Sandy’s Garden ... Britain’s Tallest Trees

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I like trees.

Athough I suspect that some enthusiasts for these natural masterpieces want to go far further than I in encouraging excessive planting of them. As one example of what I mean, rail travellers on the West Highland Line once had wonderful views as the train made its way by the side of Loch Long. No more! Today, the route is essentially a tunnel through the trees, afforestation having been allowed to run rampant without any concern for the usual diversity of nature. And as another example of my deviation from the paths of the extreme devotees of trees, I do not share the view that the eastern half of the Millennium Link … the Forth & Clyde Canal towpath between Falkirk and Edinburgh … would be improved were it lined by trees for almost its entire length. As an occasional walker along it, I enjoy it as it is, with some lovely views across the countryside to the north and a positive kaleidoscope of changing scenery. I do not want to walk through little other than tree-lined shade.

However, I do like trees; and I am always impressed by giants of that ilk; and I have made many a journey to see a particular specimen. I have, however, so far never been to Reelig Glen, near Inverness, where … I read a few weeks ago … no fewer than four of Britain’s tallest trees are to be found. That trusty volume Heritage Trees of Scotland by Donald Rodger, Jon Stokes and James Ogilvie, published with assistance from Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), had told me about Dughall Mor … Big Douglas in English … a Douglas fir which was thought, at the time the book was written, to be the tallest tree in Britain. Dughall was planted as recently … in tree terms … as 1882 and had reached the impressive height of 62 metres (just over 203 feet in old money) by 2003. Recently, however, Forestry Commission Scotland has revealed that, although Dughall Mor has stretched to 64 metres, a very close neighbour and relative has inched ahead of him and is 8 feet taller at 66.4 metres, claiming the record for the tallest tree in Britain.

And not only do the two tallest Douglas firs in Britain stand a mere 55 feet apart in Reelig Glen, this same woodland is also home to the tallest larch tree in Britain at 48m (157 feet 6 inches), a 47m high Norway spruce (154 feet) and Britain’s tallest lime tree, which stands at 46m (150 feet). So what is so special about the growing condition in Reelig Glen which results in these supersize trees? Giles Brockman, Environment Manager for Forestry Commission Scotland’s team in Inverness, Ross and Skye, said that he and his staff were beginning to wonder if the quality of the local water was a factor in the trees’ growth. “We’ve always known that we have some of the finest air and richest soil up here,” he said, “but we’re beginning to think there might be something special about the waters in the Moniack Burn too! It’s quite something to have four of the tallest trees in Britain; and to have one of those also hold the European title is pretty amazing.”

Trees, of course, enjoy their share of sunlight and, if they are growing in close proximity to one another in a forest, will grow taller than they otherwise would. But there seems to be something really special that makes these Highlanders so tall, a special something which is not identified by the FCS staff who carried out this survey for The Tree Register, a registered charity that collates and updates a database of notable trees throughout Britain and Ireland. This register has details of more than 150,000 trees … some of which are rare, unusual or historically significant … and provides full data on the largest trees of each species, making it the definitive record of Britain and Ireland’s champion trees. Readers who’d like to know more and are prepared to be amazed should go to www.treeregister.org.