Field Notes: A warm welcome at Dundreggan

Glenlude's Sarah Livingstone meets her fellow conservation rangers for a magical day at Trees for Life's nursery at Dundreggan

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It isn’t often that the Trust's Land team can meet up. Given our work schedules and geographical spread, it can be logistically challenging. Those of us who are working as rangers thanks to the generous support of the ALA Green Trust decided to try it in November. 

Nathan from Nevis, Cathryn from Skye, Izzy from Schiehallion, Isaac from Glenridding Common and I - sadly Carrie from Sandwood couldn't make it because of the icy roads - arranged to visit Trees for Life (TfL), allowing us to catch up as well as learn about how another conservation charity is going about its work.

Arriving into heart of the Highlands in freezing conditions proved immediately challenging, with the roads not being kind to all of us. Thankfully, those of us who made it were welcomed into a warm lodge by TfL Training Programme Manager, Paul Greaves.

Our first day started with a -5 °C tour of the Dundreggan property with Nursery Manager Jill Hodge. We saw the many polytunnels and outdoor raised beds, full of trees ready to be packed for sale as well as future planting events. The scale at which they are producing was quite impressive, especially when thinking of the work that comes with looking after our Glenlude polytunnels.

First you find a seed source. Then you gather, process, stratify or sow immediately. Wait for signs of growth and, some years down the line (if successful), you have saplings ready for the hill. It can be easy to forget what goes into growing trees, and the work that is done by conservation groups who are trying to put a good seed source back into the ground for future generations.

The TfL refrigerator was full of goodies - huge jars of birch and rowan seeds - all waiting out the winter. We helped check seeds for viability by cutting them carefully in half, inspecting them to see if they were good or bad and recording our findings. Nathan drew the long straw and got to work with rock whitebeam, whereas Isaac drew the short straw and was working with dwarf birch, which was challenging even with a hand lens.

We then headed back out to help pack downy birch (which had been defrosting in the boiler room overnight). We extracted them from their root trays, checked them for a fungal disease and to see if they were strong enough to be wrapped up for the planting bundles. It was a big team effort with chain-gang style working alongside the TfL trainees who were there on one-year placements.

 Rangers at DundregganIsaac and Sarah packing trees (photo Nathan Berrie)

It was a novelty to be working with each other and with a team of younger folk all interested in conservation. It’s not something we get to experience very often as we all do a lot of lone working. This was one of the aims of our visit - to be reminded of our own work paths and interests, and to share them with each other.

One of the most impressive aspects of the nursery was the aspen project. All of us were interested in the aspen, not just because it is notoriously difficult to find seed and grow, but also because it turns out it’s the top favourite tree among the team!

They had a polytunnel of young aspen trees which they were grafting on to, bark raising, weighing down in the same way you do fruit trees, and hand-pollinating in order to get the tree to produce fruit buds and ultimately flower. It was working, even if it looked a bit strange. The idea is to try and grow trees from seed which would give a huge boost to aspen populations in the future.

We discussed the aspen trees on our own properties - on high slopes or trapped in gullies, how they sucker and appear as many trees but are really one underneath. We were inspired to all have our own polytunnels to do some experimenting and also allow us to be more self-sufficient when it comes to tree planting.

Rangers at Dundreggan aspen

Aspen (photo Cathryn Baillie)

On our second day we went on a tour of one of the high-level exclosures with Operations Manager, Doug Gilbert. The trainees were out with Jill doing some extreme survey marking as Loch na Beinne Baine remained well-frozen beneath us.

We were interested to see the recent planting they had done, particularly the montane woodland area which was a key draw when deciding where our meet-up was going to be. With Izzy busy looking at montane scrub possibilities across all out properties, it was exciting to see so much juniper, downy willow, and dwarf birch being grown from cuttings or seed and then planted out. I think it is fair to say we were all a bit jealous, and certainly inspired to look at what we can do on our sites.

Rangers at Dundreggan 2 Sarah, Isaac, Izzy and Nathan staying warm (photo Doug Gilbert)

Back at the lodge, we said our thanks and goodbyes, and then headed off in our different directions until the next time. With some of us near the end of our ALA Green funding, and some of us not far in, it was great to hang out and talk about how we were all getting on. We are all so excited about the journeys we are on with our work, regardless of what stage we are at, and we thank the ALA Green Trust and Trees for Life for enabling us to explore and share that during our meet-up.

Find out more about the support given to us by the ALA Green Trust and the rangers it supports.

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Top photo by Sarah Livingstone shows the Dundreggan nursery