Aden Nature Trail
We are in the process of developing a new Aden Nature Trail. Although not installed yet, the plan is that this website information below will help our visitors enjoy the onsite Aden Nature Trail. The information below will be linked to the physical Aden Nature Trail posts through a series of QR codes located on each of the interpretive panels (example panel shown below). We hope you enjoy learning more about Aden’s natural environment. Once the trail has been completed you will be able to follow the trail in person. Simply visit the park and/or pick up a leaflet, paper and crayons for the rubbing plaques, from either the Aden Visitor Information Centre, Aden Shop, or from the Aberdeenshire Farming Museum.
1 Broad Buckler Fern (Dryopteris dilata)
Much of the ground in the woods at Aden is covered by one of our commonest species of fern, the Broad Buckler Fern. Ferns are a primitive group of plants that have been around since the Devonian period 360 million years ago, before the age of the dinosaurs. The fossilised remains of forests of ferns and related plants are preserved as coal measures from the Carboniferous period.
Ferns are different from flowering plants in that they reproduce by spores and they don’t produce flowers or seeds. If you examine the underside of a fern leaf you should be able to see the spore-bearing structures known as sporangia.
Historically, ferns such as Bracken have been cut and dried and used as animal bedding, thatching material and packaging material for the transport of pottery and fragile goods.
2 Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
Alder can grow in waterlogged soils and is usually found in wet ground and alongside streams and lakes. It is unusual in that it can fix nitrogen through its association with a special bacteria Frankia alni. The leaves are rich in nutrients and are an important food source for many insects, more than 140 species have been recorded feeding on alder trees. You can often see the holes left by caterpillars in the leaves. In Autumn the leaves break down quickly and enrich the soil. The leaves that fall into water are important food for aquatic insects which in turn are eaten by fish such as salmon and trout.
Uses of Alder include clog making and alder charcoal was very important component of gunpowder. The wood is resistant to rotting and was used as piling for building the defensive roundhouses or Crannogs in lochs during the Iron Age
3 Oak (Quercus robor, Quercus petraea)
There are two species of Oak which are native in Britain, Sessile Oak and Pedunculate Oak. The names derive from the length of stalks on the acorns: Sessile has acorns without stalks, which sit directly on the twig and Pedunculate acorns have long stalks. Sessile Oak tends to grow best in the wetter, lighter soils of the North and West of Scotland, Pedunculate Oak grows better in the heavy clay soils of the South and East.
Oak woodland is one of the most valuable wildlife habitats; over 400 species of insects have been recorded feeding on oak trees and a variety of birds, mammals, fungi and lichens depend on oak woodland. Ancient oaks with holes and hollow trunks are a roosting site for bats and owls, the acorns are a vital food source for squirrels, jays, mice, badgers, deer and wild boar. Oak woodland, with a mixture of birch, hazel and rowan is thought to have been the original vegetation cover of much of lowland Scotland, before being cleared by our Neolithic ancestors, and consequently most of our native wildlife is adapted to live in this type of habitat.
Oak timber is very strong and durable and has many uses. Historically it was used for ship building and for the beams of timber-framed buildings. It is excellent for making fine furniture and for flooring and panelling. Oak bark was used for tanning leather, and many oak woods in Scotland were managed as coppice for this purpose. It was also used for making barrels, though today, most barrels are made from imported American oak. Coppiced oak was also used for making charcoal for fuelling iron furnaces before coke was introduced during the industrial revolution.
4 Mallard Ducks (Anas platyrhynchos)
Most of the ducks at Aden are Mallards, this is the most common native duck on freshwater lochs and ponds in Scotland. Other ducks that sometimes visit Aden include the Mandarin, this is an introduced species native to China; it was brought into Britain because of its striking plumage and is now living in the wild. In winter Tufted ducks and Goosanders can sometimes be found here. The smaller waterfowl with black plumage and red foreheads are Moorhens. A pair of Mute Swans nest on one of the islands each summer to raise their cygnets.
5 Wildflower Area
Whilst most of the grass at Aden is mown regularly to keep it short, in this area it is being left to grow for most of the year to encourage native wildflowers to grow. It is cut once in September. Wildflowers can find it difficult to get established in dense grass, so we have sown Yellow Rattle to help weaken the grass. Yellow Rattle is a native plant that is found in old wildflower meadows and traditional pastures; it is a semi-parasitic plant that gets some of its nutrients from the grasses and weakens them. This gives room for other wildflowers to grow. The wildflowers are at their best in July and August.
6 Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder is a smaller tree or shrub that is short-lived. Although only a few species of insects have been recorded feeding on the leaves, the frothy, white, fragrant flowers in summer are a valuable source of nectar and pollen, and the berries are a favourite food for birds like blackbirds, thrushes and waxwings in autumn and winter. The Scots name, bour tree or bore tree, probably derives from the hollow stems.
The wood is not particularly useful, though the hollow stems have been used by generations of children to make pea-shooters and whistles. However nearly every part of the tree had a medicinal use: the leaves and stems are strongly purgative; the berries were used to heal sore throats and the flowers were used for burn ointment and to help with skin complaints. Today the flowers are used commercially to make elder-flower cordial and the berries for syrup or wine. The berries yield a blue dye, the leaves a yellow dye and the bark a black or grey dye which are used in making Harris tweed. Freshly cut foliage is foul-smelling and was used as an insect repellent by cattle drovers and woodsmen, which may explain why few insect species feed on it.
7 Aspen (Populus tremula)
Aspens are native to Scotland and northern Europe, the leaves have flattened stalks and flutter in the slightest breeze creating a shimmering effect. The bark is grey and in mature trees there are diamond-shaped holes in the bark, called lenticels. In Sweden and Finland, Aspen wood is used for benches and flooring in saunas and pool sides as the wood does not splinter or exude resin in the heat. Aspens need long, warm summers to produce seed, so in Scotland they usually spread by suckers.
8 Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Some of the trees in this plantation are Scots Pines, The Scots Pine is the most widely distributed conifer in the world, with a range from Scotland in the west to the Kamchatka peninsula in the east. It is one of only three conifers which are native to Scotland, the others being Yew and Juniper. The Scots Pine once formed huge tracts of forest that covered much of the Highlands, today less than 1% of the original Caledonian Pinewood remains. Pine forest is a valuable wildlife habitat and is home to some of our rarest species. Here at Aden, Crossbills can sometimes be seen feeding on cones at the tops of the trees, they have a specially shaped bill, which crosses over for extracting the seed for pine cones. You may also be lucky enough to spot a Red Squirrel; a few pairs now live in the plantations at Aden.
Pine trees have historically provided a valuable source of timber for building, the high resin content makes it fairly resistant to rot. Pine roots and knots, which are full of resin, make excellent firelighters. Pitch and turpentine can be distilled from the wood; the pitch was used for sealing boats and casks and the turpentine was used as a thinning agent for paint and medicinally.
9 Birch (Betula pendula and Betula pubescens)
There are two species of birch growing in the woods at Aden, Silver Birch and Downy Birch. They look very similar and can be hard to tell apart and to confuse things they hybridise. Birch is a pioneer species which grows rapidly on bare ground, these birchwoods at Aden have grown rapidly after the conifer trees which once grew here were felled around 25 years ago. Birch seeds are easily blown in the wind and germinate quickly on bare soil. Birch is a good soil improver and the leaves rot quickly and can make acid soils more fertile. Birch trees are a very important habitat for insects and more than 300 different species have been recorded feeding on birch trees. The trees don’t live very long, and competition means that the weakest are crowded out and die. These dead trees become home to fungi such as the birch polypore and wood-boring insects, which in turn are food for woodpeckers.
When you look up into the canopy of the birchwood you may see denser clumps of twigs that look like birds’ nests. These are known as Witches’ Brooms and are a growth deformity caused by a fungus, which causes the growth of multiple twigs from a bud.
Birch has many uses; the bark has been used to make shoes, containers and for fire lighting; and oil can be distilled from the bark which is an excellent insect repellent. The wood can be used for small items such as bowls and spoons and for stick chairs. Although the timber does not find favour with foresters and sawmillers in Britain, in the rest of Europe it is used to make the best quality plywood. The twigs can be tied into large bundles for fuel (known as faggots) or bundled to make brooms or whisks. The sap is a good source of vitamin C and can be made into wine.
10 Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Roe Deer are sometimes seen in the woods around here, though you have to be very quiet to spot them. Roe deer are browsers, eating woody plants, and will feed on tree shoots and leaves, herbs, ivy and brambles. Their coats change throughout the year. They have a thinner, sleek, bright red-brown fur in summer, fading to a duller shade of brown in their thick winter coats. Adult males, known as bucks, have small antlers with up to three points which they shed and regrow each year. Both sexes have black noses, a white chin and white rump.
11 Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)
This low growing, prickly, rambling shrub provides excellent cover, habitat and food for wildlife. It grows in dense patches and makes good nesting sites for many small birds and mammals which are safe from predators. Over 100 insect species have been recorded feeding on bramble, and the flowers, which open in August and September are a valuable nectar source later in the year, when other flowers have finished. The shiny, black fruits are eaten by small mammals and birds as well as by people. Bramble picking is a popular autumn activity and the fruit makes excellent jam, cordial, pies and flavoured gin. The thorny runners can be used as rope and a blue dye cam be made from the fruit.
12 Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Rowan, or Mountain Ash is a medium sized tree with fragrant white flowers in summer and red/orange berries in autumn, it can grow up to 20m high. Rowan is an iconic tree of the Scottish Highlands and can be found growing all over Scotland including on inaccessible rock ledges and steep gorges. The young shoots are very palatable to deer and hares, which is why many trees are multi-stemmed due to browsing damage. Over 50 insect species have been recorded feeding on Rowan and the berries are a valuable food for birds and small mammals in autumn and winter. In the autumn, pine martens feed heavily on Rowan berries and leave easily recognisable berry-filled scat on woodland paths.
Apart from the berries, which can be made into jam and jelly, there are few other uses for the tree, though the wood can be carved into small items such as bowls and tool handles.
13 Hazel (Corylus avellana)
Hazel is a small, multi-stemmed tree or shrub, which grows in the understory of woods. Hazel is of high wildlife value and more than 100 insect species have been recorded feeding on Hazel and the nuts are a source of food for squirrels, mice, voles, woodpeckers and jays.
When managed by coppicing on a 7-10-year rotation, Hazel produces lots of straight poles which are useful for making baskets, hurdles, tool handles, crooks, walking sticks and bean poles. Historically, hazel was used to make the woven wattle walls in the wattle and daub houses our medieval ancestors lived in. Scotland’s first settlers, the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, collected thousands of hazelnuts for their winter food store each year, and remains of the hazel nut shells have been found in many archaeological digs from this period in the Hebrides and along the West coast.
14 Hawthorn (Crategus monogyna)
Hawthorn is a small tree with white or pink flowers in May, giving rise to the alternative English name of May flower or May tree. It is one of the best small trees for wildlife and over 200 species of insect have been recorded feeding on hawthorn. The fragrant flowers attract pollinating insects and are a nectar source and the berries, or haws, which stay on the tree until winter, are a food source for birds and small mammals.
In its natural state, hawthorn is a species of the woodland edge or scrub habitat, Thorny scrub is a much maligned habitat, it is often considered worthless and is cleared away by farmers and foresters, but is actually a very valuable wildlife habitat which is becoming scarce. The thorny bushes provide protected nesting places for many birds and small mammals and the thorns deter browsing by cattle, horses and deer, allowing more palatable species like oak to germinate and grow under their protection, free from browsing by herbivores.
Hawthorn has been used by man for centuries as a hedging plant to enclose fields. Its quick growth and dense thorny structure are excellent at keeping livestock from straying. Evidence of its use as a hedging plant has been found in excavations of the Antonine Wall, indicating its use 2000 years ago.
15 Woodland Birds
This young woodland was planted at Aden around 25 years ago to re-create a typical Scottish native broad-leaves woodland. It is a particularly good place for spotting some of our smaller woodland birds that live in this kind of habitat. Great tit – often spotted flitting from twig to twig looking for caterpillars, in spring makes a characteristic teacher-teacher song. Wren – one of our smallest birds which is often seen on the ground looking for insects. Long-tailed tit – these are often seen here in flocks in the winter. Willow warbler – a summer migrant which favours areas with young trees and scrub woodland.
16 Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site
According to old maps there has been woodland on this site since at least 1745. In Victorian times the owners of the estate planted an arboretum, with specimen trees from around the world, including Giant Sequoia, Douglas Fir and Monkey Puzzle. These are now the tallest trees in the park.
Look out for red squirrels in the trees and tree-creepers can sometimes be spotted exploring the bark crevices on the sequoias.
17 Otter (Lutra lutra)
Otters are sometimes spotted here at Aden, look out for their footprints in the mud at the river’s edge. They leave their droppings, known as spraints, on prominent rocks in and by the river to mark their territories Although they are not often seen, otters are present in all the rivers in the north east and can also be spotted along the coast. They eat fish, including trout, perch, eels and sticklebacks and will also eat young birds, amphibians and small mammals.
18 Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettles, although unwelcome in the garden, are very valuable food for wildlife. Nettles are the larval food plant for several species of butterfly including the Red Admiral, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell.
Nettles favour very fertile soil with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus; for this reason, they are often found around abandoned croft houses and old middens. Historically nettles have been used by man as a source of both food and fibre. The leaves are a good source of vitamins A and C and minerals like iron, calcium and manganese, the leaves lose their sting once cooked. The stems are a source of strong fibres which can be made into ropes and a cloth resembling linen.
19 Daubenton’s Bat (Myostis dabentonii)
Daubenton’s bat is one of our commoner bats and specialises in feeding over water. If you walk here on a summer’s evening after dusk, you can see them swooping under the bridge, catching insects just above the river; they fly 5 – 25 cm above the water surface and can scoop insects from the water using their feet and tail membrane.
As well as Daubenton’s bat we also have both types of Pipistrelle bat at Aden, these can be seen at dusk, emerging from the roofs of the buildings in the courtyard.
20 Dead Wood
Dead and decaying wood is a very valuable habitat for a range of wildlife. Whole tree trunks and piles of sticks are colonised by a range of fungi and insects, whose job is to break down the wood and return the nutrients to the soil. As you walk through the woods at Aden notice that some dead trees are left standing; these sometimes have bracket fungi growing out of them and many are also homes for wood-boring insects, which in turn are fed on by woodpeckers. Look out for the insect holes and woodpecker holes in the dead trunks.
21 Great-Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
A characteristic sound of Aden in the springtime is the drumming of the Great-spotted Woodpecker, they like to proclaim their territories and attract a mate by drumming on tree branches. They can often be heard in this area of the park.
Woodpeckers need old trees to make their nest holes in, and they feed on wood-boring insects which live in dead trees, which is why we leave dead trees in the park. They also feed on pine seeds and hazelnuts and jam these in crevices in branches to open the cones and nuts to extract the seeds and kernels inside.
Download Aden Nature Trail Leaflet
To download a copy of the Aden Nature Trail leaflet please click on the Download button below. Alternatively you can pick up an Aden Nature Trail leaflet from the Visitor Information Centre.