THIS Saturday, Woodland Trust Scotland is hosting a tree planting event in Butterdean Wood. It had a similar event in autumn last year, after acquiring the two fields which adjoin the wood. The second field will be planted this time.

It’s a heartening experience, as we discovered during last year’s event, to be part of something so positive for nature. For me, it’s not just about doing something on the issue of climate change, important as that is. It’s also about extending and caring for a wood, which for me is a sacred place.

Butterdean isn’t actually a remnant of ancient woodland, but parts of it have that atmosphere. It’s a planted wood but has been in existence for hundreds of years. There are references to it from the 17th century and earlier.

It has changed over this time because parts of it have been felled and replanted, and some of the trees look like they have been coppiced. It has clearly been a woodland resource for many centuries.

Its survival in itself is part of its remarkable story, of which I have previously written. But the different phases of management of the wood have left it with a fascinating character. Different parts of Butterdean Wood have different types of trees and atmosphere.

In some areas, native deciduous trees dominate, such as silver birch, oak, hazel, ash and rowan. In others, there is a preponderance of tall non-native conifers, although all over the wood there are also some wonderful examples of native Scots pine. There are also many towering beech trees, the queen of the forest. The undergrowth is lush in the deciduous sections, while the tall conifers create a forest floor perfect for kids to play. I’ve met people in the wood who are lost, as there are around 5km of pathways crisscrossing each other.


One of the special features of the wood are the old trees which can be discovered everywhere. It’s as if they had been forgotten or overlooked when their siblings were felled, or have grown quietly and unnoticed by the tree-fellers and somehow survived. We have our favourite old oak tree, for example, hidden in a corner of the wood, and the beech which still has been our umbrella for family picnics since my grown-up kids were toddlers. And now, with the careful management of the Woodland Trust, the wood is regenerating itself into an increasingly important native natural habitat.

In this week’s sunny weather and lighter evenings, we were all finally able to have a weekday afternoon walk, a perfect way to unwind after a day in school. It was actually warm, with rays of sunshine streaming through the still-leafless but budding branches of the trees; spring has well and truly arrived. I love such days, relish such moments in a wood.

I have been called a tree hugger by some, and it is a label I accept and take as a compliment. The term may have its origins in India. In 1730, the ruler of the Jodhpur area wanted to build a new palace, so he sent his soldiers to cut down the forest which was close to a village named Khejarli.

The villagers regarded the forest as sacred because of their Bishnoi faith, but also because of what the forest gave them. They defended the trees by literally hugging them. The protest was initially led by a local woman called Amrita Devi, but hundreds of poor villagers were part of the tree-hugging protest.

Incredible bravery

It was an act of incredible bravery, for Amrita, as well as 362 fellow villagers, were brutally killed as they hugged the trees, trying to protect them. Three of Amrita’s daughters were among the martyrs.

This protest became the inspiration for the later Chipko movement in the 1970s, when women in Uttar Pradesh likewise hugged trees to protect them from felling; Chipko means ‘to embrace’.

So I am proud to call myself a tree hugger, although I fear I would not have the courage or dedication to protect my sacred trees in the way Amrita and her fellow villagers did. Yet many of those currently protesting the destruction of forests and woodland all over the world, and indeed much closer to home, often have their spirit. We need many more modern-day tree huggers.

But all we need to do on Saturday is head off regardless of the weather, be prepared to get a bit muddy and help plant some native trees. In doing so, we honour the dedication of those early tree huggers, in our own way, and make a difference. If you want to be part of the tree planting, please book by emailing

It will likely be busy, so please park at Alba Trees nursery rather than the usual car park. Bring a spade and gloves if you can.

Happy tree planting.