Birch in Glen Affric

Birch is a ‘pioneer’ species: one of the first to grow in bare ground or where there are no trees. It grows fast and has a relatively short life of 60 to 90 years.

But in that time, birch creates ideal conditions for other plants to grow. Its roots draw nutrients up from deep below ground; when the leaves die those nutrients return to the top layer of soil, making it richer.

Benefits for wildlife

It’s not only other plants that benefit from birch. Over 330 species of insects are associated with these trees, and many birds depend on those insects for food: birch woods are often full of birdsong in spring.

Watch out for the fungi that grow on the birch trees. Hoof fungus – a dark grey growth that looks like a horse’s hoof – was once an essential part of everyone’s fire lighting kit. The fungus produces a dry powder called amadou that catches fire easily: people carried a supply of it in their tinder box.