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Carrifran “Survivor Tree” up for European Tree of the Year

As you walk through Carrifran Wildwood, you are surrounded by young native trees. In the mid 90s, a group of friends in the Scottish Borders thought “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could restore a whole bare valley to native woodland?”.

That dream has become a reality and the Borders Forest Trust have planted nearly 2 million trees across the borders – many by volunteers.

The tree in 1998 – photo © Philip Ashmole
The Survivor Tree and Fi Martynoga, one of the original group. Photo Aiden McCormick / scotlandbigpicture.com

The first trees were planted at Carrifran Wildwood on millennium day. When money was being raised to buy the land – crowd funding in its earliest form, the leaflet used had a photo of a rowan tree and the slogan, “Where one tree survives…. a million trees will grow”. This rowan tree stood almost alone by the stream in a bare valley. Carrifran Wildwood now boasts around 700,000 trees and in years to come, the survivor rowan will be obscured from view and will be just one tree among many.

Carrifran Wildwood

This rowan, the ‘Survivor Tree’, is the UK entry competing to be named European Tree of the Year. It is one of the smallest and youngest trees in the competition. However, it is a symbol of hope, a testament to what can be accomplish in terms of landscape scale ecological restoration – rewilding.

Rowan trees are easily identified in autumn by their distinctive bright red or orange berries.  Rowans are not large trees – usually they are between 4 and 12 meters tall and can live up to 200 years. Although not related to ash, they look similar and grow in upland areas, so are sometimes called mountain ash. The berries of rowan are an important food source for birds.  The birds who eat the berries then disperse the seeds in their droppings, which helps the rowan to propagate. Due to this, our survivor rowan is now surrounded by its children.

The video below is a good way to really see the scale of what has been achieved at Carrifran. This work is being replicated across the Wild Heart. A walk around the Devil’s Beeftub or Gameshope Valley is a good way to see similar Wild Heart projects in much earlier stages of restoration.

Borders Forest Trust are asking for you to help promote what can be achieved in the UK in terms of rewilding and creating wild spaces by voting for the UK ‘Survivor Tree’ in the European Tree of the Year competition.

Voting is now open, and you can register your vote now at: https://www.treeoftheyear.org/

If this information has inspired you to visit, the ‘Survivor Tree’ is about 1.5 km from the Carrifran Wildwood car park. As you walk up the valley, the tree is on your left, by the stream, on a small crag on the far side (west) of the burn. There is a narrow foot bridge beyond it, but it is unsafe and it’s best to view the tree from high above it on the east side. There are no leaves in winter, but you may be able to make out the cluster of suckers at its base (grown up around the scars on its trunk since the sheep and feral goats were removed) and the saplings that have sprung up from its widely scattered berries; planted trees are all further away.

Scotland boasts many fine native woodlands and if the borders are too far from you to safely visit at the moment you can find some other suggestions here: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/our-pick-scotlands-native-forests/

You can find out more about the work of the Borders Forest Trust here.

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