Field Notes from the Future

Within the pages of a black pocket-sized notebook, Ellie Dimambro-Denson’s detailed sketches and field notes transport us to south-west Norway as part of the research fellowship she completed there in summer 2023, funded by the Future of UK Treescapes.

Working alongside a team of scientists at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Ellie was there to study mountain woodland ecology and restoration in the hopes of better understanding this missing ecotone and how we might restore it to the UK.

While there, Ellie created beautiful field notes that give us a glimpse into a landscape that we are working towards here in the Cairngorms. We are so grateful to Ellie for letting us publish her complete notebook, which you can flick through and read extracts from below. (If you are reading this on a phone, we recommend turning it sideways to look through the notebook.)

 “Walking amongst the birch trees wearing the accumulated shape of the wind and weight of snow from many seasons, shrinking their growth into a multitude of twisted, sculpted forms. I saw a Bluethroat for the first time today. In time, theirs could be a song of the Scottish hills too.”



Prologue: 5th May 2023
Loch A’an, Cairngorms Scotland
Over the last two years, 4200 Downy Willow trees have been planted into the Loch A’an basin, amidst the fragmented, isolated remnants in their cliff top refuges. Reconnecting, re-establishing, cross-pollinating and setting seed to restore a missing ecotone. A landscape of Action. A landscape of transition. A landscape of HOPE.



Saturday 27th of May 2023
Walking amongst the birch trees wearing the accumulated shape of the wind and weight of snow from many seasons, shrinking their growth into a multitude of twisted, sculpted forms. I saw a Bluethroat for the first time today. In time, theirs could be a song of the Scottish hills too.



Monday 29th of May 2023
A new highest record for Twinflower [for me] at 950m above sea level amongst the Birch, Juniper and Crowberry.


Tuesday 30th of May 2023
Even dropping down below 500m above sea level to the pinewoods, I’m yet to see trees more than 100 years old. For all its abundance, the presence of trees in this landscape is a recent development. And that gives a lot of hope to the work back home. A window into a landscape we ourselves may never see in our lives, but an understanding of its possibility …



Saturday 3rd of June 2023
I had stopped recording new Twinflower patches, its so prolific in the landscape, but I came across some at 1050m above sea level today …
Finndalen, a three day saunter from pinewoods to birch belt to willow zone. Pausing every 50m climbed to complete a point count and walk a 10m transect, recording tree cover and field layer across the transition, spring and growth receding, walking back in time. Nearly stepped on an adder.



Wednesday 7th of June 2023
Every direction I turn, I can see trees, feathering upwards.
Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler, Ring Ouzel, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin voices on the air.



Monday 12th of June 2023
Pollinators are going to be key in forming a viable community of Montane Willows in the Cairngorms, able to produce viable seed. But they use other plants too – Trailing Azalea, Alpine Bearberry, Bog Blaeberry. Everything is connected. There’s five species of montane willow growing within this patch. I’m at 1170m above sea level, the sound of Willow Warblers reverberating and snow melt running.



Sunday 18th of June 2023
“If you listen carefully, you can hear the birches growing at night.” A local on the birches of Frafjorden.


Saturday 24th of June 2023
Birthday adventure. Downy Birch at 1269m above sea level (higher than any known in the UK).
Mountain top cooking – sunset spaghetti at 1392m above sea level.



Wednesday 28th of June 2023
The absence of bog rosemary from the Scottish hills is so stark after witnessing its abundance in Norway. There is just a single record at altitude, 730m above sea level on Mount Keen. I wonder if one day it may return if we can enable it.



Saturday 1st of July 2023
A sea of flowers below my feet, an abundance of life.


Sunday 2nd of July 2023
A final wander, a final swim, a final farewell to Bjaen. Downy Willow seed blowing away on the wind, Alpine Blue Sow Thistle emerging with such abundance, budding and vibrant. Looking across a landscape transformed.


Words, sketches, and notes by Ellie Dimambro-Denson. Ellie is a Monitoring Officer for Cairngorms Connect. You can find out more about the Science and Monitoring work Ellie is involved in here.



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