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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...

Perth & Kinross

Woodland walk re-opens after extensive tree-cutting op

November 17 2016

A popular woodland trail has re-opened in Perthshire after an extensive forestry operation to storm-proof the area. Around 2,000 tonnes of spruce, fir, larch and birch timber have been removed from Moncrieffe Hill Wood, near Perth, since the summer. The Woodland Trust, which led the four-month project, said the aim was to clear a windswept part of the site, leaving it less susceptible. Thinning has left room for remaining trees to grow and will let light in to plants on the ground. The area will now be fenced off to keep deer from eating the new young trees and native saplings will be planted next year. A trust spokesman said: "The track upgrade has also been completed to improve the muddy section of path on the green marked route. "We thank everyone who enjoys the wood for their patience during these works, when some path closures were necessary." He added: "The wood now has enhanced habitat and is in good condition to face future storms." Moncrieffe Hill is one of 60 sites across Scotland which is managed by the woodland conservation charity. It is one of Scotland's most popular walking routes and differs from other British hills because the routes to the summit - known as Moredun Top - are almost entirely under tree cover. This year, Moncrieffe Hill has been giving up its secrets as part of an archeological dig. A team of staff and volunteers from the Tay Landscape Partnership (TayLP) visited the hill in September in an effort to unearth an impressive prehistoric site. The Iron Age Moredun Top hillfort was an important power centre and was likely to have been occupied for hundreds of years. This year the team have been excavating the interiors to find out what the hillfort was used for. The trust took on its first Scottish wood in 1984 and now looks after nearly 20,000 acres across the country. The trust, which was established in 1972, boasts more than half-a-million supporters. Trustees recently announced the results of its prestigious tree of the year competition. The winner was the Ding Dong copper beech which has stood for generations in the grounds of Prestonpans Primary School in East Lothian. It beat competition from local favourites the Birnam Oak and the mighty oak at Dunkeld where fiddler Niel Gow wrote some of his most famous reels.  

Perth & Kinross

T in the Park’s Strathallan move faces opposition from nature groups

March 10 2015

T in the Park bosses were forced to defend their relocation to Strathallan Castle after criticism from two leading conservation groups. The Woodland Trust Scotland revealed its opposition to the plan, claiming the festival could pose a danger to bats and squirrels living in woodlands around the Perthshire estate. Promoters DF Concerts also came under fire from RSPB Scotland, which said organisers were “running out of time” to confirm their strategy for removing an osprey nest. In a statement, RSPB Scotland said DF Concerts appeared to be “poorly organised and unprofessional” and added: “Unless a clear plan to deal with ospreys and other wildlife emerges in the next few days, it will be too late for them to ensure aproposal can go ahead as planned without unnecessary impacts on wildlife at the site.” A spokesman said the plan to remove and rebuild the nest outside the mainfestival site was achievable, but added: “However, the work must be done in the next few days when the birds are away from the nest site on their winter migration.” An initial public consultation on thefestival move ended last month, but onFriday, Perth and Kinross Council issued a demand for more information from DF Concerts, extending the consultation by a further 28 days. Charles Dundas from the Woodland Trust said: “Ancient woodland isirreplaceable habitat which needs to be valued andprotected. “Holding T in the Park at Strathallan Castle will have a huge annual effect on the wildlife and the woodland surrounding the sitesupports.” He added: “Disturbance on this scale from noise and artificial light within ancient woodland will have an appalling and cumulative impact on wildlife every year.” The trust, which also raised concerns about litter, lodged its objection outwith the initial 28-day consultation period and was last night waiting to hear if its response was valid. A DF Concerts spokeswoman said: “The Woodlands Trust has made no formalrepresentation to Perth and Kinross Council about T in the Park’s relocation despite there being ample opportunity to do so. “Therefore, we’re assuming that they have not read our environmental statement, which would answer many of theirquestions.” She added: “We’re also confident that we can robustly address all of the ecological and habitat questions raised by any of the statutory consultees. “We have been in constant engagement with the RSPB throughout this process and the feedback has been that they arecomfortable with our strategy. “Our mitigation plan is being carried out by a recognised ornithologist who is an expert on this protected species. The timing of works has been based on his advice.”


Cold spring plays havoc with animals

March 21 2013

The late arrival of spring could hit hibernating creatures hard, conservationists have warned. The cold weather has led to a significant drop in sightings of early spring wildlife compared with last year, according to reports received from the public by the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar recording scheme. Sightings of the common seven-spot ladybird and the peacock butterfly have been notably sparse in the North of England and in Scotland compared with 2012. And records of tree budburst are lagging behind other years, the Woodland Trust said. There are also few records of blackbirds building nests in the Midlands and the North, and frog tadpoles have mostly only been spotted in the South West. Last year the mild weather between January and March led to some exceptionally early sightings of wildlife but this year’s continuing cold conditions have delayed the emergence of many creatures and plants

Perth & Kinross

Memorial to honour man who safeguarded Perthshire trees

June 3 2017

A memorial with a twist has been unveiled on the banks of the River Tay to remember a man whose generosity helped to protect Perthshire’s trees. Sydney Draper, a former forester who quantified forestry investment opportunities for the World Bank, died in July 2015 aged 90. His work took him all over the world including the Himalayas, Afghanistan, India and Nepal but the woodland of Scotland, and Perthshire in particular, remained his first love. Now a new bench in the grounds of Dunkeld House Hotel commissioned by Woodland Heritage to commemorate Mr Draper, a long-standing supporter of the charity, has been unveiled. It has been carefully crafted to appear as though it is twisted and made of several different sections of timber, whereas it has actually been crafted from a single piece of native oak by local artist Nigel Ross. Mr Ross’s creations can be found throughout the UK, from London’s Canary Wharf to the Ness Islands in Inverness. It was through Mr Draper’s generous support of Woodland Heritage that the charity was able to support the renovation of Dunkeld’s Big Tree Trail in partnership with the National Tree Collections of Scotland and the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust. Woodland Heritage Trustees felt it was a fitting memorial to Mr Draper, who lived near Dumfries, to commission the new piece by Mr Ross to sit on the banks of the Tay. Tom Christian, a trustee of Woodland Heritage, said: “Sydney loved Dunkeld and returned here on his 90th birthday to plant a commemorative tree. “Environmental education was very important to him, which is why he made his generous gift to help support the costs of a new tree trail here at Dunkeld, to tell visitors the amazing stories of the trees around us, the landscape they sit in, and how vital trees and healthy forests are to life on earth. “We are enormously grateful to Sydney, and to Dunkeld House Hotel and Land Rover Experience Scotland for their help in making this fitting memorial possible.” Visitors to Dunkeld will now be able to sit and rest a while, courtesy of Mr Draper, as they enjoy the wooded riverside walks.

Perth & Kinross

A tree-mendous woodland effort by Perthshire company

August 7 2013

A leading Perthshire business is celebrating its support for the Woodland Trust by planting 405 trees. The trees represent the Highland Spring workers, with a tree being planted in the Ochil Hills for every employee. By planting hundreds of saplings, Highland Spring is helping the Woodland Trust reach its goal of doubling the UK’s native woodland cover by 2050 and protecting and nurturing Britain’s precious indigenous woodlands. A mixture of birch, rowan, oak, hazel, willow and wild cherry tree seedlings will be planted each well suited to the Ochil Hills’ soil conditions and environment. Company chief executive Les Montgomery said: “The Woodland Trust is a wonderful charity which works incredibly hard to conserve the UK’s most beautiful woodlands “We are delighted to make a contribution to their goal by hosting today’s tree planting day. “Planting a tree for every Highland Spring employee goes some way towards showing how committed we are to our partnership with the Woodland Trust.”

Jim Crumley

Let’s get closer to the land

July 25 2017

One of my favourite poets is Norman MacCaig. One of my favourite Norman MacCaig poems is Landscape and I. It begins: Landscape and I get on together well. Though I’m the talkative one, still he can tell His symptoms of being to me, the way a shell Murmurs of oceans. A conversation with the landscape more or less encapsulates what I’ve been doing with my working life for the last 30 years. So that poem slips into my mind more often than most. Summer sun It came into my mind again a few days ago on a low flank of Schiehallion, watching the mountain bask in the kind of sunlight that only summer can contrive, for Schiehallion was central to the landscape that brought the poem into being. Sometimes with a Norman MacCaig poem, you have to hang in there until the last few lines before you get to see what he’s been getting at all along. Landscape and I is one. It ends: This means, of course, Schiehallion in my mind Is more than mountain. In it he leaves behind A meaning, an idea, like a hind Couched in a corrie. So then I’ll woo the mountain till I know The meaning of the meaning, no less. Oh, There’s a Schiehallion anywhere you go. The thing is, climb it. A specific occasion had brought me to Schiehallion this time (instead of the mountain for its own sake, which is the usual reason) – the launch of the Heart of Scotland Forest Partnership. East Schiehallion is owned and managed by the John Muir Trust, and their property manager there, Dr Liz Auty, has been coaxing this project towards reality for more than three years. In her own words: “We have a long-term vision to turn this vast upland area into a living, breathing landscape of native trees, woodland corridors, flourishing wildlife and picturesque footpaths.” In Scotland, if there is one thing above all others for which nature thirsts, it is trees. Native woodland cover that is permitted to find something like its own level is the answer to almost everything, to a burgeoning ecosystem, to enriched biodiversity, to a healthier climate and yes, to healthier people. One of the trust’s aims with this partnership venture is “to bring locals and visitors closer to the land”, and that should be one of the great endeavours of nature conservation. All nature’s problems in a country like ours stem from the fact our ancestors devoted infinite resources and ingenuity into putting distance between ourselves and nature. Here is a project that sets out to turn that centuries-old tide. Partnerships To that end the John Muir Trust has formed a partnership with Highland Perthshire Communities Land Trust (whose work on Dun Coillich to the south of Schiehallion is already characterised by vigorously regenerating woodland), Forest Enterprise’s East Foss estate, neighbouring Kynachan estate, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Woodland Trust Scotland. The potential is almost limitless, but its ambition includes restored and recreated woodlands linked by planted woodland corridors, and that ambition reaches from Loch Rannoch to Loch Tay, and from shoreline to treeline. The scale is such that it can truly make a difference, for nothing on planet Earth responds to encouragement like nature, and encouragement on this scale will prompt nature to respond in ways that may surprise us all. John Muir Trust chief executive Andrew Bachell said at the launch that woodland should be no respecter of borders, or fences, and that is nature’s way too. It occurs to me that Loch Tay is just a handful of miles away from Forest Enterprise’s Strathyre Forest, which is itself a component part of the forest partnership that is the Great Trossachs Forest, an endeavour that stretches all the way west to Loch Lomond. Celebration One more substantial woodland corridor could link the Great Trossachs Forest with the Heart of Scotland Forest Partnership. Nature’s response would be one of spectacular celebration. So amid the bonhomie and the coffee and some very good cake, the speeches, and the symbolic planting of trees in the lee of sun-smitten Schiehallion last week, there was a serious declaration of intent. To bring such a partnership into being has already taken years, but now, in addition to fashioning the resurrected forest, the tricky part begins – bringing the people back where they belong, which is closer to the land. John Muir himself recognised the value of that connection when he wrote: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wildness is a necessity…” The ambition of the Heart of Scotland Forest partnership is both big and beautiful. You might say it’s a Schiehallion of an ambition, and as you now know if you didn’t before, there’s a Schiehallion anywhere you go. The thing is, climb it.

Perth & Kinross

Public help needed to protect Perthshire’s ‘woodland paradise’

September 15 2017

A major national campaign has been launched in an effort to preserve Perthshire's "woodland paradise" for future generations. The ancient Ballathie Bluebell Wood near Kinclaven in Perthshire is an important wildlife habitat and a significant visitor attraction. Thanks to the legacy of one of its supporters, the woods are now the property of the Perth-based Woodland Trust Scotland. It believes urgent action is needed to ensure the site is properly cared for in the future and opened-up so that more people can enjoy its plants, tranquillity and wildlife. The trust believes achieving that goal will require as much as £200,000 worth of investment and is seeking public assistance. “Ballathie is incredible, but it is also vulnerable,” said the Woodland Trust Scotland director Carol Evans. "It is a woodland paradise and a very special place — ancient, astonishingly beautiful and filled with wildlife — but there is urgent work that needs to be done. “It is vital that we protect it from the twin threats of overgrazing and invasive species. The Perthshire site comprises a 125 acre ancient oakwood called North Wood, where it is thought William Wallace once hid after a raid on the English garrison at nearby Kinclaven Castle, together with 79 acres of grassland known as Court Hill. The ancient right of way known as the Court Road, meanwhile, is where criminals were once said to have been hung. Woodland Trust Scotland — which purchased the woods for £740,000 — chose to call the site Ballathie Bluebell Wood after the spectacular carpets of the violet-blue flowers that adorn it every May. Threatened species abound, including the yellow hammer, mistle and song thrush, redwing and cuckoo Ballathie is also home to red squirrel, pine martin, stoat, brown hare, hedgehog, bats and the common toad. Carol added: “Taking on a nationally-important wood like Ballathie is a considerable challenge and we have to get it right. “We are part of the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity so we know we have the knowledge and expertise for the job. We just need the funds to get started.” The trust intends to plant 30,000 new native trees on Court Hill. It was covered in trees until the 1950s but is currently bare grassland. Overgrazing by deer, meanwhile, means there is currently little natural regeneration and so it will also repair fencing to protect saplings. Around 2km of redundant fencing will be taken away to improve public access and invasive species, such as the non-native rhododendron — which is strangling native fauna – will also be removed. A car park will be built next to the wood so more people can visit, particularly during May when the bluebells attract visitors from across Scotland. For more information, or to donate to the project, visit woodlandtrust.org.uk.

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km

Perth & Kinross

Perthshire contender misses out on tree of the year goal

March 5 2015

A mighty oak in the middle of an Estonian football pitch has been crowned Europe’s tree of the year beating competition from a spectacular Scots pine in Perthshire. The winner of the hotly contested battle of the bark has been revealed by judges, dashing hopes of a homegrown victory. First place went to a seemingly indestructible oak tree in Orissaare, a coastal resort in western Estonia, which became part of a playing field after two Soviet tractors were unable to pull it over in 1951. Since then, generations of footballers have adapted to its presence in the middle of the pitch, learning to skilfully pass the ball around its massive trunk. The oak was nominated for the European Tree of the Year 2015 competition by the Estonian Chamber of Arborists and received nearly 60,000 votes. Scotland’s entry was the Lady’s Tree at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of Lowes Visitor Centre and Wildlife Reserve, near Dunkeld. The pine is the summer home of Europe’s oldest breeding osprey, known affectionately as Lady and was the winner of the Scottish Tree of the Year contest organised by the Woodland Trust Scotland. It came ninth in the Europe-wide contest, with a total of 4,193 votes. Nottingham’s Major Oak, which was reputedly used by Robin Hood as a hiding place, came sixth, while the Lonely Tree at Llanfyllin in Wales was placed 10th. Carol Evans, director of the Woodland Trust Scotland, said last night: “Even though we finished ninth we’ve doubled Scotland’s vote compared to 2014 and finished second in the Six Nations, a feat our rugby team would be very proud of.” Johnny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “The famous Scots pine at the Lowes Visitor Centre did not manage to win the top prize but through this competition, we have managed to tell the success story of osprey conservation.” The trust is now eagerly waiting to see if Lady returns to the tree for a 25th year.