Chris Simpson, Scotland Branch Chair
It is always a pleasure to catch up with old friends and colleagues – the Scotland Branch has always had an important role to play in that regard. A subtle conduit allowing the osmosis of information between tree enthusiasts. It is doubly delightful to meet at a stunning setting like Dawyck Botanic Garden.
Nestled in the rolling Scottish Borders, this is an ancient garden: Dawyck can be traced back to the Veitch family who took ownership of the land in 1491, introduced Aesculus hippocastanum in the 1650s and Abies alba in 1680. And it is wholly worthy of its Visit Scotland five-star rating. Swerving around a Fagus sylvatica’s fallen first-order limb en route (a contender for that most enigmatic of failures, ‘summer-branch-drop’) was perhaps a portent.
The select group, both in numbers and in the rarity of their passion for trees, were greeted by Thomas Gifford, Supervisor of the garden. I have known Thomas for many years so was not in the least surprised to find the next three hours flash-by in what felt like ten minutes. Thomas’s knowledge is only matched by his enthusiasm. Or perhaps by his ability to tailor the discussion to matters that might help the delegate on return to their work.
Rhizophagus grandis - biological control of the great spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus micans).
Thomas Gifford guiding the tour around Dawyck Botanic Garden.
That morning’s drive southward had revealed block after block of very poorly looking Picea sitchensis and Picea abies: clear indication of a bumper year for green spruce aphid (Elatobium abietinum). We know these alarmingly affected trees will normally recover, but I do not remember a ‘green spruce aphid year’ during such a prolonged drought. And I do, therefore, fear the worst. If not this year, then one of these ‘green spruce aphid years’ may contribute to mind-blowing rates of spruce fatalities.
Thomas was very candid with the Scotland Branch about the advancing threats to our trees. We were unsurprised to hear about Sirococcus blight (Sirococcus tsugae) but add Neonectria canker (Neonectria neomacrospora) knocking back Abies nebrodensis and great spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus micans) killing spruce and the picture is alarming. Much credit must be given to Thomas for ensuring that we all left with a clear idea of the signs and symptoms to look out for. We even got a chance to meet the biological control of great spruce bark beetle, the sleek and deadly Rhizophagus grandis – a creature I never thought I would have the pleasure to meet face-to-face. Thanks very much, Thomas.
I have not even begun to tell you about the ancient, champion and simply stunning trees and shrubs. A trip to Dawyck should certainly be on your bucket list.
This article was taken from Issue 203 Winter 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.