Can't tell your ash from your elder?

October 15, 2004

The Scottish Agricultural College is helping outdoor novices turn over a new leaf in appreciating their surroundings. Allan Bain, a mature student at the SAC, has illustrated the pamphlet for walkers and countryside users, with easy tips to help identify trees.

The leaflet on ten broadleaved trees, intended to be the first in a series, flags up features to check, including whether a leaf is heart-shaped, round, oval or lobed, whether it is hairy, whether its edge is smooth or serrated, whether the bark is rough or smooth and whether the tree is broad or narrow.

Academics from the SAC's environmental teaching group have provided descriptions that go beyond the trees' appearance.

The strong wood from ash, for example, is used for tool handles, while lime's pale, fine-textured wood is used for musical instruments and wood carving, it explains. Birds eat the berries of the rowan tree for vitamin C, the nut-like fruit of the hazel is a food source for mice and squirrels, and birch sap can be made into wine.

The SAC is planning a reprint of the leaflet, since almost 10,000 have been snapped up within weeks by tourist offices, Girl Guide troops and nature reserves.

Kyrsten Black, environmental sciences group manager, admitted that producing the leaflet was not entirely altruistic, as it includes an advertisement for environmental courses at the college's three campuses in Aberdeen, Ayr and Edinburgh.

Mr Bain, who began a degree in countryside management after retiring early from his job as an environmental health officer, was delighted by the leaflet's success.

"There are two groups of people who go into the countryside," he said.

"Folk who are knowledgeable and those who go for the fresh air and exercise, who are unlikely to take identification guides. It increases their enjoyment if they have a simple leaflet giving pointers to the main deciduous trees."

He hoped the leaflets would encourage users to "pursue their awakened thirst for knowledge" by investigating what courses the college offers. The college discovered Mr Bain's artistic talent when he produced illustrations for course modules on guided walks and interpretation boards.

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