Aspen on the Edge

You might recall my previous post regarding the presence of Juniper on Glengorm. Following the visit by Matt Parratt last week, we are delighted to report that bushes [both male and female] were found, and that sufficient numbers of juniper cones were collected to make his trip worthwhile.

Mr Parratt enjoyed superlative weather, which was fortunate because his designated collection area was none other than the summit and slopes of ‘S Airde Beinn!

Somewhat surprisingly, Mr Parratt also discovered a small group of Eurasian Aspen trees on the craggy western flank of this volcanic feature.

Aspen is a rather beautiful member of the poplar family. It often grows in association with birch species, and is thought to have been one of the first trees to colonise our landscape at the end of the last ice age.

This tree is great at spreading, and though it doesn’t flower and set seed very often, it does have an unusual ace up its silvicultural sleeve.

When you discover a dense stand of aspens, it is quite likely that all of these trunks are part of just one plant. The tree has effectively cloned itself  by allowing some of its root suckers to develop into fully fledged replicas. This can lead to something like immortality for the founder individual.

Though aspens are pretty good at sowing their wild oats, the species has the unfortunate handicap of being very tasty. Seedlings and new ramets [clones] are eagerly devoured by almost anything of a vegetarian persuasion.

Once common throughout the UK, our aspen population is now extremely fragmented; being restricted to sites where the trees have avoided the attention of grazers and people.

Linking up isolated populations is key to restoring the full compliment of aspen to our countryside. Though you could probably find aspen in almost any 10Km square of mainland Scotland, tree numbers will be small and groves are likely to be quite isolated from each other.

The paucity of aspen is especially sad because of its importance for our biodiversity. Five UK-BAP species are known to depend on this tree alone. Those five are the aspen bracket fungus, aspen bristle-moss, aspen hoverfly and dark-bordered beauty moth.

Interestingly, aspen is also the preferred food plant for Eurasian Beavers. The population of beavers on Loch ‘S Airde Beinn is currently zero… but never say never!

Though Glengorm has already identified ‘S Airde Beinn as a priority area for conservation [it is a Geological SSSI too] we hope that the presence of juniper and aspen will strengthen our case to fully protect and conserve this site.

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward

The view from the Cairn on ‘S Airde Beinn, home to Eurasian Aspen and Common Juniper'S Airde Beinn

Thumb Image: Alan Watson Featherstone –




Juniper Jungle

Great news from Glengorm today, as we welcome Matt Parratt from The UK National Tree Seed Project to collect Juniper seeds from our site!

This initiative is overseen by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, as part of their Millennium Seed Bank.

Juniper (Juniperus communis) is a priority species for conservation. Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Commision and Plantlife are working in partnership to help conserve Scottish plants.

Common juniper has the largest geographic range of any woody plant in the world. It is one of three conifers native to Scotland [the other two being Yew and Scots Pine].

Although individual trees and shrubs can live for more than a century, a lack of regeneration is leading to its downfall.

For example, the absence of grazing by animals such as Highland cattle means that seedlings germinating from these older plants struggle to compete with other vegetation. Worse still, voles and rabbits have a real taste for the young shoots, nibbling them away before they have a chance to grow.

Juniper has now disappeared from more than a third of its original range in the UK.

If you need proof of juniper’s importance to our landscape, the berries are used to flavour that most essential life-giving substance: GIN.

These berries are also commonly used as flavouring for game dishes – think hearty venison, pheasant or grouse.

What’s not to love?

Upon closer inspection, you will find that juniper berries are in fact small cones. The word gin originates from a Dutch term for the plant; “genever” was the traditional Dutch precursor to Britain’s favourite tipple. Sadly, most cones destined for production in the UK are now imported from Hungary.

Historically, Scottish junipers were also prized for their smokeless wood by illicit whisky distillers, as burning it didn’t betray the presence of their illegal stills! So, not only does juniper taste good, but it’s got a hint of rebel spirit about it too.

Hopefully, cones collected from juniper here on Glengorm will help to secure the future of this fascinating and delicious plant for generations to come.

Now, where did I put that tonic and lime…?

Stephanie Cope

Glengorm Wildlife Steward
Gin & TonicThumb Image: Alan Watson Featherstone –