THE ecologist who discovered a record-breaking tree on Ben Nevis has told how she stumbled upon the special find.

After spotting a lonely birch tree close to the top of Ben Nevis, ecologist Ellie Corsie sought guidance from a fellow scientist.

Sarah Watts, a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling, told Corsie that the previous altitudinal record for a native tree was 1160 metres, which was held jointly by two Scots pines.

Believing the tree she spotted was higher, Corsie returned to Ben Nevis in an attempt to locate it once more and discover its exact altitude.

However, a thick fog left her searching for two hours with no luck.

The National: The small but record breaking birch tree on Ben Nevis (Credit: Daniel Moysey)The small but record breaking birch tree on Ben Nevis (Credit: Daniel Moysey) (Image: Daniel Moysey)

Three climbers from the Moray Mountaineering Club approached Corsie scrambling around in the fog, fearing she may have become lost.

After learning about her mission, they began to help.

Within five minutes they had found the birch tree and confirmed that it was a record-breaker. At 1205 metres it smashed the previous British record for a native tree by 45 metres.

“I named this epic tree Rob’s Birch after Rob Brown, an equally epic and deeply missed local mountain guide who tragically died in a climbing accident on Ben Nevis just over a year ago,” said Corsie.

She added that the birch could help correct some misconceptions about what native tree species are capable of.

“Rob’s Birch shows that our native trees can naturally regenerate in some of our most extreme and unforgiving environments.

The National: Ellie Corsie and members of the Moray Mountaineering Club with the record-breaking birch (Credit: David Treagus)Ellie Corsie and members of the Moray Mountaineering Club with the record-breaking birch (Credit: David Treagus) (Image: David Treagus)

“Some, like downy birch, are highly adaptable and can exhibit many different growth forms in different conditions.

“In the lowlands they can grow into magnificently tall, straight trunked trees. But they can also grow high up in the mountains as shorter bushes with twisting branches.”

Watts, whose research has helped record 11 new altitudinal records for tree species in Britain, said she was thrilled at the discovery.

“Many altitudinal records for trees are from the Cairngorms,” she said.

“Which has an abundance of high ground and more favourable climate.

“Having the highest altitude native tree in Britian discovered in Lochaber demonstrates the huge potential that this region could have for restoring a diverse range of nationally important woodland habitats, from temperate rainforests near the coast, and birch woodland on mountain slopes, to montane scrub near the summits.”

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High altitude woodland habitats are extremely rare in Great Britain, with many ecologists highlighting an urgent need for conservation action.

Unsustainable herbivore pressures due to high deer and sheep densities are their biggest threat, with calls for this issue to be tackled if native woodland habitats in Scotland are to return on a large scale. Matthew Hay, a director of the charity Reforesting Scotland, also welcomed the discovery of Rob’s Birch.

He said:“We have been spearheading a campaign – the Mountain Birch Project – that aims to map and restore our mountains’ missing birchwoods.

“Miss Corsie’s story is a classic example of how the outdoors community can help us to find rare, high-altitude trees.

Anyone who discovers a high-altitude tree is encouraged to report their finding to the Mountain Woodland Action Group, either through their website or by posting on social media with the hashtag #HighMountainTrees.