When I proposed the group at one of Ayr u3a’s monthly meetings, about four years ago, I suggested the provisional name “Tree Spotting Group”. I thought it would be like bird-spotting, only easier: trees are known for being a lot less mobile than birds, so we wouldn’t need binoculars to spot them. How little I knew!
After an initial meeting the group was duly formed, and our monthly outings began early in 2018.
One of our earliest outings was to Culzean Country Park, a vast and varied resource for tree-spotting. We were lucky to have the former Head Forester as our guide, who opened our eyes to some intriguing anomalies: the Douglas fir is not a fir, the western red cedar is not a cedar and the horse chestnut is not a chestnut!
Since then we have managed to arrange a visit to an area of interest almost every month. These range from well-tended parks and the sometimes exotic grounds of country houses to surviving pockets of native woodland. Occasionally we have enjoyed the services of an expert guide; more often our investigations are self-guided, using trusted books, websites, experts on YouTube, and the sharing of knowledge amongst members. In the winter months we have sometimes resorted to indoor events – a film-showing on the life of the oak tree and a visit to a bespoke furniture workshop, for example.
We had started to venture further afield to interesting areas such as Galloway Forest Park and the Isle of Arran, when the pandemic arrived. Our members have been fortunate to avoid covid (touch wood!), but naturally we have had to adapt to the circumstances. For several months when even the smallest of outdoor gatherings was impossible, we held monthly themed zoom meetings. Members were encouraged to research a topic of the month, such as tree mythology, and give a short presentation of their findings. This certainly widened the scope of our discussions, and may well be something we repeat in future.
We have experienced something of a membership surge in the past year. Lindsay is one of those recent recruits. Here she describes what she has enjoyed as a Tree-Spotter:
“Hand on heart, I joined Ayr u3a Tree Spotting Group with ulterior motives: I wanted to know more about and look more closely at the trees I was painting. One year on I am loving the trees for themselves and enjoying the shared experience online and in the field. For example, during lockdown Zoom meetings provided the opportunity for individual members to give presentations on some of the key plant collectors that have influenced some of the estates in Ayrshire. As restrictions eased we visited some of these estates at Castlehill, Caprington, Fullerton and Craigengillan where we encountered over 20 varieties of trees in each case. Part of the joy is getting to know individual trees across the seasons and appreciating what each member brings to the group. Absolutely love it!”
Many people have reported taking a keener interest in nature and its therapeutic benefits during periods of lockdown, and I think this has been a factor in bringing us new members. It is also apparent that growing awareness of the climate crisis has fostered the urge to cherish our vitally important trees and the eco-systems they support.
All of the various routes to learning we have used undoubtedly have their place. But the key lesson for me from the Tree Group is that the deepest learning comes through our own senses. Throughout the seasons, each tree species changes in myriad ways and the best way to appreciate this is simply to spend time in the presence of trees and observe. And yes, this does sometimes require binoculars!
Black poplar announces its seed dispersal in a blizzard of `cotton’
Ayr’s largest tree? A very well-hidden giant sequoia.
Known locally as the Burns Sycamore this impressive tree certainly enhances the atmosphere at Alloway’s Auld Kirk, but we don’t think it is old enough to have been around in the poet’s day!
Arran whitebeam – Scotland’s rarest native tree, a youngster recently planted at Auchincruive.
The Wollemi pine is a rare sight in Scotland (And it’s not a pine!)
One of the impressive cedars on Prince Charles’s Dumfries House Estate
Troon’s Fullarton Park has this rare example of a southern beech.