Working with nature in Aberdeenshire and beyond
James Brownhill reports on a productive year for the Trust's North East Scotland Members' Group of conservation volunteers
Despite the falling temperatures and shorter daylight hours, the Trust's North East Scotland Members' Group of conservation volunteers continues to be busy outdoors - rounding off an active 2016 in Aberdeenshire.
The year commenced with unprecedented rainfall and flooding on Royal Deeside, unofficially reckoned to be a 1-in-500 year event. The flooding created plenty of scope for conservation work and a “litter” clearance on the banks of the river Dee. Under the guidance of the Glen Tanar Rangers, we cleared away large amounts of unnatural debris before it all became entangled in the seasonal spring greening.
The effects of the flood were everywhere. In Glen Tanar itself, the monthly Conservation Work Parties attended to minor path and bridge repairs, removal of fallen timber from the path network, and the repair of fencing around the three-metre square tree enclosure fences high up the glen at the foot of Mount Keen.
With the Tanar burn having changed its course, some of the fences and trees that had been enclosed for over 15 years had been ravaged beyond repair. Despite the devastation, it was encouraging to later see the blossoms of celandine, wood anemone and dog violet, woodland species that, in the upper reaches of the glen, are only found within the protected micro-environment of the tree enclosures.
^ Infill planting of tree enclosures with saplings, Glen Tanar, November 2016
Volunteers assisted at National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate with two events of two days each. The spring visit involved the removal of a redundant electric fence and selective clearance of encroaching vegetation along a flood scoured track in order to allow access and repair by heavier machinery. An evening stroll took us to the Linn of Quoich, where the flooding burn had taken on a radical new route creating a massive alluvial delta across what had previously been a grazing pasture. It was here that we worked on our second visit, removing tangles of fence wire and post that the floods had torn asunder and removing the remaining standing section of the now useless deer fence. Monitoring of the bird life by NTS, in this newly created habitat, recorded species seen on the estate for the first time.
^ Ring barking planted Scots pine, Mar Lodge, September 2016
Two one-day conservation days were held with the rangers at Balmoral Estate: the first clearing out the drains and ditches on the popular footpath from Glas Allt Shiel , Loch Muick, to the summit of Lochnagar; and, later in the year, helped by the energetic Cairngorm National Park Junior Rangers, completely eradicating an aggressive and invasive area of rhododendrons in the woods overlooking Balmoral Castle.
^ Cairngorm National Park Junior Rangers joined Trust volunteers at Balmoral, October 2016
A small number of volunteers teamed up with Glenlude's property manager Karen Purvis to sort, cut and load a large number of tree tubes. These were surplus to the requirements of Aberdeen City Council and to be used in the tree planting at the Trust's smallest property in the Borders.
It is hoped that the winter will be less dramatic this year. But, whatever the weather, the John Muir Trust conservation volunteers will be out each month in 2017, working in hand with nature, and always learning more.
Photographs by James Brownhill. See more of their work on Flickr.