Celebrate Spring’s Return to the Fells — Some Highlights from our YouTube Channel

Spring has returned to the Fells, and with it the vibrant green that we all love! There is no better way to appreciate the beauty of the season than to learn more about the plant species that contribute to the vibrancy that is occurring in the forest.

Our YouTube channel, started in spring 2020, was inspired by a desire to continue our programming, even though we couldn’t do it with our usual guided walks.  Spring has come around again, so if you missed them last time, or just want to watch again, explore with some experts in botany, ecology, and natural science. Enjoy!

Our first set of videos is the “Spring Ephemeral” series, featuring BU professor of biology (and prior Friends board member) Dr. Randi Rotjan discussing a few of the interesting plant species that are beginning to bloom in the Fells:

Next, local expert and long-time hike leader Boot Boutwell discusses some of his favorite plants to observe in the spring forests of New England:

Next, Dr. Lucy Zipf, Lecturer at the Wellesley College Environmental Studies Department, explains the strategies of different trees in the forest when it comes time to “leaf out” in spring:

Finally, Claire O’Neill discusses an important aspect of the work her organization Earthwise Aware (EwA) focuses on in the spring months– documenting and certifying new vernal pools in the Fells.

Claire is the founder of EwA, and a Friends of the Fells board member:

If you have an idea for a video topic that you would like to share, or have any interest/experience in videography or video editing and would like to volunteer those skills, please contact us!

We have many more topics of interest to explore on the channel, so check back often for updates!

Dear Friends,

The Friends of the Fells (FOF) is excited to announce a significant expansion of our conservation work with the establishment of the Sustainable Fells Campaign

The Campaign includes FOF-led conservation initiatives, partnership building through a new Fells Alliance, and enhanced engagement with state legislators with a new Fells Caucus. We look forward to inviting you to join us in these efforts as projects get underway in the coming months. 

This campaign is the result of two concurrent efforts.  

First, I spent hundreds of hours meeting with members, volunteers, partner organizations, and elected officials to ask them a simple question: How do we balance our enjoyment of the Fells with efforts to protect its natural resources? I also read your advice from our 4,000-supporter survey last fall. 

At the same time, Friends of the Fells volunteers got to wondering how well DCR has been carrying out the “conservation” element of its portfolio, versus the “recreation” element in the Fells. We discovered that DCR’s decimated budget hasn’t been able to accomplish much. But, we did find that as recreation opportunities have expanded in the Fells, the natural resources of the Fells have unfortunately not been taken care of very well.

As we considered the advice we received and recognized the lack of care of nature in the Fells, it became crystal clear that we urgently need to increase our capacity to meet the needs of the Fells — to protect its biodiversity, enhance the health of its natural resources, and promote sustainable enjoyment of the forest. 

The Sustainable Fells Campaign is our answer to that call.

Here’s a brief summary of the Campaign. 

photo by Jeff Buxbaum

Sustainable Fells Campaign – At a Glance

Friends of the Fells has developed three multi-year Conservation Initiatives:

  • Our Reduce Rogue Trails for People and Wildlife initiative will identify illegal trails in sensitive habitat areas and develop and implement plans to close, and keep closed, these trails. 
  • Our Invasive Species Management initiative will identify priority habitat impacted by invasive plant species, develop management plans to control the invasive plant populations, and bring habitats back to health.
  • Our Social Messaging for a Sustainable Fells initiative seeks to reform a “culture of non-compliance” in the Fells with a new culture of care and community stewardship through an innovative communications strategy rooted in behavior change communication and marketing models. 

The Fells Alliance is a network of organizations that share a common understanding of the value the Fells brings to the region and commit to working together to protect, preserve, and enhance the Fells as an invaluable and irreplaceable biological and recreational asset. 

The Fells Caucus engages elected officials whose districts fall within the influence area of the Fells, briefs officials on current Fells issues, and explores opportunities for advancing Fells priorities through legislative action. 

If the Sustainable Fells Campaign is to be successful, we’ll need to expand our capacity on a number of fronts. 

As a grassroots organization, volunteers play an essential role in implementing our work. We’ll need more financial support from our members so we can build a stronger volunteer program to support our volunteers and cultivate volunteer leaders able to help guide these initiatives.  

And, we’ll also need to develop funding relationships with foundations, government agencies, and others to sustain these multi-year initiatives. This work is already underway.

We look forward to your continued input and support of our work. Together we will achieve a better future for the Fells, and in the years to come, we’ll enjoy a deeper sense of joy and satisfaction in our time in the Fells, knowing we have made it a better space for people and nature. 


Chris Redfern
Executive Director

A guest post by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Did you visit the Fells in 2020 to flee the confinements of Covid-19? If so, you likely saw more people, pets and cars than ever before, and you might have wondered how Nature is holding up in the reservation.  

A major citizen science research program has begun to collect the data to answer this question and others. Partnering with the Friends of the Fells, Earthwise Aware (EwA) naturalists and citizen scientists have just completed their second full year of field work in the Fells. The result is summarized in several wonderful digital reports now available online. 

For a colorful summary of the year’s work, see the 2020 EwA Conservation Highlights. For a deeper dive, see the full 2020 EwA Conservation Report here. Vernal pools are a special focus of EwA research in the Fells, so a 2020 EwA Vernal Pool Report describes EwA research to successfully document a number of overlooked vernal pools, which is the first step toward better protection for these exceptional habitats. 

Historically, having a place to study natural history in a rugged and varied landscape so close to Boston was one reason why citizens in the late 1800’s argued to set aside the woodland. They recognized too that a growing urban population badly needed the tranquility of Nature, with its deep woods, secluded ponds and stony hilltops, just as people today seek the Fells. Fortunately for us, their 25-year campaign succeeded in protecting from development the woods they loved.

2020 was a busy year for citizen science research! Despite pandemic-related constraints, EwA naturalists and volunteers logged over 1,100 hours at multiple research sites. These covered individual trees and patches including red maple, oak, American chestnut, sassafras and witch hazel species; flowering plants such as Indian cucumber; shrubs such as sweet pepperbush; and vernal pools. 

EwA citizen scientists return throughout the year to monitor phenological changes, arthropod activity, bird movements, plant communities and general biodiversity. The goal is to document, photograph, record and upload data to the National Phenology Network and other local and national studies. EwA uses online data platforms including Nature’s Notebook, Caterpillars Count, iNaturalist, and Massachusetts-specific databases. 

Earthwise Aware also launched a new research project in 2020: to document bio-pollution in the Fells, aka dog poop! Whether bagged or not, dog poop has contaminants that can harm wildlife. By creating maps through photo records of dog poop left in the Fells, EwA assembles data that will help assess the effects of this contamination. That data is updated monthly and publicly accessible in Google Map. By late December over 1,200 visual records of abandoned dog feces had been submitted! Anyone can do this – just be sure your smart phone’s photo app is GPS-enabled. Click here to find out how to submit your photos. 

In 2020, EwA also piloted a study to document habitat fragmentation in the Fells. This study will map the vast network of “rogue trails” which are often shortcuts through the woods. They are usually made by hikers and bikers going off trail, and the problem is that these unmarked trails damage sensitive habitat and reduce the amount of undisturbed forest floor that wildlife needs to survive in the Fells. These maps will guide conservation work in the reservation.

Citizens scientists have fun. In their spare time, on weekends or after hours, they learn to recognize and record the cycles of nature across the Fells, and share their own knowledge with their team. EwA helps people learn how to enter the woods as guests, with a clear ethic to not disturb nature while taking a very close look. For instance, an egg mass specimen in a vernal pool is photographed underwater, rather than lifting it out from the water column as researchers typically do.   

Earthwise Aware is a non-profit group started in 2018 by Claire O’Neill, a former high tech data whiz and naturalist who saw the loss of biodiversity as the greatest planetary threat. Starting locally, she has focused on developing a growing band of volunteer citizen scientists and interns who collaborate on research and reporting. In 2019, Claire joined the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Fells. 

To learn more about becoming a volunteer citizen scientist, click here. To join naturalists on their monthly public walks in the Fells, click here. You may be astonished at what you learn to see.  

A recent analysis of management actions over the past decade by Friends of the Fells indicates that while recreational amenities have been advanced, unfortunately the natural resources of the Fells have been largely neglected. A Briefing Book issued by the Friends in late 2020 outlines the Friends’ initiative to focus on conservation in the Fells in light of its obvious attraction as a wonderful destination for tens of thousands of visitors.
Photos provided by Claire O’Neil, EwA President

The Friends of the Fells YouTube channel continues to be a source for engaging educational content related to the natural history of the Fells.

Over the past months, more members of our community have offered to share their expertise with us to create informative and entertaining videos for you!

Here are just a few examples of the new content now available:

First, local expert and long-time hike leader Boot Boutwell discusses some of his favorite native plants:

More from Boot can be seen in the ‘From the Fells with Boot Boutwell‘ playlist.


Next, Claire O’Neill discusses her organization Earthwise Aware (EwA), and the work it does in the Fells.

Claire is the founder of EWA, and a Friends of the Fells board member and chair of the Nature/Conservation Committee:

More from Claire and EwA can be found at the ‘Found in the Fells with EwA‘ playlist.


Boston University Ph.D. candidate Lucy Zipf explains the strategies of different trees in the forest when it comes time to “leaf out” in spring:


And Tufts professor Colin Orians discusses how the Eastern Hemlock manages to survive despite attacks by the hemlock woolly adelgid and other insect species:

Many additional videos are available now on our channel, with more in the queue! To see all our videos, or to subscribe to our channel, click on the YouTube icon below.

Special thanks to Board President Jeff Buxbaum for his continued curation of the YouTube page.

If you have an idea for video topic that you would like to share, or have any interest/experience in videography or video editing and would like to volunteer those skills, please contact us!

The Board of Directors of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation wishes to salute Dr. Bryan Hamlin, an extraordinary botanist and citizen, as he turns 80 years old on May 18, 2020.

[alert color=yellow]Update 5/25Upon reaching a cumulative total of $10,000 in gifts to this fundraiser (see here), a generous donor will match dollar for dollar all additional gifts. Please help us reach this challenge match by giving today![/alert]

For many years, members of the Friends as well as local students and the general public have seen Bryan’s joyful and unreserved dedication to the forest, his ability to teach others how to love plants in their natural setting, and his leadership in protecting the unique Middlesex Fells.

After moving to Medford in 2003 with his wife, Anne, Bryan discovered in the nearby woods an astonishing number of plants that were indicative of a healthy ecosystem. Surprised to find such botanical vigor so close to Boston, he set about investigating what he saw. A native of England, Bryan had earned a doctorate in microbial biochemistry from Hull University, followed by a long career in international conflict resolution – where he met American Anne – yet never lost his love of wildflowers, the delicate and surprising plants he noticed and catalogued even as a young boy roaming about southwest England, first by foot and then on motorbike with a collecting box on the back.

Huckleberry flower by Bryan Hamlin

“When he moved to Medford, he re-found both his love of nature and his science expertise in the Fells, especially through the Friends of the Fells,” said Anne recently. “His interest in botany, the environment, and concern about climate change all found a new means of expression.”

But it was an unexpected discovery. As Bryan recalled in 2015, “I was very snooty on my first walk into the woods thinking that this close to downtown Boston the woods would be degraded with not much in the way of interesting native plants. Was I in for a surprise! For example – Striped Wintergreen! So I began to make a list of the plants I found on walks in the Fells.”

That list became a team effort organized by Bryan, ultimately resulting in the 2012 publication of an award-winning article in Rhodora, the publication of the New England Botanical Club, of which Bryan was vice-president. “Changes in the Vascular Flora of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from 1895 To 2011” was based on an exhaustive survey by Bryan with Walter Kittredge and others over a seven-year period. Beautifully written, it describes the history of the Fells woodland and compares today’s plants with those recorded in unique historical data from as early as 1895. A total of 902 species of vascular plants were found.

“Such a high number is a measure both of the health of the Fells, and also its amazing ecological variety from the big reservoirs to vernal pools, swamps, marshes, streams, different types of woodlands and lots of rocky outcrops,” wrote Bryan in 2015. “We are so fortunate to have this amazing wild forest reservation right within the metropolitan area of Boston.” A digital file of the Rhodora article may be obtained by emailing the Friends office, jesse.macdonald@fells.org.

In addition to his extensive work in the field, Bryan was a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Fells for fifteen years and chair of the Board from 2011-2015. He maintains an illustrated website, foundinthefells.com, that chronicles some of the wildflowers which might be discovered by a curious explorer in every season. In addition, he has led dozens of nature walks for the Friends, focused in recent years on the need to recognize and control invasive plants that have taken hold in the forest, including oriental bittersweet, black swallow-wort, and Japanese knotweed, among others.

From 2008-2010 Bryan also taught at Medford High School as a substitute teacher. Initially assigned wherever he was needed, his immense knowledge and gift for teaching were quickly recognized by the school, and he became a long-term substitute in the biology and history departments. Bryan even brought his students into the Fells near the school.

In the past few years, Bryan has been one of the leading voices on the issue of invasive plants in the Fells, and on the urgent threat that many of these species poses to the ecology of our forest.  His leadership, expertise, and passionate advocacy efforts have had meaningful impacts on both the attention given to this issue by the relevant policymakers, and directly on the volunteer work of the Friends of the Fells.  As a result, invasive control has become one of the primary focuses of our on-site volunteer efforts.

“Bryan now enjoys walking and exploring in the Fells whenever he can, and going with him is like doing visits to old friends he has known for years,” says his wife Anne. “He is delighted that our children and grandchildren, who live in central Massachusetts and coastal Maine, seem to be carrying on his love of the natural world.”

In recognition of Bryan’s 80th birthday and his immeasurable contributions to the Fells over the years, the Friends of the Fells Board of Directors has committed to making donations to the Friends’ operating fund in his name.  If you would like to join this effort, you can visit our Facebook page to make a donation.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Bryan Hamlin, and thank you from the muddy bottoms of all our hearts.

The Friends of the Fells had a lot of programs and events planned for this spring, but COVID-19 is keeping us all away from each other.  We’ve launched our new Youtube channel to pique your interest in the Fells and enhance your experience when you visit.  We will be using this platform to highlight plants, animals, history, geology and events related to the Middlesex Fells.

Our first set of videos is the “Spring Ephemeral” series, featuring BU professor of biology (and Friends board member) Dr. Randi Rotjan discussing a few of the interesting plant species that are beginning to bloom in the Fells:


If you have an idea for video topic that you would like to share, or have any interest/experience in videography or video editing and would like to volunteer those skills, please contact us!

If you would like to share your own relationship with the Fells, please participate in our My Fells project.  We’re looking forward to seeing the different ways we experience this shared resource.

We have a full queue of videos already planned for the channel, so check back often for updates!

Update:  Inspired by our new YouTube channel, videographer Fritz Bosch offered this video he produced featuring former board chair and botanist Bryan Hamlin, talking about the Fells. It is as relevant today as it was eight years ago. Have a look: