Monday, 30 May 2011


To celebrate the International Year of Forests, I am organising a series of creative writing events in woods around Scotland. The project is inspired by the Tree Ogham, otherwise known as the Gaelic Tree Alphabet, an ancient linkage between the letters of the alphabet and particular tree or shrub species. I love the fact that in our cultural heritage there is a strong connection between trees and writing.

The A-B-Tree project will take people for a walk in the woods, share folklore and ecological knowledge about trees and encourage them to get playful with words. I'll be running 18 events, one for each letter of the Gaelic alphabet. Some of the events will be run with schools, environmental and community groups, writing groups and mental health projects.

If you know of a community group that would like to hold one of these fun, creative events, in a woodland venue, do get in touch.

Monday, 23 May 2011

A perfect depression

This perfect depression was responsible for blowing umbrellas outside in in Glasgow and increased the sales of 'KWELLS' in Oban and Ullapool today!

Beware trees?

Now I know the world has gone truly mad. There is an article in the Environmental Transport Association's website here, reporting on the Automobile Association's accusation that trees are dangerous road hazards and should be cut down beside all roads. Apparently over recent years, smash barriers, lamp-posts and road signs have become squashable on impact, whereas trees have not shown any corresponding inclination to evolve softer trunks. To address this inconsiderate oversight on the part of the trees, researchers are developing special genetically modified roadside elm trees with squishy wood.

Goodness knows what might happen to the forests of the world if these genetic modifications spread. It could give the term 'softwood' a whole new meaning. If you're worried, support the Global Justice Ecology's Stop GE Trees campaign.

Meanwhile researchers in Canada (according to the Daily Mail, here) have found that the Bt toxins incorporated into GM corn to deter pests are showing up in blood tests of pregnant women, although the industry claimed that they would be broken down in the gut and pass harmlessly out of the body. These genetic engineers seem liable to make mistakes.

New campaign slogan free to the first taker - Cut speed, not trees...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Wood energy - is a crisis coming?

I have an article in this week's Press and Journal special supplement on renewable energy. It discusses the pressure that one energy plant is putting on wood supplies and prices in the north. The Balcas plant, in Invergordon, creates wood pellets, which opens up opportunities for people who want to heat their buildings with wood but don't want, for whatever reason, to use logs. Which seems like a good thing - it will help people who currently heat with fossil fuels to shift to a renewable alternative.

But the plant also uses wood to generate electricity, or to adopt the jargon, it's a 'wood-to-wire' scheme, and there are serious criticisms of the very idea of using wood to feed something as inefficient as the national grid. We have a small, and finite, supply of wood and most of it is already used by existing sawmills and wood processors, yet there are proposals for new bioenergy plants that will create a demand that can't be met by the existing wood supply. Couple this with subsidies from the UK government for electricity generation and a situation is rapidly evolving where existing timber users, including those of us who heat our homes with logs, could find wood becoming expensive and in short supply.

The Scottish government has been pretty outspoken about the fact that the electricity subsidy regime and the promotion of wood-to-wire as a way to cut climate emissions are in fact perverse. They will stress an important part of our rural economy and, as the UK doesn't produce enough timber to meet the projected demand, they will further increase our footprint on other people's forests. We have so few productive forests that the UK already imports about 85% of our wood - if we extend our demands to burning wood to generate electricity, we will be responsible for even more deforestation and land-use-change to create plantations in other parts of the world.

I'm not the only one worried about this - there's a very active campaign being run by Biofuelwatch. One of the companies expressing concern about the effects of subsidies is Norbord - here's their statement. This week's article just begins to scratch the surface of a topic that I'd like to explore much more deeply in future.