in Scotland.

The £1.3m Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project is being launched in Dunkeld, Perthshire.

See a map of shifting red and grey squirrel territories

It will develop habitats in which the red squirrel can flourish but will also try to control the greys, which will involve killing them.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (SRPBA) are involved in the project.

Environment Minister Mike Russell said: “The red squirrel is one of our most beautiful and valuable native species. Therefore its loss would be absolutely unforgiveable.

“Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a true partnership organisation and I am hopeful that its activity will see the red squirrels able to thrive once again in this country and ensure that future generations are able to enjoy them.”

Ron McDonald, from SNH, said that grey squirrel control would be focussed on the key routes being used by grey squirrels to spread north.

“Greys have already displaced red squirrels from most of England, Wales and Scotland’s central belt, but much of the north still remains grey-free,” he said.

“With sightings of greys becoming more frequent in northern Perthshire and Angus, and a population of grey squirrels already established in Aberdeen, it is imperative that we act quickly to protect red squirrels north of the central belt and prevent the grey’s further migration.”

Stuart Brooks, from SWT, added: “I can understand and empathise with those people who do not like the prospect of killing wild animals, but it is disingenuous to say that there are viable alternative solutions to saving the red squirrel in Scotland.

“Work is under way on a vaccine for squirrel pox but it is not around the corner and habitat improvements are a key component of our longer-term strategy.

“To do nothing now will certainly consign our native squirrel to a painful and lingering death.”

The SSRS project is expected to start work properly in April.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 10/02/2009

Scottish scheme ‘planting 1,149 trees a day’

A conservation partnership has planted the equivalent of 1,149 trees each day for the past eight years.

In a press release, the Scottish Forest Alliance (SFA) said that more than 3.3 million trees had been planted or had been allowed to naturally regenerate, as its decade-long project enetered its ninth year.

The The SFA is described as a “unique woodland conservation project” involving oil giant BP, Foresty Commission Scotland, the Woodland Trust Scotland and RSPB Scotland.

In 2000, BP pledged to invest £10bn over 10 years to support the SFA project, which has been described as Scotland’s biggest corporate commitment to the environment to date.

The goal is to help regenerate the nation’s fragmented native woodlands, helping to restore the rich diversity of flora and fauna that once flourished in these habitats.

It is also seeking to encourage local communities to become involved in the management of these areas.

Over the full 10 years, the scheme intends to create more than 8,400 hectares of new tree cover by planting almost 8.2 million trees.

“This successful project is playing a major role in creating significant new areas of native woodland,” said Andrew Fairbairn, development manager for the Woodland Trust Scotland.

“Across Scotland, we have planted millions of trees and encouraged millions more to naturally regenerate.”

He aded that the scheme had enabled  hundreds of thousands of people each year to enjoy the great outdoors.

“This in turn has a positive spin off for biodiversity and wildlife, as well as toruism and local communities.”

Source: SFA press release

Date: 09/10/2008

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