AT THE head of one of the narrow glens dissecting the Ochil Hills there is a fine rowan tree that maintains a tenacious foothold in a rocky fissure.

Nothing unusual in that you might say, but a couple of years ago a mistle thrush built a nest in its upper crown and successfully raised a brood of chicks.

If it wasn't for the rowan, there would have been no breeding mistle thrushes in this part of the glen.

This single and unassuming tree had played a small but nevertheless important role in enhancing the overall biodiversity of the area.

This is why I always look upon the rowan with much affection. They are pioneering trees gaining tenure in hilly areas where few other trees are ever found.

Often known as the mountain ash, it is undoubtedly one of our most attractive trees, especially at this time of year with their branches festooned with heavy hanging bunches of scarlet berries.

But the show isn't over yet and as autumn really begins to take hold the leaves develop a stunning reddish hue. In Gaelic the rowan is rather appropriately known as rudha-an – 'the red one'.

As well as being a handy place for birds to nest, the rowan supports wildlife in many other ways too.

Winter thrushes such as redwings and fieldfares just love to feast upon their berries, and in spring the rowan is adorned with vibrant creamy white flowerheads that are magnet for bees and other insects.

It is hardly surprising therefore that the rowan is so closely engrained into our folklore. It has been associated with witchcraft since the earliest of times and Celtic Druids venerated it for its healing and medicinal properties.

The tree was often planted in churchyards and near houses to ward off witches, and even up to the early years of the 20th century rowan boughs were hung over farm buildings in the Highlands.

In some parts of Scotland cutting down a rowan tree is still considered a harbinger of bad luck, especially when close to a house.

In herbal medicine, extracts from the bark are said to help ease diarrhoea and nausea and a concoction from the ripe berries was used to treat sore throats.

The berries also make a fine tasting jelly that is traditionally served with game. In the Middle Ages, the hard pale brown wood of the rowan was used to make bows, and also used for tool handles, bowls and general woodcraft.

It would seem then that the rowan really is a most versatile and ecologically important tree. It is also very much a lone spirit with it being unusual to find more than a handful of specimens growing closely together.

I think it is this ability to stand out from the crowd that makes the rowan so special, especially when stumbling upon a solitary tree high in the Ochils, standing like a lone sentinel with its branches sculpted by the wind.