Trees For Life - Skye

I needed to break things up, to do something different and to do something that will allow me to break out of the uni bubble that it is easy to get caught under. About 5 weeks ago I heard about an interesting charity called Trees For Life. Their mission is to replant the Caledonian forest that has been gradually removed from the Scottish landscape over the past 200 years.

If you have watched Brave you will get an idea of the kind of expansive and varied forests that Scotland used to enjoy. But much of the Ash, Aspen, Beech, Scottish Pine, Oak etc have been removed with less than one percent of the original forest remaining. Trees For Life aim to reintroduce this ecosystem and one of the ways they do this is by running a series of work weeks throughout the year where volunteers come and plant trees.

Myself and a friend applied for one of these weeks in the beautiful Isle of Skye, on the West coast of Scotland. We were joined by 8 other volunteers and we would spend 5 days working with Wednesday spent exploring the island. The incredible scenery in Skye surpassed my high expectations and it was a relief to escape the city landscape I had been living in for the previous 12 weeks.

Our 8 fellow volunteers were an eclectic group of people who allowed me to see into new ways of living that is far removed from my student life. I haven't turned into a tree hugging hippy over night but I was provoked by a more simplistic way of doing things. Edinburgh has pushed me away from this and it was powerful to see people in all walks of life with a different set of priorities.

This was the first time I had done work of this kind. While my sister's first reaction was that I had justified all the Christmas trees for the rest of her life, I was more intrigued by being surrounded by an environment that was foreign to anything I was familiar with. Not just the beautiful scenery, but the conversations I was having with the fellow volunteers and a depth of knowledge and skills into new areas that have real importance to the people I was working with.

Our priorities in life are reflected by what we do and who we are. By taking 20+ flights in the last 12 months, saving the planet for future generations is evidently less important than some of my other interests in life. When you spend a significant amount of time with people who have on principle not been on a plane for 8 years you  are forced to question why you do what you do. I guess I would justify it by saying that taking opportunities when they arise is key to who I am and this often leads me to hopping on a plane. Also, there is much we can learn and appreciate by going out of our normal environment. We can bring things back that will help and improve ourselves and the people around us and learn to value the things we are blessed with right now.

Removing some American Spruce
I gained a lot from Skye. The objective of the week was to plant trees and as a group, we planted 2,500 Birch and Willow trees over the first four days with the last day spent removing non-native trees. It will take over 20 years for that area to develop into a forest, so I will be 40 before I can come back and see the end result. You get a glimpse of how fragile that and the worlds environment really is. In a space of a few hours a fire could wipe out decades of development or tree fellers could come in and clear it out just as they are doing right now in Brazil at crazy speeds.

I also realised that I missed getting outside and going for walks. On the Wednesday we took a boat from Elgol to Loch Coruisk and then walked back along the cliffs by the sea. It was an incredible day from seeing eagles to witnessing some beautiful scenery that was reminiscent of the Andes last year. You get a lot of thinking time of walks and I missed that no pressured silence to just experience what is around you.

Coming back I already miss the feeling of going somewhere new. It was a powerful week and I'm glad I've been able to see more of this country which I now call my home. Five weeks of reality as I face exams before I can tentatively check my bank balance and start the Summer.