Festival of trees looms

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TWEED Valley Forest Festival takes place later this month in a year that has been particularly challenging for trees.

The Forestry Commission last month warned that British forests faced an “unprecedented level of threat” from pests and diseases. The major risk is from imported organisms, said the government body, with international trade in plants and plant material making Britain vulnerable.

But locally the region’s largest grassroots conservation charity, Borders Forest Trust, says it already takes steps to avoid diseases such as the fungus pytophthora ramorum which affects larch, and the bacterial disease acute oak decline.

BFT director Jane Rosegrant said: “By ensuring that our seeds and trees come only from UK sources, we are confident continental diseases do not reach Scotland through our planting. Also, our commitment to planting mixed native woods gives the best chance that the forests will be robust, suited to the environment and as resilient as possible to any diseases that do reach them. This is not a guarantee that the trees will remain healthy and we will be closely watching emerging advice on how to spot and act upon any diseases.”

Other killers include the great spruce bark beetle, which breeds under the bark and weakens the tree; the fungus Chalara fraxinea, which kills ash trees; and a canker, which affects horse chestnuts.

But next week, threatening diseases will be far from local tree lovers’ minds as they celebrate woods 
and woodworking when the seventh annual Tweed Valley Forest Festival gets under way on Saturday, 
October 20.

This year’s eight-day event will centre around the popular two-day woodmarket, but new this year will be the culmination of the summer’s Giants in the Wood project, which organisers expect will also be a highlight.

The creator, Vision Mechanics, has set up the community arts project of giant’s heads made of wood, twigs and other woodland material at Bowhill and Glentress forests with the aim of encouraging more people to visit woods and enjoy art in non-traditional settings.

There will be a Giant Night Out in the woods at Glentress during the first weekend of the festival, and at Bowhill over the second, with lights, sound, stories and surprises.

Festival co-ordinator Chris Sawers said: “This is new for this year and I think it will be really good.”

She continued: “The woodmarket will be even bigger and better this year. The standholders say ours is the best two-day wood festival in Scotland. I think there is a good balance between the indoor stands where people get the experience of talking to the people who have made what they are buying, complemented with the people working with wood outside on Tweed Green, meeting them, and getting to make things.”

The festival’s Scottish Conker Championships takes place next Saturday when organisers hope to break their record of 100 competitors, as the second World Conker Championships in the town has been cancelled.

Junior (7-11 years), Youth (12-18 years) and Adult (over-18s) competitors use pre-laced conkers supplied by BFT. But in the rogues’ section, competitors bring their own conker treated in whatever way they like in order to make it indestructible.

Some known techniques to harden conkers include soaking in vinegar, baking in the airing cupboard, or in one extreme case, painting with yacht varnish.

Conker competitors will be giving it their best from noon on the Tweed Green, Peebles, next Saturday.

Last year, the festival attracted more than 5,000 visitors.