Larch Trees Under Threat

Highland Perthshire (a.k.a. Big Tree Country) has some 200,000 acres of woodlands, including some of Scotland’s most spectacular trees, along with swathes of larches. These tall and elegant trees change with the seasons, from lime green in the spring through to amber and gold in the autumn.

Unusually for conifers they shed their needles as winter approaches, casting a golden hue onto the paths and lochside roads.

There are many larches on Drummond Hill and in the area around Fearnan, and so the news that these trees are under threat from a devastating tree disease, Phytophthora ramorum mould, which causes sudden larch death syndrome, is deeply concerning.

Larches are a non-native species and were first brought from the Austrian Tyrol to Scotland in 1738 by James Menzies of Culdares, near Fortingall.  As has been well documented, five saplings were introduced by the 7th Duke of Atholl to his estate at Dunkeld, and subsequent generations of the Atholl Dukes used the seeds from these ‘parent larches’ to populate the landscape with some 14 million trees over the next century. Some 280 years later, a single survivor of those original 5 trees still stands.

It is perhaps less well known that the Breadalbane Estate at Taymouth may also have been the recipient of some of that first batch of larches brought over by James Menzies. 

The Rev William Gillies makes reference to it in his book “In Famed Breadalbane”, and the date of the introduction of larches to Scotland certainly coincides with a major afforestation project being carried out by the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Breadalbane.

After their introduction, larches thrived around Loch Tay, and many on Drummond Hill grew to significant dimensions.  However, most of these impressive trees were felled (along with the rest of the 300-year-old woodland on the Hill) as part of the war effort during World War I.  There was one fine specimen still standing when the Forestry Commission acquired the estate in 1922. It was 110 ft. (33.5 meters) high, 724 cu. ft. (20.5 cubic meters) in volume and estimated to be 150 years old. (Forestry Commission, History of Drummond Hill 1923 – 1951)

The Forestry Commission was created to undertake the huge task of replanting forests cleared for the war effort. Drummond Hill was one of its first purchases and was also one of the main centres where experimental work was carried out on the comparative growth, disease resistance and general quality of larch from Scotland, Europe, Japan, China and Canada.

The new larch disease has been identified on trees less than 6 miles from Drummond Hill. If the disease is confirmed in a woodland, the landowner is served with a statutory plant health notice requiring that the infected larch and all other larch within 250m is felled and removed. Forestry and Land Management Scotland (FLS), which manages the woodlands, says there is an increasing likelihood that the disease will reach Drummond Hill within the next few years.

However, those few years do provide an opportunity to look at how it can be managed in a sympathetic way and once FLS have a fully formed proposal they will invite members of the public to comment. In the meantime, the photos below show the two forms of infection– bark infection and foliage infection.

If you see evidence of the disease, please go to the Forestry Commission website and use their Tree Alert to report the location.

Scottish Charity Air Ambulance

Our SCAA collecting can sits quietly on the table at most of our events.  There’s no banging of the drum or rattling of the can, but over the last year the generous folk of Fearnan have slipped their loose change and spare fivers into the can – to the tune of £111.30.  Good result!

Fearnan Art Club

Fearnan Art Club took advantage of Open Studios week with a visit to fine art photographers Dave and Gillian Hunt at Wildgrass Studio in Glenlyon.

An interesting and enjoyable visit was followed by a quick swerve to the right to enjoy cream scones at the Glenlyon Post Office………..

Book Club

In August our meeting was relaxing and enjoyable, kindly hosted by Ros. We enjoyed comparing the book and film “Ill met by Moonlight” by W Stanley Moss. This war time non-fiction, partly autobiographical, book was selected to commemorate D-Day and to remind us of the freedom we have since enjoyed.

On a wet August evening in Fearnan, we journeyed to the mountainous Mediterranean scenery of Crete, courtesy of Pinewood Studios, to view the gripping 1957 film. 

The Story:

With Crete controlled by German Gen. Heinrich Kreipe (Marius Goring), British Maj. Patrick Leigh Fermor (Dirk Bogarde) and Capt. W. Stanley Moss (David Oxley) launch a raid of the island. The Englishmen, backed by rebel forces who’ve fought against the occupying troops throughout World War II, ambush a Nazi roadblock and seize Kreipe. Charged with the task of transporting their hostage to a British base in Egypt, Fermor and Moss must elude a host of armed Germans intent on freeing Kreipe. We showed our age in recognising many of the actors including a very young David McCallum. 

Comparing the photos in the book, which was a nice touch, we felt that the casting was realistic, although the acting style was very much of that time.

The book was humorous and a well written memoir of a true event which at times was hard to believe that it could possibly happen. The audacious capture of a German general by agents of the special operations executive, and his subsequent journey through the mountains was described by one of the group as “a boys own adventure”. We felt the kidnappers had the confidence and optimism of youth.

Fuelled by alcohol and the hospitality of the Cretans who provided food, shelter and observation, they succeeded against all odds. Despite the dangers and deprivation, they maintained their sense of humour, sense of duty and gentlemanly conduct in their treatment of the General. The descriptions of places were realistic, and it was easy to feel as if you were with them in the pouring rain and the mountain landscape.

As always, when comparing books and films we identified obvious differences and in events and roles but agreed that both book and film portrayed this amazing story very well. It was felt that the film was more light-hearted and the humour more obvious than in the book.

(It should be mentioned that the discussion was enhanced by a delicious pavlova!)

We had another Book Club meeting on the 11th September when we discussed Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. It was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize and we will report back on our discussion in the next Blog.

What’s On

The Pop-Up Coffee Shop will be back in Fearnan Hall on Tuesday 17th September at 10.30am.  Join us for some delicious home baking – sweet and savoury – and a chance to catch up with friends and neighbours.  Take Aways are now available, if you need that coffee-and-cake-fix but are short of time.

The Hall Committee have arranged a Food Hygiene Course on 5th October in Fearnan Hall.  It is an all-day course and open to anyone, whether or not they live in the village.  The cost will depend on the number attending, but is likely to be £65 – £75 pp.  Please contact Karen here if you would like to attend.

The Big Shed is hosting a concert, “Songs & Books Tour”, with Jess Morgan and Nels Andrews.  Jess writes modern folk songs telling stories full of sadness and bite and Nels Andrews is a folk singer based in Santa Cruz, California. It is on Saturday 12th October at 7.30pm. Tickets are £10 at the door. BYOB, soft drinks and tea and coffee will be available. 

About Fearnan Village Association

Fearnan Village Association was formed in 2007 to provide a means through which those who live in the village can come together to discuss and respond to issues of importance to the village, particularly those that will have an impact on our quality of life. We also organise social events, such as the very popular Pudding Night in February, Strawberry TeaZ in July, and other events and coffee mornings throughout the year.
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