Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
The Cairngorms Wild Plants project aims to engage with local communities to raise awareness and appreciation of the Cairngorms Important Plant Area. Volunteers can help by carrying out monitoring projects and/or enthusing the public about the value of these special habitats, building and sharing skills and knowledge along the way. We will be placing volunteers, who we are calling Flora Guardians with sites where they can keep an eye on the health of the wild plants there, share their findings with the land manager and share their passion for plants with the public. Alison Cram is one such Flora Guardian who is volunteering at Glen Tanar. Here she describes why she has got involved:
"When Gwenda Diack asked me if I would like to be a Flora Guardian for the #CairngormsWildPlants project my first thought was, “Great!” followed quickly by, “But I know nothing about plants!”
I can’t identify all but the most common plant species; I don’t know the Latin names; I can’t tell you why a plant grows where it does or even if it’s rare and unusual or as common as nettles. But as we talked I realised that I still had an appreciation of plants in other important ways.
I grew up surrounded by countryside and my father was a forester and would point out the different trees on family walks. I would forget the names almost immediately, but I realise now that more sunk in than I thought. It taught me to notice the texture of the bark, the shapes of the leaves, whether a tree looked healthy or not.
We would pick handfuls of blueberries in late summer and go brambling in the autumn. Even now, autumn isn’t truly autumn for me until I’ve made my first bramble and apple crumble.
I still enjoy walking in the countryside. One key reason is that at walking pace I have the time to look around and notice things. Time to notice small wildflowers nestling amongst the grasses and heathers. Time to appreciate the sight of a majestic Scots Pine silhouetted against the sky.
I might not know the botanical name of a plant but I can still see the delicate colours of the petals, the shape of the flowers, the texture and pattern of the foliage. I can appreciate the way the wood anemones dance in the breeze; the sweet, intense taste of a perfect little wild raspberry or the coconut scent of the bright yellow broom flowers.
When you’ve grown up with that awareness and appreciation it’s easy simply to take it for granted. To think that it’s normal, nothing special. But I’m beginning to appreciate how lucky I was to be brought up with that and how much it enriches my experience of the environment around me.
I am hoping as a Flora Guardian that I will be able to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. To learn how to identify plants, what their Latin name is, how to spot the rare and unusual ones, to understand their place in the wider landscape.
But sharing my love of plants as a Flora Guardian is also helping me to recognise and value all the other aspects of plant knowledge and appreciation. To acknowledge that simply enjoying plants for their appearance and scent, for their tales and practical uses, is just as important. It’s all part of the story of plants. And we’re so lucky in Scotland to have such a rich story to tell."