Monday 21 December 2015

A wee bit of shelter

So we've all been talking a lot about the weather. For those of you not in the Dumfries and Galloway area - we've had a fair bit of rain. In fact a lot of rain. Really it rains pretty much all of the time and has done for the last couple of months.
But that hasn't deterred our Corehead volunteer team from tackling a new project - starting the clearance of our shelterbelts. When we purchased Corehead in 2009, we did inherit some trees but they were in the form of mostly non-native conifers such as Larch and Sitka Spruce and were planted in 4 shelterbelts.
A shelterbelt is a group of trees often planted to give (you guessed it!) shelter! The trees would give some protection from harsh weather conditions and on farms it is often a place where stock can gather for shelter.
We had hoped to tackle these earlier but are currently working on a plan to address how best to go about this - it all takes time.
In the meantime we have started to do some small scale clearance of windblown trees in InBye Wood. This is the easiest of all our shelterbelts to access and really was in a bit of a mess with access difficult making it all rather unsafe!
Where to start!!??
It's trees like this that we've been tackling. Cue the embarrassing stuck chainsaw picture!
We decided to clear up as much as possible. Whilst it's not a great thing to talk about 'tidying' a woodland ('untidy' woodlands are often the most diverse) we agreed that doing some clearance so that we could at least move around in there would be a good start. We agreed to stack any large wood and leave this to decay naturally (most of it was rotten to begin with) and burn any brash on a raised platform to minimise damage to the ground.
Our burning platform. Corrugated sheets of iron on some metal field gates set on rolls of old mesh fencing wire.

The fire gets well going!
And the platform means scaring and damage is minimal.
There is also a fringe of laurel bushes on the northern edge. Laurel is not a shrub we would want to encourage - it can be very invasive and take over large areas - so that was to come out as well. But instead of burning the brash we created piles - did you know laurel leaves have cyanide in them? Not a great idea therefore to burn on the fire and realise into the air for those around to breathe in!
Tackling the laurel!
We have spent around 3 days working in the shelterbelt and it's definitely made a huge difference already. There is still plenty of work to do and, funds permitting, we will look to do more felling (subject to approval from the Forestry Commission and SNH). We are investigating opportunities for selling any wood we take out - much of it is past it's best or too tricky to extract without causing a lot of damage but we are considering all options!
Site Officer

Tuesday 1 December 2015

The Wildwood planting season begins

With winter rapidly approaching, it can only mean one thing at Wildwood..... the beginning of planting season.
We found out during the summer months what species we would have available for planting. This all depends on the variety and quantity of seeds and cuttings that have been collected by volunteers and successfully grown on by Alba trees, ready for planting this winter. We were also expecting a delivery of Aspen from Cheviot trees and we always have a number of volunteers who grow small numbers of trees - we never know exactly what or how many but these make a welcome addition to our overall species mix and total.

One of our volunteer 'tree growers' dropping off a lovely mix of mostly Elm and Juniper
We arranged for delivery a few Tuesdays ago and with various lorries and cars all arriving within an hour of each other, the process ran rather smoothly!
We managed to offload everything into the car park before starting the sorting process. Although as seasoned volunteer and expert tree planter Les said 'it's always intimidating when the trees arrive'. Very true words - there seemed to be so many of them!!
The trees all sorted into their groups in the tree pen
Once we know stock availability, we put together a site planting plan based on species suitability and areas we identify as needing more trees. This is always subject to change but gives us a good idea beforehand of what trees need to go where and helps to arrange drop offs.
So what's the running total? Well this winter we have approximately 6,477 trees, of which around 5,472 we'll try and plant with our volunteers. The remainder is for our annual spring High Camp. Later in the winter/early spring we are expecting another delivery with even more trees but we'll cross that bridge when we're ready too (that's a whole other blog post!).
We're planting in a range of places across the valley including (ref. map) some high spots at the back and in Rispie Lairs, but also low down as well. And this year we have a nice mix including;
Downy willow Salix lapponum (high planting)
Tea leaved willow Salix phylicifolia (high planting)
Dark leaved willow Salix myrsinifolia (high planting)
Juniper Juniperus communis (high planting)
Aspen Populus tremula (mixture of high and low planting)
Downy birch Betula pubescens (low planting)
Wych elm Ulmus glabra (low planting)
And how have things gone to date? Well the season started off well with sun, sun and more sun! Volunteers were spotted sunbathing during breaks and whilst the planting ground was tough going, the weather was fantastic!
A day in the life of a Carrifran tree planter! Actually it's more like...
Well that was never going to last.....
this. The rain came....
and came until......
we had to abandon ship as the burn was rising fast and we had to cross it!
The team on another wet day having a break before the rains come in
Since then we've had 3 wet Tuesdays in a row culminating in today where we've had to cancel due to bad conditions. But the volunteers have put in a superb effort so far with 1,925 trees already in the ground. The big question now is when will the snow come.... Watch this space
Site Officer

P.S. Many thanks to Robin Sloan and Philip Ashmole for sharing pictures

Friday 27 November 2015

Winter Tree Identification - Rural skills workshop

Last weekend, when the sky was blue and the ground crunchy, we headed up into the young native woodland at Corehead to learn how to identify the different trees.

Emilie Wadsworth was our guide, pointing out the different features to look for. When the trees are as young as ours, knowing different tree buds is key. Like with so many things, when you stop to look at the detail, you realise the beauty in what once you just walked past. Tree buds are no exception.

A favourite of mine are the purple buds of Alder. This tree also has other good clues, being the only broadleaved tree in the UK to have cones.

Photo not doing it justice here!!

Ash is an easy one with its distinctive large black buds which are arranged opposite each other. Ash branches curve upwards, a shape easy to spot even from a distance. It has very smooth grey bark (when young).

Hazel has a zig zag appearance to its twigs and its buds have green/red scales.

Rowan has grey/purplish buds which are distinctively downy.

It was hungry work and we settled down on bags of tree tubes, (removed previously by Junior Rangers and Corehead Volunteers!) for a snack.

... then the obligatory adventure to see the old wizened Ash in the gully.

and finally home, pausing to admire a defiant buttercup in the snow

That's our last workshop of the year (Volunteering will still continue as normal!) , look out for more events and activities in the New Year/Spring

Ali Murfitt

Community and Education Officer.

Monday 16 November 2015

Adventures in Haggie Gutter

Earlier in the year we had a few days out with our peatland expert Emily Taylor at our Talla and Gameshope estate. Now that the sheep have been removed, we were looking for areas of bare or exposed peat sites that would need further intervention than just the removal of grazing. We identified a small area below Talla Crags called Haggie Gutter. A great name by all accounts but also one that maybe tells a tale - Haggie may refer to peat hags, of which there were a few.
Emily making some notes
Following a small survey of the site, we decided that some small scale re-profiling of the peat hags as well as laying out jute mesh would do just the trick. Fortunately we were able to apply for funding through Peatland Action for these works and were delighted to find out in September that we were successful.
After ordering the materials, the first challenge was to get them on site. This was an area of un-chartered quad biking so we recruited expert quad driver and contractor Keith for a couple of days to help us explore some routes and get the materials delivered.
If only every day was this sunny!
We had the odd tricky stream crossing to tackle
But we managed to get there in the end!
And then it was time to get the work done. Thanks to the sterling effort of a great team, we managed to get all the work done before winter hits!

Les doing some re-profiling. Using a mattock, we simply undercut the peat on top to de-stabilise it
We started by covering the edges with the jute mesh to prevent the exposed area from getting any bigger

After a first layer was done, we added a second below, and then a third, until we had used all the jute mesh

Until at the end the whole site was covered!
Our volunteer super team - (L-R) Robin, John, Les, Annelise and Olive
The work we have done is very similar to our Little Firthhope project which we know has been a success. So we're looking forward to re-visiting the site in a years time to see the difference!

Site Officer

Green woodwork at Corehead

Despite the weather we had a great day yesterday at Corehead, whittling a variety of spoons, spatulas, mushrooms and other creations in the shelter of the barn!

Our instructor for the day was Mark Vrionides.


He brought a variety of wood for us to try and it was incredible to experience the different properties first hand; from the beech which took an age to saw through, to the sycamore which split with satisfying ease, and the fibrous poplar which took a bit more persuasion.

Team work!

Hmmmm. is this too big to split!?

Once the wood was split, we each made our designs and got down to axing and finally whittling it into shape.

Letting the axe do the hard work

Using a hook knife to carve the 'bowl' of the spoon

Finished products!

Many thanks to Mark for leading such a fun and informative workshop and all those who braved the elements and participated with such enthusiasm.  A really lovely day.

Community and Education Officer   

Sunday 1 November 2015

Bonkers for Conkers! 9th Scottish Conker Championship 2015

On Saturday 24th October 2015 Borders Forest Trust staff and volunteers (thank you folks – you all did a brilliant job!) ran the 9th Scottish Conker Championship – an ever popular/ well attended attraction in the fabulous annual Tweed Valley Forest Festival.


You would honestly never believe how serious this competition is, with many participants returning every year from near and far! We even get former Conker World Champions coming to compete!
A key challenge in the lead up to the 2015 competition was that our Scottish horse chestnut trees were very, very sparse in this year, after the bumper crop of ‘stonkers’ we had in 2014 (a mega mast year!).  But, thanks to some of our wonderful supporters in the south, we were able to get enough top quality conkers for everyone.  Phew!
Apart from having to organise courier services for conker deliveries this year, the run up to the competition involves quite honestly, the most random activities of my annual work calendar! With evenings spent: sifting through hundreds of conkers (we only use the very best large, round, fresh specimens - we can’t use any mis-shaped, damaged or dried out ones); then, comes an evening of cleaning and polishing conkers (often required if they’ve been picked up in a muddy field!) –); TOP TIP (passed on from the World Champions) – the best way to keep your conkers fresh is to store them in water! And lastly, sourcing shoe laces, and a few hours of drilling and stringing!

This year’s Championships attracted a good number of competitors, but far fewer than we’ve had in previous years – loads of adults, but not so many children (I think that the nasty weather in the morning was the main factor!).
Players use horse chestnuts prepared and provided by BFT and compete in four categories - Junior, Youth, Adult and Rogue. The Rogue category allows participants to bring their own conker, treated in any way they want…. And believe me; our participants get really creative with this! We’ve had massive French conkers coated in yacht varnish; old skool – pickled and baked versions; small, shrivelled ancient relic ones; and, a relatively new innovation is to smother your conker in E45 moisturising cream. This year we even had a conker that had been dipped in concrete!! I should mention at this point – there is still no standout, clear winner in any of the possible treatments (2015 saw a gnarly, aged specimen win over the concrete dipped one!)
The 2015 winners were: Junior – Jack Craigen (from East Lothian)
 Youth – Stuart Head (from Oban)
Adult – Steve Whitehorn (from Preston, Duns)
 Rogue – Iain Laidlaw (Forestry Commission Scotland, Borders)
Next year it will be the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Conker Championships! I’ll need to start planning for the biggest and BEST event yet! Come along and have a go…….. Imagine holding the coveted title of ‘Scottish Conker Champion’ and having one of these trophies on your mantel piece!
Anna Craigen, Community & Education Officer BFT