May 22 2021

The Auld Alders at Newhall

Keith Knight is an Ancient Tree Verifier based in the Borders and has written this entertaining piece about a recent recording trip with fellow volunteers.  The Ancient Tree Verifiers in Scotland communicate on a very active WhatsApp group, but I know how delighted they were to be able to meet up again at last now that Covid rules have allowed it!


Here is his piece:


The group of volunteers in Southern Scotland who record trees for the Ancient Tree Inventory were not idle during lockdown, as there was a backlog of records to be uploaded, but sitting at a laptop is a poor alternative to being out there with the trees. So as soon as lockdown ended, we agreed to meet up and finish the recording of a group of very old Alders at Newhall near Peebles to the south of Edinburgh. These trees are the remnants of wood pasture and only a small area remains. The hillsides are grazed by sheep and Borders Forest Trust have worked with the landowner recently to protect the trees with a fence and have planted new trees to increase species diversity and the resilience of the woodland. Curiously nearly all the old trees still standing are Alders and this may be because they are less palatable to livestock although the sheep were eating the new shoots at the bases of the trees.


Ancient tree verifiers delighted to be back together after a long Covid separation!


Unfortunately, there were no cafes open for our customary start of coffee and scones so we had to bring our own coffee and Clair very kindly provided the scones (complete with jam and butter).


We spent a beautiful spring day admiring, measuring and recording the old trees for the Inventory. Some of the trees have been classed as ancient with many showing extensive hollowing. It was not uncommon to see Rowan trees growing in the crowns of the Alders and in some cases the Rowan caused the Alder trunk to split in two.


It is impossible to age these trees as it was clear that the trunks of most had matured and rotted to be replaced by new growth from the base to form the current tree. This may have happened several times so the actual root systems will be hundreds of years old. This process leads a fascinating range of shapes and forms of the trees with very few having a single straight stem. The commonest form was a multiple stemmed tree formed from new growth at the base. Although interesting to admire, it did make the measurement of the girth of the tree a challenge in many cases.


We recorded 22 alder trees to add to the 26 recorded on a previous visit. The largest measured was 4.42m and 4 of the trees exceeded 4m in girth. The details can be found on the Ancient Tree Inventory.



Being close to such old trees is a wonderful experience not to be missed. There are still many more trees to record in the south of Scotland and if you fancy joining us for a day then please get in touch. We are now planning to meet up monthly and the day will start, of course with coffee and scones!



Many thanks to Borders Forest Trust for highlighting these trees to us and for taking positive action to protect them.



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