I am proud to have supported Alan Watson Featherstone, Founder of Trees for Life. Highland Titles have also been privileged to have the benefit of his help and advice, particularly the help he gave us in setting up our own small tree nursery.
Alan has been a personal inspiration for me and for what I have chosen to do with the rest of my life. Since first coming across a Trees for Life working party in Gerry’s Hostel at Achnashellach 20 years ago, I have known that I wanted to support their work. Alan founded Trees for Life in 1989, and was its Executive Director from then until 2016, when he stepped down from this role after thirty years and handed over to bird enthusiast, Steve Micklewright as the new Chief Executive Director. Highland Titles were Trees for Life partners for several years during Alan’s time as Executive Director, but we have not supported the organisation following his decision to stand down.
Like my daughter, Laura, the inspiration for Highland Titles, Alan was educated at Strathallan School in rural Perthshire. After some years travelling, he joined the Findhorn Foundation in 1978 and dedicated his life to nature. In 1986 he committed to create Trees for Life, with the aim of restoring the Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife to the Scottish Highlands.
The native woodlands of Scotland are a precious part of our heritage, enormously enjoyed by the population and internationally admired for their beauty and biodiversity. But – like historic buildings or archaeological monuments – they can be easily diminished and destroyed by neglect.
Stirling Castle has been wonderfully restored and we won’t allow Skara Brae to be swallowed up by the sea. Yet, by our own inaction, are we risking the destruction of the heritage of the Caledonian pine and the Atlantic oakwood?
The message is that we are allowing our woods to decline. Our woods are cultural heritage as much as natural heritage, and their nature came about because they were treated in certain ways by people. The sheets of bluebells and wood anemone arose because there was plenty of light coming into the understory in the spring, and that depended on the woodman’s choice of tree species, his control of deer and his decision to coppice and fell the broadleaves from time to time.
The open spaces in the wood pastures, where sanicle and primrose bloom, were maintained by herded animals, their numbers determined by community regulation. Bryophytes abound where pollards were taken from the alders and the oak. The Caledonian forest was the Highlander’s wood-store – here he cut crucks for his home and here his cattle fed in the early winter. We should see these places as a living part of our history. We should love them the more for the way that our past is alive and manifest in their flowers, lichens and mosses.
Of course we cannot turn back the clock and replicate exactly the world of the charcoal burner, the tan barker and the peasant farmer, nor should we try. But we can and we must try to achieve the same result in modern ways.
We can reintroduce grazing, remove the rhododendron, bring in a legal obligation to control deer, plant the right tree in the right place, and reclaim the sites of ancient woods from the gloomy and arid Sitka while there is yet time. Let our priorities include the quality of care of our native woods, just as they include the quality of care of Scotland’s built heritage. Posterity deserves no less.