RiverLife have teamed up with Eadha Enterprises, a social enterprise focusing on rare native trees, to deliver an aspen project based in the Almond and Avon catchments.  Aspen supports more biodiversity than any other native tree and, while it is widespread across the northern hemisphere, it is rare in Scotland.  As an important food source of the beaver and producing a large network of roots that grow well in wet conditions, the aspen (Populus tremula) perfectly suited to riparian habitats and our new aspen project will culminate in the planting of native aspen on the banks of the Almond and Avon rivers.

The project will involve a citizen scientist search for native aspen; propagation and subsequent planting of native aspen by Explorer Scouts; and an ‘aspen in the classroom’ schools programme which could inspire the next generation of foresters, river champions, conservationists and tree huggers.

The project kicked off on Thursday 11th October with a session with the Cat Welders Explorer Scout group from West Calder and Polbeth Community Garden.  There was a moment during the pitch black evening – standing in the driving rain in Blaeberry Woods with 9 Explorers and 3 leaders listening to Peter (from Eadha Enterprises) talk about a single tree species that the Explorers had never heard of – that I thought ‘this could be a disaster’.  However, thanks to the aspen’s intriguing life history and folklore and Peter’s enthusiasm and knowledge, the Explorers soon began asking and answering questions and remained engaged all evening.  Now that they have been introduced to the species, the Explorers will go out in spring to collect root cuttings which they will propagate at the community garden before planting out saplings on the river bank.

Two days later, on an equally wet Saturday, we held an Aspen workshop for our prospective citizen scientists.  This involved a presentation by Peter, an introduction to the aspen search and volunteer sign ups to the aspen search.  Of the 15 people who attended the workshop, 11 signed up to search 14 1km grid squares.  This is a great start but we are looking for more tree enthusiasts to help us further.

After the talk, 10 of our budding citizen scientists were joined by 8 others to create a mixed age and mixed ability group including primary school kids, retirees, a wheelchair user and university students.  This 18 strong group were lead on an informative, but soggy, woodland walk by Peter to Blaeberry woods where they were able to see various life stages of aspen; discuss woodland management practices; and learn about autumn colours.

Girl holds a selection of autumn leaves from Blaeberry woods.

Autumn leaves

Peter shows a table of the chemicals responsible for autumn leaf colour.

Leaf colour explanation

Long aspen roots can have multiple suckers.

Aspen roots

If you would like to know more about the apsen project or would like to take part, you can watch Peter’s presentation and print resources here:

Field record sheet: Aspen Clone Field Record Form

Please get in touch with Luke (l.park@forthriverstrust.org) to be assigned a 1km square in the Almond or Avon catchment.  The search areas can be viewed on this map:

BSBI Aspen sites