Staff blog: Abundant doesn't mean thriving...

Our new head of development Gavin McLellan explores the flora and fauna around the 'Fairy Hill'

Jen derr heather aug detail

Starting a new job is always challenging; taking in new names and faces, information overload, attuning to a different culture. Joining the John Muir Trust as a new staff member is no different, but it does have extra surprises and unexpected pleasures.  

One of these has been starting to visit some of the land we manage. It has really helped me appreciate, in just a small way, what the conservation and enhancement work is about. Recently, I was privileged to spend a day with Dr Liz Auty, our Schiehallion land manager. The last time I visited this mountain I was in my 20s and with a group of student friends. It was May and I remember small patches of snow clinging on very close to the summit top. However most remarkable was our experience of seeing Brocken spectres! Truly an unforgettable and eerie experience that fitted so well with the magical properties often ascribed to Schiehallion.

My recent visit was less about rare phenomena, than about abundant flora and fauna. I was able to see some of the replanting work underway by our partners at Dun Coillich (community owned land beside Schiehallion) and observe nibbled and grazed mainly willow trees and bushes. There were also 'bonsai' Scots pine, nibbled and thereby stunted, as well as the odd juniper. Soon I was able to understand that abundant doesn't mean thriving.

We joined an induction session for some of Dun Coillich's new forestry volunteers led by Willie McGhee and soon benefited from his knowledge of the landscape and obvious passion for the regeneration of native species.

A striking thing I learned in my first short visit, was that there are three distinct types of heather. Soon we were reciting them off: ling, bell and cross leaved heath. It astounded me that - despite having lived all my life in Scotland and being a regular visitor to mountains - I had never heard this before. Learning is indeed lifelong and, while a work induction is an information gathering and listening time, there are always many lessons the landscape has to teach us.