Dec 062016

Pupils from Invergarry Primary School with singer and harpist Claire Hewitt.

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Schools in the Highlands are working with conservation charity Trees for Life to learn firsthand about native woodlands and rewilding through a new project that combines tree planting with storytelling, folklore, history, geography, poetry and song.

Around 300 pupils in Cannich, Balnain, Drumnadrochit, Fort Augustus and Invergarry are taking part in the Rewilding the Highlands project, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“This is an exciting collaboration in which teachers and pupils are working together to discover more about our precious native woodlands and the importance of restoring Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Founder.

Specially commissioned teaching resources written by Sallie Harkness and Carol Omand of Storyline Scotland – including stories, songs and puppets – are bringing the project alive for the schoolchildren. The pupils are also learning about past relationships between people and trees, Gaelic place-names, and the craft of the storyteller or seanachaidh.

Storyteller, singer and harpist Claire Hewitt recently visited Invergarry Primary School to share woodland folklore, songs and stories, while training upper primary pupils as apprentice storytellers.

Gaelic storyteller Ariel Killick also visited Invergarry Primary School and Kilchuimen Primary School in Fort Augustus, using her engaging workshop ‘Adventures with the Gaelic Tree Alphabet’ to explore environmental issues, Gaelic poetry and language, and the Highland clearances.

Kim Bentley, Head Teacher at Invergarry Primary School, said:

“This fantastic project is helping to strengthen our pupils’ appreciation and love of our native woodlands. It’s wonderful for them to be involved in the restoration of the Caledonian Forest, and to be part of something that will have a lasting impact on future generations.”

The project addresses a wide range of curriculum areas including outdoor learning, science, Gaelic, arts and literacy. Participating schools have visited Trees for Life’s acclaimed Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston to find out more about conservation and to help in the charity’s tree nursery. 

Plans for the schools also include community celebrations of the project, and walks in community woodlands with pupils who are to be trained as nature guides.

Next spring, poets Alec Finlay and Ken Cockburn will work with secondary schools on a Gaelic place-name map, using linguistic archaeology to reveal lost woods and wildlife in Glen Affric, Glen Urquhart, Glenmoriston and Glen Garry. Pupils will carry out research, with their discoveries added to the map.

The Caledonian Forest has been an important part of the Highlands’ culture and natural landscape for millennia, but is now one of the UK’s most endangered habitats – largely because of over-grazing, which prevents natural regeneration of its trees. For details about Trees for Life’s award-winning work to save the forest, visit

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Nov 282016

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

beaver-pixabay-nutria-1386446_1280 Welcoming the Scottish government’s decision to allow reintroduced beavers to remain in the country, Trees for Life said that it plans to move ahead with investigating possibilities for bringing beavers to areas north of the Great Glen, working with local communities to identify where they might live without perceived adverse impacts.

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive said:

“Today’s decision means that beavers can naturally spread through Scotland in the future. There is a lot of space in the Highlands where they could thrive, improving the region for other wildlife and providing a tourist attraction that will benefit the local economy.”

However, the main obstacle to the natural spread of beavers to the Highlands is geography. Steve Micklewright said:

“The Great Glen presents a natural barrier to beavers colonising the area on their own from the existing populations in Argyll and Tayside, so the only way to be sure they will return to the northwest Highlands would be to give them a helping hand.”

Trees for Life has long been an advocate for the Eurasian beaver’s reintroduction to Scotland and has been working on the possibility to reintroduce them for many years. In 2015 the charity commissioned initial research by beaver experts, which indicated that places such as Glen Affric could support beavers.

The planting of aspen trees – a vital winter food for beavers – by Trees for Life in areas beside Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin and Loch Affric in Glen Affric, and beside the River Moriston at the charity’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston, has also improved the prospect of these areas being suitable for beaver reintroduction in the future.

Trees for Life is supportive of the return of beavers because they can improve the health of rivers and lochs, and also reduce flooding. They coppice and fell trees, letting light into the forest and enabling other plants to flourish, while stimulating new growth of the trees themselves. Their small dams create wetland areas, providing habitats for amphibians, invertebrates and fish, which in turn attract birds and otters.

While the benefits to other wildlife of beaver reintroduction are significant, the government’s announcement recognises that some residents may be concerned about the possible impact of beavers on their interests and that this requires careful management.

Acknowledging that some people might be worried about potential local impacts such as flooding and beavers felling trees to build dams, Steve Micklewright said:

“While it is certain that beavers could live in the Highlands, the next step is to ensure they would be a welcome addition to the landscape. That is why we plan to work out where they would be welcome. Then we plan to enter in to dialogue with the government to explore how we can help them to return to those areas.”

Pictures courtesy of Pixabay, used under creative commons permissions. Featured image credit: Elli60. Thumbnail credit: Antranias. Top right image credit: Peter Lösch.

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Nov 102016

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in mid flight in forest, Scotland.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in mid flight in forest, Scotland. © Peter Cairns.

An innovative project to boost the number of the UK’s red squirrels by relocating individuals to woodlands they cannot reach by themselves is taking a major step forward this month.

Conservation experts at the charity Trees for Life will carefully relocate red squirrels from Inverness-shire and Moray to forests near Kinlochewe and at Plockton, where the species is currently absent despite there being suitable habitat for squirrels.

The Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project aims to establish 10 new populations in the northwest Highlands, significantly increasing both the numbers and range of the red squirrel in the UK.

“We are giving red squirrels a helping hand to return to some of their long-lost forest homes. Many Highland woodlands offer the species excellent habitat far from disease-carrying grey squirrels – but because reds travel between trees and avoid crossing large areas of open ground, they can’t return to isolated woodlands without our help,” said Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer.

The next two releases follow a successful first reintroduction in March this year, when the charity relocated 33 red squirrels from Forres and Strathspey to native woods at Shieldaig in Wester Ross.

This new population has also bred during the summer, with several young squirrels observed – confirming that the area is excellent habitat with a good natural food supply.

There have also been regular sightings reported by local people, with the squirrels ranging widely as they explore nearby habitat. Trees for Life is continuing to monitor the population, with surveys planned for later this year.

Another success has been high levels of community involvement. Residents near the relocation sites have been monitoring the squirrels and carrying out supplementary feeding, while people from whose gardens the squirrels were removed have visited Shieldaig to see the expanding new population.

“Involving local communities is a big part of this exciting rewilding project. People love helping red squirrels and having them move into their local area,” said Becky Priestley.

In the next phase of the project, this autumn 70 red squirrels will be relocated to the privately-owned Coulin Estate next to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe, and to Plockton, which is owned by landowners including conservation charity The National Trust for Scotland. These sites have good habitat with significant potential for the species to spread into surrounding areas.

There will be opportunities for people to help with monitoring the new squirrel populations, by reporting sightings and by taking part in surveys during the winter.

With animal welfare paramount, the project involves squirrels being transported in special nest boxes, lined with hay for comfort, and provisioned for food and hydration. Only small numbers of squirrels are removed from any site, so that donor populations are unaffected. Health checks ensure that diseased animals are not introduced to new populations.

At the reintroduction sites, the boxes are fixed to trees, with exit holes lightly filled with grass – allowing the squirrels to find their way out. Food is provided for several months while the squirrels become accustomed to their new habitat.

In the UK, red squirrels are now rare with only an estimated 138,000 individuals left – their numbers decimated by the reduction of forests to isolated remnants, and by disease and competition from the introduced non-native grey squirrel.

The Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project has been made possible by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and People’s Trust for Endangered Species. It involves volunteer opportunities, landowner partnerships, and research to strengthen conservation. All relocation sites require comprehensive habitat assessments, landowner agreements, and a five-year licence from Scottish Natural Heritage.

For details about Trees for Life’s award-winning work to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Highlands, visit

Pictured: Red squirrel © Peter Cairns 

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Sep 292016

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.


Birch trees at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate

An innovative study of soundscapes at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate aims to reveal new findings about woodland health and the richness of wildlife at the 10,000-acre biodiversity hotspot.
Composer and audio specialist Huw McGregor has carried out an initial investigation at the Inverness-shire estate as part of his Woodland Soundscape Project, using purpose-built sound recording equipment to collect and monitor forest sounds.

He hopes to develop a new way of measuring biodiversity at Dundreggan, by providing fresh data on the diversity and populations of species, and also to inspire people to visit and enjoy woodlands.

“People have long enjoyed forest sounds, but using modern technology to study the soundscapes of these precious habitats offers a new way of better understanding their development over time, and the diversity and behaviour of their wildlife,” said Huw McGregor.

“Strengthening understanding of our sonic environment, and its links to ecological health, can provide a useful new way of measuring the impact of conservation work. It’s fantastic to be working with Trees for Life, because rewilding is so important for the wellbeing of our children and the natural world.”

Dundreggan – Trees for Life’s flagship forest regeneration site – is gaining an international reputation for its biodiversity. It has been described as a Highlands ‘lost world’, where more than 3,000 species have been discovered, including 10 found nowhere else in the UK and others that are extremely rare.

Huw’s initial recordings at the site include the dawn and dusk choruses. Such recordings can be used to study bird population numbers and the range of species, as well as how species use different spaces to alter their songs or how sounds such as waterfalls, roads and human activity affect their behaviour.

Data on bird species can also be used as an indicator for overall biodiversity, and Huw is seeking funding to allow a deeper investigation of Dundreggan’s birdlife.

A permanent audio record will be gathered that could be used to help provide a detailed examination of Dundreggan’s ecological health, and to track progress in strengthening its biodiversity.

Encouraging people’s enjoyment of woodlands is also part of the project. Recordings of a ‘sound walk’ of Dundreggan’s waterfalls offer a sonic experience of the falls, for example, and musical sounds around rock pools have also been gathered. Some of Huw’s Dundreggan recordings feature on a new ‘Forests Of The World’ CD, available for free listening and download via

Huw is also looking to explore woodlands in the Czech Republic and Wales, to develop the soundscape project into a wider study across nations. For more details about his work, see

Award-winning Trees for Life – one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities – is restoring the Caledonian Forest in the Highlands to one of the UK’s wildest landscapes. See

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Sep 162016

Gaelic storyteller Ariel Killick.

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

The lost woods and wildlife of the Highlands are to be rediscovered thanks to a new Gaelic place-name map project led by conservation charity Trees for Life, which will promote the cultural importance of Scotland’s native woodland heritage.

The initiative was launched with a two-day, 20-mile symbolic journey – Turas Nan Craobh: A Journey With Trees – from Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston to Fort Augustus and Invergarry on 10 and 11 September 2016.

Native trees were transported by two ponies and planted at key sites where place-names evoke a particular tree.

Members of the community, school pupils, artists, heritage and walking groups, and Trees for Life ecologists followed sections of old military and drove roads. Gaelic storyteller Ariel Killick and poet Alec Finlay took part in special events.

“Place-names contain a record of past ecology and can shed light on the woods and wildlife that once thrived in the Highlands and could do so again, with a little assistance from people,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Founder.

“With native woodland now covering just four per cent of Scotland – one of the lowest percentages in Europe – we want to inspire communities and schools to discover more about our cultural and native woodland heritage, and to involve them in restoring the endangered Caledonian Forest.”

Participants in the Journey with Trees planted trees in gardens, school grounds and community green spaces, and in places where place-names evoke trees, such as Achadh-nan-darach – field of the oaks – on Abercalder Estate.

Poet Alec Finlay will now create the map – which will be used by schools and community groups, and to encourage tourism to less well-known areas – by exploring place-names relating to woodlands, animals, geology and human dwellings in Glen Affric, Glen Urquhart, Glenmoriston and Glen Garry.

His research will seek to identify place-names that indicate the past presence of woodland or animals, such as Creag a’ Mhadaidh – the wolf crag – in Glenmoriston, and Beinn Eun – hill of the bird – in Glen Affric. Old maps, photographs, artefacts, census information, newspaper articles and older people’s knowledge will all be used.

The map – called ‘From Creag a’ Mhadaidh to Dubh-Chamas nan Ùbhlan’ or ‘From The Wolf’s Crag to The Dark Bay of Apple Trees’ – will be created in stages, with place-names revealed as new findings are uncovered. It will be used in school and community events focused on rewilding and Gaelic in the landscape, and to encourage tourists to visit locations such as Glenmoriston, Glen Urquhart and Glen Garry.

Grace Grant of Glengarry Community Woodlands said:

“Our lovely historic woodland is part of our local heritage, and as we plan its regeneration we are delighted to work with Trees for Life.”

Alec Finlay’s blog at will feature information from the map together with poetry, linked to Trees or Life’s website at

More Info:

The mapping project is part of Trees for Life’s Rewilding the Highlands project, which also involves the planting of more than 50,000 trees and the creation of wildlife habitats. The project won the Alpine category of the 2016 European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) scheme, securing £23,000 through an online public vote.

Partners in the project include Glengarry Community Woodlands, Storyline Scotland, and The Scottish Storytelling Centre’s #DareTo Dream initiative.

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Aug 042016

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

IMG_4744 Volunteer looking at a lichen

Trees for Life volunteer looking at a lichen.

Conservation charity Trees for Life is holding a public Bioblitz day in Glen Affric on Sunday 14 August, from 10.30am – 3.30pm, for anyone who wants to discover more about wildlife in the famous glen.

Everyone is welcome to call in at The Quarry car park near the end of Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin, and to join in the free activities.

A group of wildlife specialists will be on the lookout for plants, fungi, insects, birds and mammals, and will be displaying interesting findings during the day.

There will be opportunities to make mini nature reserves, join bug hunts and guided walks, and hear a storyteller recount tales from forest folklore. The Bog Cotton Café will be on site, selling tea, coffee, cake and other delicacies from their village kitchen in Cannich.

Natural history groups joining the Bioblitz include specialists from Butterfly Conservation Scotland, British Dragonfly Society, Forest Enterprise Scotland, National Trust for Scotland and RSPB. Young Scot’s National Youth Biodiversity Action Group will be running activities for people of all ages.

Trees for Life is an award-winning conservation charity dedicated to restoring the endangered Caledonian Forest and to protecting its rare wildlife from extinction, and so far has created 10,000 acres of new forest. It has pledged to establish one million more trees, by planting and natural regeneration, by 2018.

People can support Trees for Life by becoming members and by funding dedicated trees and groves. Volunteers carry out almost all of the charity’s practical conservation work, including through

Conservation Weeks in beautiful locations. See

The Bioblitz event is part of Trees for Life’s Glen Affric Forest Restoration Project, which won the Outdoor category of the 2014 European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) scheme, securing £20,000 through an online public vote.

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Jul 212016

With thanks to Richard Bunting, Director, Richard Bunting PR.

Steve and Paul with saplings (medium)

TfL’s CEO Steve Micklewright (left) and Paul Thomas, Superdry’s Energy and Environment Manager, at Dundreggan Conservation Estate.

Trees for Life’s work to save Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest and its rare wildlife has been given a welcome boost thanks to a £12,500 donation from fashion brand and retailer Superdry.

The donation was raised through sales of carrier bags from the company’s stores across Scotland, with its staff members voting for the funds to benefit award-winning conservation charity Trees for Life.

Superdry’s Energy and Environment Manager Paul Thomas recently spent a day at Trees for Life’s acclaimed Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness, to present the donation and to see some of the practical conservation action being carried out there – including the charity’s tree nursery where 60,000 native trees are grown each year.

Paul said:

“We are really proud to be supporting Trees for Life’s restoration of the Caledonian Forest, one of the country’s most iconic but endangered habitats. A healthy environment benefits everyone, and it’s inspiring to support this project which is bringing new life to the wild landscapes of the Highlands.”

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive Officer, said:

“Initiatives like this make a real difference, with every £5 allowing us to plant a tree and every £50 enabling us to restore 50 square metres of native woodland. So this donation from Superdry is very good news for Scotland’s equivalent of a rainforest, and it will generate long-lasting benefits for woodlands, wildlife and people.”

Scotland’s 5p charge on carrier bags in stores aims to reduce plastic bag use. Superdry has gone one step further for the environment by ensuring that its bags are made of easily biodegradable paper rather than plastic.

Today only a fraction of the former Caledonian Forest survives, but Trees for Life has planted more than one million trees at dozens of locations, and has created 10,000 acres of new forest. It has pledged to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration by 2018.

People can support Trees for Life by becoming members and by funding dedicated trees and groves. Volunteers carry out almost all of the charity’s practical conservation work, including through Conservation Weeks in beautiful locations. See or call 0845 458 3505.

Superdry ( is a contemporary brand focusing on high-quality products that fuse vintage Americana and Japanese-inspired graphics with a British style. It has gained an international celebrity following, and has a growing worldwide presence, operating through 515 Superdry branded locations in 46 countries. Superdry prides itself on great customer service and a hassle-free returns policy.

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Jul 082016

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryHurrah! Result! We’re to leave Europe. Or maybe not – no one knows for certain what Scotland’s future looks like at this point, but isn’t it fun and a bit exciting?
And we might get either Michael Gove or Teresa May as the new PM! The Brexiteers Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as so magnanimous in victory that they’ve scarpered.

You might compare their running away from the result they pushed for to insects running to hide when you turn over a stone, but I know that they’re just getting ready for some further selfless acts of heroism.

Another hero who shuns the limelight is former PM Tony Blair. With the Chilcot report released this week, you’d expect Tony to take the credit for the Iraq war. After all, he saved us from those Weapons of Mass Destruction. Thanks TB.

Looking at this week’s news, here are a few little facts you might enjoy:

When the dust settles a bit on Brexit, Old Susannah will revert with more facts – that’s if anyone’s saying anything factual at all. While Scotland voted to stay, the Brexiteers said that the EU was costing us £350 million a week which could be better spent on the NHS. Clearly that in no way meant that any money saved would be spent on the NHS, which of course is in fine shape anyway.

In far more important news, it was the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival last weekend, and the weather was largely fine. The Black Isle Brewery was on hand, as was Dyce’s new brewer, Fierce. They have some delicious gear, I bought a lovely wheat beer and a coffee and vanilla concoction. In the meantime BrewDog’s launched a few Jackhammer Variants; Jackhammer being my favourite brew with off-the-scale bitterness.

Blackhammer is my favourite; I hope to see it around for a long, long time. BrewDog is also doing its bit for up-and-coming music and comedy talent; comedy troupe Wildly Unprepared have been doing their improve thing on Thursday nights in Underdog (the venue beneath BrewDog Castlegate). Hope to see you there.

One person though has managed to end years of The Malt Mill’s and Downstairs’ nurturing of fledgling bands. Someone moved to a flat near to the venue – a venue with ‘LIVE MUSIC’ in giant letters proclaiming that the Malt Mill, which looked like a bar with live music to the rest of us – and you’d never guess it – there was live music going on at night!

If only there had been some clue that a flat on a busy commercial road close to a long-running music venue and bar might not be quiet at night! Now Old Susannah understands that people need to play music for whatever reason, and I suppose there should be some allowance in society for that kind of thing in small doses.

It was always going to be the event of the year

Perhaps the venue should have just spent £100,000 from their petty cash and soundproofed the place. After all, if you put on live bands, that means you’re rolling in money.

Hopefully we’ll get something useful in place of The Malt Mill – like a mobile phone shop or Estate Agent. And from now on, let’s all be very, very quiet when we are out on the streets late at night.

Perhaps the hero who forced this closure could let us know when it’s convenient for the rest of us to make any noise on Holburn? I’d absolutely love to hear from you. My words of congratulations for your fighting for your individual right to quiet (rather than using ear plugs, moving, or just getting used to it) and successfully closing down a place for the rest of us to hear new bands are ready any time you want to hear them. I salute you.

Finally, we will all remember where we were when celebrity misogynist Donald J Trump flew into Menie this past week. It was always going to be glamorous with Sarah Malone in attendance. It was always going to be the event of the year with the Press & Journal present. But when Rupert Murdoch AND Jerry Hall flew in as well – what can Old Susannah say? Words cannot convey how exciting this was; it was like being a part of history in the making.

How unfortunate then that a few spoilsports decided – I can’t imagine why – to hang up Mexican Flags near the course. It’s bad enough these people live close to the course in houses The Donald finds unattractive, but to add to the visual pollution – well, that was unforgiveable.

Perhaps not as unforgiveable as Trump’s people: cutting off residents’ water and electricity supplies, calling the police to arrest lawbiding journalists, blocking access for the disabled at various points on the estate, threatening a grandmother with eviction, stopping Michael Forbes from salmon fishing, or threatening to use compulsory purchase orders to steal homes – but it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

(NB – the residents decided not to stage a personal protest, but to just have the flags reminding the world of Trump’s bigotry towards Mexico and everyone who isn’t a white male billionaire. The massive amounts of news cover the flag protest generated in advance of the visit was remarkable. The brief, chaotic, rambling words of Trump to a few score of journos just didn’t cut it. With all of her professional qualifications i.e. being a former beauty queen, the polished, finely-tuned press call on the day was what I expected.).

But at this rate there won’t be any definitions, and I very much want to get back to that part of this column. By the way, this column will finish with No. 200. That will be quite enough for this format, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll take my eyes off The Granite City. Anyway, a few words – about trees and consultations in Aberdeen.

Consultation: (English noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions and facts on a particular subject.

Peterculter Tree Cull consultation: (Aberdonian noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions and facts on a particular subject, and the majority of people involved don’t get a look in. and facts are overlooked.

DSCN1516Secondly, the trees were old, and we’ve got enough old stuff around here anyway.

Then there was the fact that the trees were cutting down the amount of sunshine reaching one or two people in adjacent housing.

I for one know that if the sun’s not streaming in my Scottish windows 24/7 365/365, it can only mean the trees (not clouds, storms, snow, hailstones) are blocking the light.

Of course, some of the more intrepid people actually go outside when it’s sunny – but you can hardly do that if you’re living somewhere as dangerous as Peterculter.

So the city got back some responses from people who hated the trees, and cut them down.

Some councillors were very quick to defend this action too. Some councillors said that the trees were diseased and posed a hazard. That must have been a hell of a tree disease. On the one hand, it must have come up very quickly – or surely the city would have taken action before now.

On the other hand, it’s a pretty interesting kind of tree disease when instead of getting rid of the trees (or heaven forbid trying to treat it), you can decide what to do about the trees not by saying their diseased and cutting them, but by asking residents what they want done with the trees.


One person at least tried unsuccessfully to get through to the relevant people at the city, but as we know, the city responds instantly to any and all queries.

Another funny thing is the city’s existing tree management policy. It seems to say that if it owns trees that are not close to a dwelling, they aren’t going to cut them down.

It’s not that I’m cynical, but I’d love to find out what the disease was that was so bad the trees had to come down but not bad enough that the residents’ opinions could have stopped it. For more info, see here.

Some people claim their responses to the consultation were unanswered. Would the city ever do that?

Tree for Every Citizen scheme: (Aberdonian noun) An exercise in which various experts and/or stakeholders are asked for their opinions only if they are from the SNH or stand to make lots of £££ from killing deer on the hill, or wear shoulder pads (Aileen ‘Ho’Malone), in which consultation existing plans to kill deer are deliberately left out, stopping the public from taking much interest, so their opinions can be ‘managed’ in the words of the SNH. 

No one objected to the proposal – until it was too late. Funny that they didn’t announce the cull when they mentioned the other operational details (rabbit fences).

Even funnier; they refused to listen to free advice from experts on how to have trees and deer. And now we have no deer and no trees. We do have a consultant who’s at least £100,000 better off. And ranger Ian Tallboys got an award from Princess Anne. Result!

The award-winning, manicured Tullos Hill forest will provide a cost-neutral lovely recreation area for city residents. Only that it’s cost a packet, cost the lives of 38 deer (give or take – the city’s record-keeping is so bad we don’t know), and the trees are in such poor shape we’ve been warned that we might have to give the government its grant money back.

That would be nothing new, the previous attempt to plant trees on this former garbage tip with very poor soil didn’t work, either – I wonder why – and cost us £43,800.

Sometimes there is no need to bother even with a token consultation, as the people of Bedford Road can tell you. If they didn’t read page 47 of the Evening Express, read community council notes and city papers – and magically deduce that a ‘bus gate’ meant they would not be allowed to drive on their street again, then it’s their tough luck.

No one thought it necessary to write to them to ask for opinions; although funnily enough, the Peterculter residents were written to about cutting down the trees (apparently 2 people said to cut them – and that was good enough for ACC).

You don’t have to consult the public over minor details like the Marischal Square project either. Just tell them an iconic, smart, forward looking building will breath new life, etc. etc. into the area, but the architects will respect the importance of Provost Skene’s house: then hope they won’t notice when the reality is nothing like the original promise.

In fact, the reality is so much better! We can barely see the provost’s house now, and I hear we might get a hamburger joint. AND – the Press & Journal are going to move in! The best loved, most cutting edge newspaper in the best-loved, most cutting edge building! Result! as they say.

Next week: Blair, Brexit, Boris

PS – An observation

I was walking through Torry one early evening, past where a small green space off Victoria Road has a small but pretty collection of flowers. A couple were there, possibly Eastern European. We said hello as I passed. They had a little girl. She was smiling from ear to ear, pointing at the flowers, and jumping up and down.

Completely devoid of any prejudice, mindless hatred, greed, or ill-will, she was just delighted to be with two obviously adoring parents, looking at beautiful flowers.

I wondered whether it was too much to ask that we stop hurting our kids by pouring our prejudices and poisons into them. Will this girl be one of the 5 who will eventually be sexually assaulted? Will she encounter kids at school who are mean to her – because their parents taught them to hate people who are ‘foreign’ or ‘different’?

Will she be encouraged to study whatever she wants to study – science, art, languages, history – or will the system channel her into ‘girlish’ activities or will well-meaning people make her study things which lead to well-paying jobs while forsaking arts and philosophy? If she were a Muslim/black/Native American/Asian child, what kinds of barriers, doors and hatred would she be experiencing before long.

I wondered, is it too much to ask that with all the problems we’ve left for the next generation that we can at the very least manage not to fill these little people with hatred and just be nice to them instead? The answer, sadly, is that it probably will be too much to ask. I hope she remembers how happy, free and innocent she was that night. I wish she could live like that always – if she and her peers could, then there’s a chance we could have another world and a far better one.

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Jun 302016

Peterculter tree fell (4) By Peterculter resident, Diane McKay.

A whole belt of healthy well-established trees is being cut down in Peterculter. This work was planned for August, but is happening today, now.

It has been very difficult to get any answers from the council: they told me this morning that some residents have complained of falling branches.

But surely this doesn’t necessitate the destruction of the whole belt.

I only moved to the area late last year. The main reason we bought the house was because of the beautiful majestic backdrop of mature pines.

Back in March, fifty-two local residents received a letter from Alasdair Wilson at the council, saying they were considering taking the trees down. It offered options either to remove them, remove some of them, or to leave them. I responded, stating that I would prefer it if the trees were left alone, because they enrich the area, support wildlife and also provide a windbreak for the houses.

I received no acknowledgement. I emailed again to check if my response had been received. Again, I received no answer. I tried phoning Mr Wilson, using a number I was given from the main Council office, but no answer. I tried half a dozen more times, then tried the Council again. They gave me the same number again and said they would contact Mr Wilson and tell him I was trying to reach him. Again, nothing.

Then on the 31st of May we got a second letter saying there had been only thirteen responses, with seven in favour of retaining the trees, a slight majority, and that they would be felling them all, with work starting mid- to end August. I emailed back, also contacting the local community council, and three local councillors, asking them to reconsider.

Then on Monday morning out of the blue we awoke to the sound of chainsaws. At this point I had not been given any reason whatsoever for the trees being felled. I then received a short email from Mr Wilson, saying:

“It is assumed that the silent majority have no strong opinion and are happy for us to continue.”

He gave his mobile number, so I was able to contact him at last and express my dismay. He said they had time to do the job just now, so were going ahead.

He said that in the past some properties had been damaged by falling branches. I asked him if the trees could just be monitored and maintained and he told me it was too late because the trees had not been properly maintained previously. He told me the number I had been given twice by Council staff was obsolete and just reaches an empty office.

Peterculter tree fell (5)I contacted the RSPB, who said they recommend felling after mid- to end August, as originally planned, to avoid disturbing nests.

I then heard back from Councillor Marie Boulton, who said that some residents in the retirement houses on the other side of the tree belt felt their houses were dark and damp, and that they felt threatened when returning home at night. More street lighting had been put in, but according to Councillor Boulton they still felt threatened, and felt ‘unsafe’ sitting out in the communal areas.

There are twelve of these houses for elderly people, so even if all six responses in favour of felling came from those houses, then that is still only half of them. The trees are at the bottom of a slope, so the roots probably absorb huge amounts of water. It is therefore possible the houses may become damper with the trees gone. Also, there are other communal areas away from the trees for people to sit outside.

Apart from my own view that the trees should stay, I believe the Council has handled the situation extremely badly, by not supplying information or explaining or justifying what they were doing; in fact, by not answering queries at all until after the felling had begun. It also seems pointless asking residents for their opinion if they then go ahead and do whatever they want.

The council has told me that any trees with nests will be left temporarily, but I believe the noise and destruction of adjoining trees will cause birds to abandon their nests.

There was a local ‘consultation’ with most responses being in favour of keeping the trees, but the council have gone ahead anyway. There are few enough trees in the city as it is. With the construction of the bypass, and all the house building locally, we need to be protecting trees, not destroying even more.

There are plans to replant the area, which is at least some consolation (to future generations anyway).

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Jun 302016

Gary Shand George Sq sculpture prior to oiling 2By Duncan Harley.

Inverurie has a new and exciting piece of artwork courtesy of north east based chainsaw sculptor Gary Shand.

When Aberdeenshire Council Landscape Services Officer Ken Regan realised that he had a dead elm tree on his hands he decided to approach Gary in the hope of persuading him to transform the 25ft high stump into a piece of public art.

“I had seen carved tree stumps in the parks of Barcelona … the notion that folk could almost randomly stumble upon them appealed and when this opportunity arose it seemed appropriate to create one for Inverurie” said Ken.

Sited in parkland on George Square outside Inverurie’s St Andrew’s School, the sculpting process immediately drew comments from local residents. Carving a tree trunk with a power-saw is after all a very public process.

Says Gary,

“It was really interesting overhearing the comments. At the beginning folk were mainly asking what it was for and what did it mean. Towards the end of the week I detected a sense of ownership. Folk had literally adopted the piece as a part of their local environment.”


Chainsaw sculptor Gary Shand

The design stage involved consultation with St Andrew’s School pupils. Drawings were produced and, as Gary puts it “the ideas were put into the blender.” The image of the children with arms around each other, lifting each other up and reaching for the sky was the result and “Aspire” was born.

With a background in forestry and a lifelong interest in the creative arts, Gary was an obvious choice for the project. “In fact we were fortunate that he was able to commit to the work” said Ken Regan.

Alongside his “Stump Sculptures” Gary creates bespoke pieces, often from elm, suited to the average size home.

“Dutch Elm disease has been a mixed blessing” he says.

“it’s not quite so good for forests but is useful if you are a carver … Elm is an ideal timber for outdoor sculpture and providing you keep it moist, which is easy in Scotland, it will last forever.”

Given that the Romans utilized elm for water-pipes, Gary is not far wrong.

Samples of Gary’s work can be seen at www/

Images and text © Duncan Harley

First published in the June 2016 edition of Leopard Magazine

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