The Royal Scottish Forestry Society

...for those who love the forests, woodlands and trees of Scotland

Gammel Sitka Spruce

Honorary Vice President John Keenlyside submitted this article, after reading the report on the Annual Excursion 2015 in Scottish Forestry.

This is the picture that appeared in the journal. Ken Ellis (L) & George Moore (R)

Drumtochty Glen 15


The Tall Tales of Drumtochty Sitka Spruce.

I was interested to read the report in Volume 69 No2 Autumn/Winter

Journal page 48. Having been resident in the Glen for the 1960,s  decade as a Head Forester on Research work for the Forestry Commission and lived in the former Head gardeners house I heard many tales about The Gammel  Sitka Spruce.


 The article on page  48

Confirms two of the tales. (1) That this tree was from the first packet of Seed introduced by David Douglas in 1832. (2) That the Gammel spruce was planted out as a one year seedling confirms the fact that it must have been grown in a greenhouse. The fact that it survived and others failed  or struggled could be due to its proximity to the road side and its ability to root in a Calluna free zone. The ones a little further up the hill may have been in Calluna Check for many years as noted elsewhere in Research plots throughout  Scotland and N.E.



This early experience with S.S. led to the Drumtochty Estate Foresters establishing a nursery on the edge of the forest above Drumelzie farm prior to World War One, unwittingly creating a Heathland nursery. This Nursery was stocked with seedlings and plants lined out when World War One broke out. The Drumtochty staff  enlisted and the nursery was abandoned.


My limited knowledge of the early days in the glen were due to a visitation in the mid sixties of a Mr Sandy Barclay who had been an apprentice gardener at Drumtochty when World War One broke out. He gave me his version of the early days of Sitka in the Glen which are now confirmed  in the current issue of the Journal.


The Forestry Commission was formed in 1919 and took over Drumtochty in the 1920,s and were faced with a restocking problem, as much of the timber had been felled during the conflict.

Most of the men that went to war failed to return. The estate was sold on, so there was a scarcity of local knowledge but a new generation of foresters emerged. Caird, Corbet, Hendry, Morrison, Officer, Stewart, Taylor, Tracey, Watson, and others, I mention surnames only as several emerged from some of the surnames, even second generation foresters  emerged, these went on to be prominent  foresters on large estates like Atholl, some joined the Forestry Commission and joined the  merry go round of postings within the  organisation.


One Aberdeen Forestry graduate from the class of 1947 was Kenneth Mc Kellar who served in Drumtochty and stayed in the  Forestry Hostel in the Glen. There was a sign on the wall above his bed to say that Kenneth Mc Kellar slept here. There is no record of any of the future incumbents being infected with his ability to sing.

I attended the final night of a Summer season show in the Kings Theatre Edinburgh in 1956 which was scheduled to run from 8pm until 10pm. He carried on long after 10pm. At 3 mins. to 12pm he

appeared and said it had been  brought to his notice that the theatre

had to be emptied and secured before the Sabbath, they would open all the fire doors. Please would we leave the building in orderly fashion. I left by the main entrance, shook hands with Kenneth and intimated that I was a fellow forester. This was the best value I ever had for Half a crown. (12:5p in today,s money).


I  arrived in the Glen early in 1961 to take over Research work in the counties of Aberdeen, Kincardine and Angus with much Tree breeding work based on the walled gardens of Drumtochty and Glenfarquhar where we had seed orchards of Scots pine, European Larch, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, On one occasion I was phoned up from Northern Research Station and asked to get a supply of Pollen from the Gammel Sitka Spruce for pollination work, whilst you  are there you might as well measure the tree.

Two of us climbed to the top, it was easy, plenty of strong branches, it was like going up stairs to bed. At the top there was plenty of flower, almost ready to disperse its pollen. We collected the  flower. Then we proceeded to measure the tree down in 10 feet sections. On that occasion in the mid sixties we made it 154 ft. tall with a girth of over 20 ft. which is not a realistic measurement as the basal swelling extends beyond the normal breast height measuring point. At this stage it was reckoned to be the third largest in the UK.


We harvested the pollen from the flower, normally a small container would have been adequate to do a considerable number of controlled pollinations.  I had to go into my house to find a container large enough to hold all the pollen we had harvested. I found a container which had been a catering size of salad cream and it

held 3 pounds of pollen. I received a phone call the following day from N.R.S. Which label had they to believe ? the one on the side of  the jar which said Large S.S. Drumtochty Glen, or the lid which said Heinz 57 varietes. Never before had such a large batch of pollen been received.


Our attention then turned  to the old nursery site which had been untouched since the men went to war in 1914.This site was an impenetrable Jungle, it was noted that 4 large S,S, were towering above everything else. We fought our way into the jungle and found Four very fine Sitka Spruce probably of the same parentage as the


Gammel  Sitka Spruce. These four trees were selected as plus trees and added to the breeding programme. They were all very cylindrical  trees coming straight out of the ground but lacked buttress roots. Gordon Cowie who did stability studies for Aberdeen University in the area predicted that they would not stand because of the lack of buttress roots and a  large enough root plate, due to the huge numbers they had to compete with on the way up. At one point they were threatened by a big power line coming up the Glen. At another, realignment of the road to conform with Health  and Safety gradients for timber transport.  These magnificent trees which survived two World wars, Health and Safety regulations and a major Power Line coming up the Glen,  eventually fell to our old enemy. Gale Force Winds. This concludes this chapter on the nursery which existed for more than a 100 years.

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