Monday 27 July 2015

National Tree Seed Project

Kew Botanic Gardens and the Millennium Seed Bank are coordinating the UK National Tree Seed Project. This project funded by players of People's Postcode Lottery aims to collect thousands of seeds from across the UK for long term conservation and research.

 We've got on board to collect local provenance seeds in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway and will be collecting thousands of seeds from a  variety of different species ranging from wild raspberry to oak. We'll need volunteers, so please get in touch if you'd like to be part of this project!

Our role in the great seed project began with a training day at the Trees for Life, Dundreggon Estate.

We covered the methods involved, including bio-security, assessing populations, sampling strategies and collecting techniques.

This is us assessing the potential seed yield from a patch of blackthorn. You're looking to take no more then 20% of the total seeds, and with 10,000 seeds as an ideal collection per site, this needs to be checked out in advance! 

Seed viability is also important, if the seed is infested with insects or diseased it won't be much use in the bank. This is easier to check on cherries or sloes but more tricky on small seeds like birch

Luckily there's some tricks..involving sellotape

and patience to cut them in half 

To ensure genetic variety, trees need to be selected at random and collections made from the top branches as well as the lower ones! This requires throw lines or a very long pruning saw!

and for each species at each site, a herbarium specimen needs to be taken

Dundreggon Estate was an incredible place to be for a few days with interesting plants, fungi, orchids and even wild boar (in an experimental enclosure!)
Breakfast time!

Fox moth
Orange birch bolete

Great sundew

Looking forward to collecting those seeds!

Community and Education Officer

Friday 24 July 2015

Titbits from Talla

We've been a bit quiet of late on updates from Talla and Gameshope and had a few requests for information from people asking about our plans and what we hope to do there.

After we acquired the site in 2013 we commissioned a full site survey to be undertaken by Stuart Adair. Stuart has surveyed both our other sites at Corehead and Carrifran and is very familiar with the area and a great botanist. We also set up an ecology group which, together, would explore and discuss options that would feed into an eventual management plan for the site.

The overriding decisions that were taken very early on were that
(i) we'd remove the grazing and
(ii) we wouldn't rush into anything

Since then we've done just that. We've been watching and looking at how the site has responded since the sheep were taken off (a few have since broken back in but they have been served their eviction notice!) and have had a number of meetings and site visits involving many different people who are all feeding in thoughts and ideas to a management plan.
A few rogue sheep escaped back in!
Following our 2 major early decisions, one large scale project did immediately come to mind. The fencing is, in some places, in a poor condition with a 3km gap along our boundary with Grey Mares Tail. Therefore, before we even thinking about the possibility of planting, we had to take action to make the site stock proof. In some areas this is done by volunteers and we have recently had a contractor complete the missing 3km.
Out moving fencing materials for the volunteers with contractor Keith
The fencing is also important to keep stock off areas we are looking to do peat works. We recently had a visit from Emily Taylor from Peatland Action who will hopefully be able to support us with more money for restoration in areas of exposed peat. This will be similar to the work we did at Little Firthhope but it is only effective if there are no sheep around.
Surveying with Emily Taylor from Peatland Action

We hope to do some more peatland restoration work in here
Overall our thinking is that ecologically, we are looking at all our sites on a landscape scale. With T&G bordering Carrifran and Corehead just a few hill tops away this makes sense. The plan is to use our knowledge and experience from these sites to feed in to what happens at T&G and take our time to make sure we get things right.
Site Officer

Raking around

We've been a bit quiet of late on the blogging front. It's not that we don't have lots to share.... it's more that we've been so busy out and about!
One of our current projects has been in our orchard. We've had quite a lot of work to do this year in here and it hasn't stopped with the advent of summer.
Whilst the trees and the hedgerow seem to be doing really well, the orchard floor is dominated by lots of dense, tussocky grasses and rushes. In time we would like to see a greater floristic diversity in the form of grasses and wildflowers.
Therefore as part of our new orchard maintenance plan we decided to do more targeted management of the orchard floor. Wildflowers like nutrient poor soils. One way to achieve this is to cut the grass and rake it off. By removing the biomass we are preventing the grass from mulching back into the soil and by repeating this process a number of times, should begin to lower the nutrient levels.
The orchard pre-cut
The best tool for the job these days is a power scythe (traditionally it would have been a scythe). This cut the grass at the base which allows for it to be raked up and removed easier. It took a whole day to cut the orchard which the power scythe losing on a number of occasions to some dense tussocks.
The power scythe in action
2 days later the volunteers came in to rake the grass up. A long and tiring job, but a very important one.

We managed to get most of the grass raked into piles and around half of the piles removed.
So still lots of work to be done in here but a great project to work on and a new one for us at Corehead - hopefully to be continued!
Site Officer

Monday 6 July 2015

Hopping the fence

The Border Forest Trust's Carrifran Wildwood and Corehead Farm are neighbouring sites to Grey Mare's Tail Reserve, the National Trust for Scotland property. I am the Volunteer Ranger at Grey Mare's Tail and at the start of June, I hopped the boundary fence to work alongside Lynn Cassells, BFT Site Officer, for 3 days.
Carrifran Wildwood

At Carrifran Wildwood, the task of the day was to gather and secure some of the old tree guards that were taken off at the High Camp in April at Firth hope. It was also a good opportunity to see the Peatland Action project at Little Firthhope.
Upon our arrival in the car park, we were welcomed by the unmistakeable call of a cuckoo that has made Carrifran Wildwood its home for the summer.

After ambitiously opting for the 'short but steep' climb up Dun Knowe to Carrifran Gans, we climbed through a mix of trees such as oak, hawthorn and juniper that were part of the earlier planting. The map of Carrifran Wildwood ( clearly shows the trees planted in certain areas and the habitat types they will form. The climb rewarded us with stunning and tranquil view over Carrifran and the Moffat Valley.

The on-going peatland restoration trial showed me it's not just about woodland areas with BFT! Exposed peat has been covered in a jute netting to prevent further erosion and encourage vegetation to grow and form a natural protective cover over the peat. Coir logs act as dams to limit and control water drainage.
It is one thing to be aware of the facts and figures of Carrifran and quite another to see directly, the results and the potential for the dynamic habitat and peaceful landscape that has been created here.
Corehead Farm

The following days were based at Corehead Farm. The Corehead orchard's floor is dominated by a mat of tussocky grass.  Wild flowers struggle to establish in an environment like this. Lynn and I cut out and swapped sections of turf between the orchard's dense grass and an adjacent field with yellow rattle in order to create a more wildflower-friendly site.

Yellow rattle is parastic  upon grasses and an effective natural control to reduce grass dominance.  Once we started digging in the orchard, it was plain to see why flowers struggled to flourish; the handle of our spade broke off when we fought to dig out turf from the dense network of grass roots!
On the last day, Lynn, myself and Corehead volunteers Charlie, John and Heather cut bracken growing around young planted trees. We used Jungle Knives - the name makes them sound more dangerous than they are - to cut bracken stems within a 1m radio of the tree guards. I was impressed that with a good bit of team work, sunshine and tea breaks, we covered a substantial area.
Overall, a short but very sweet insight into BFT's projects and site management! I look forward to returning to these sites to observe their development over the years and perhaps, hear more cuckoos making Carrifran their summer retreat!
NTS and BFT volunteer

Friday 3 July 2015

Outdoor Education at Corehead Farm.

This is the main season for field studies and over 100 school children have visited Corehead Farm this month to take part in a variety of activities from river studies to exploring the new walkloop into the Devil's Beef Tub.

The highlight has to be the 'John Muir 52'...(last year it was 47 and we thought that was a lot of kids at once!) Once again they came out for three consequtive Fridays in June to complete their John Muir discovery awards.

The challenge with this many in a group is to ensure they each make their own connections with the natural world, discover things they didn't know before and hopefully feel inspired to look more closely at wild things in their upcoming summer holidays.

On the first day we walked the beef tub loop. Groups were given different tasks
Anna Craigen favourites...the 'poo dectectives' were on the hunt for the tell tale signs of mammals, the plant hunters were out to find a variety of interesting plants and learn their uses, then there were curiosity collectors and general quiz masters. With other challenges along the way this took the whole session and a lovely hot day it was too!

Setting off 
Reed wick challenge! 
Meet the stick!
Lunch on the fallen beech tree

 The second week was all about conservation...bracken bashing was the task and 52 kids with canes cleared a lot of bracken round the trees in no time,

 then it was into the river and ponds to discover the creatures living there.

The final games and survival challenges and yes all 52 got to toast the obligatory  marshmallow on the four fires they built themselves. Happy days : )
Thanks to Lynda Halley, Anna Craigen and the teachers at Moffat Academy for all your hard work and enthusiasm!


Community and Education Officer