A Highland Birch Wood (Photo: Scottish Natural Heritage)
Birch woodland would once have covered large parts of Harris. However, small stands of natural birch woodland are now only found along the steep shores of Loch Seaforth and on a few other scattered crags. Its often possible to find birch roots and branches deep in the peat as evidence that birch woodland once covered large areas. Downy birch grows well in our wet, windy climate and acidic soils and is the main tree species planted in native woodland schemes at Scaladail, Tarbert and Lacasdail. Over time birch trees enrich the soil around them and the plant communities growing under the trees starts to change. From a distance its often possible to see that the vegetation under stands of birch trees is very green in comparison to other areas around.
Downy Birch Seedlings (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
During the summer birch can be identified by its leaf shape and in the winter stands of birch can be told at a distance by the reddish colour of the bark. Birch releases seed from catkins in the Autumn which are spread by wind. Each catkin can contain hundreds of tiny seeds each with a disc shaped wing which helps them travel with the wind.
by Robin Reid