Field Notes: Happenings at Glenlude 2019

"The weather affects our activities at Glenlude, but it never stops us for long..." Glenlude Manager Karen Purvis looks back at a busy year

Sandy maxwell   glenlude brash hedge 2019 detail

Glenlude team grows

Sarah Livingstone became the newest member of the Glenlude team, joining us as a Conservation Officer in March. Sarah had been a volunteer with the Trust for several years, as well as carrying out longer conservation stints with various organisations both UK based and in Iceland, making her the perfect fit for the role.

Wonderful work parties

Regular weekly Thursday work parties restarted on 7 February and have been running with largely good weather throughout the year. They achieved a huge amount of tree maintenance, which is good for the young saplings and fun for the volunteers. They were able to explore the site, freeing trees of their protection or weeds, and having lunch on the hillside. We have welcomed a few new volunteers to the group and all have been busy continuing with thinning the spruce block below the main ride, firewood production, nursery work, and helping prepare for forestry operations by marking trees and brashing extraction routes.

Our first general work party of the year was at the end of March where we spent three days building a big brash hedge up the hill which has since been partly planted with birch and rowan. We have also planted more trees near the Phoenix Forest, above the ponds and above the burn. The tree nursery now has new portable staging, which has given us a lot more space to store trees off the ground, thanks to one of our talented volunteers, Dave – who kindly also designed and made a new weather proof leaflet dispenser for the entrance gate.

The next general work party was in November during some wild weather, but plenty of people turned up over the three days, including a group from SSE as well as a young family with a nine year old daughter and puppy. Again there was another brash hedge to build, this one far bigger than the last. Excellent progress was made, and this will allow us to plant a lot more trees in Phoenix Forest.

In December we took a trip down to Kielder Wildwood with some of our regular Thursday volunteers to learn about their work and plant a few trees with Northumberland Wildlife Trust volunteers. A fun but extremely wet day was had by all.

Forest operations

In September, work started on the first of three phases of thinning our conifer plantation. Our goal is to remove every sixth row of spruce, along with preemptive felling of 90% of the larch due to disease risk. Work started well, but extremely wet weather has led to delays and a decision to postpone felling a compartment of larch further up the hill until next year. Meanwhile, we will continue thinning the compartments south of the campsite. We’re extremely grateful to Andy Howard of Pennine Forestry for his ongoing support with these operations.

Phoenix Forest

The seventh annual tree planting event took place in May with 131 trees being planted by Phoenix Futures service users, staff and supporters – one for every person who had successfully completed their rehabilitation programme in the past year.

In October we were awarded funding from the SUEZ Communities Trust to fell and replant the spruce/larch compartment above Phoenix Forest and create in that space an upland birchwood. This will extend Phoenix Forest by a further 1.3ha, this woodland has been created by service users from Phoenix Futures, a Glasgow-based rehabilitation charity, over the past seven years.

Felling was carried out by a local contractor with the edge trees felled at shoulder height to make posts for the creation of yet another a brash hedge, within which we will plant the trees later in 2020. A good start has been made to this brash hedge by volunteers at our three day work party in November. This project can be seen from the B709, just south of Glenlude Farm.

We are extremely grateful to the SUEZ Communities Trust for the opportunity to extend Phoenix Forest at Glenlude. As well as creating a valuable and biodiverse woodland this will enable more people to engage with our rewilding project and reap the therapeutic benefits that go hand in hand with this work.

Surveys and workshops

On a damp day in June, Verity Brosnan ran a fascinating workshop on lichens, inspiring us all to look more closely at the many species that grow on our trees at Glenlude, some of which are quite rare.

The annual survey of our dwarf shrub heath plots showed a small average increase of 0.7cm, due in part to the heather having reached its maximum height after which it topples over and grows horizontally. A two yearly survey of the calcareous flush plots showed up losses and gains; lack of constant grazing gives us taller and thicker vegetation resulting in the crowding out of such species as heath bedstraw and milkwort with an increase in grass and sedge species. The highlight was coming across common twayblade and a lovely display of heath spotted orchids. Both quite common, but non-the-less a delight to see.

We continue to work closely with Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, despite failing to gather any evidence by way of photos or hair samples of either species in our spring survey. However there were two separate sightings of reds on site so we know they are in the area.

Further investigation into our population of Northern Brown Argus butterfly (red UKBAP Priority species) led to the discovery of patches of common rock rose – their food plant - with eggs on the leaves.

Our breeding bird survey showed up a partial recovery in robin, wren and meadow pipit numbers after being hit hard by the cold snap in 2018 and a small breeding colony of sand martin was also discovered.

Curlew nested on the hill for the first time, previously nesting next door on Mountbenger Farm. The article written by surveyor John Savory can be found in the autumn 2019 edition of our Members’ Journal: The Birds of Glenlude.

Firewood

Due to timber operations making access to the firewood store difficult, we haven’t advertised too widely this year. However, with winter starting to bite, firewood sales have been steady thanks to our loyal customer base and word getting out via the local grapevine. We finally managed to move timber stacked up on the hill down to our firewood store for processing, maintaining a good stock of well-seasoned timber ready for processing in 2020.

Nursery and tree planting

Many of the trees in the poly tunnel have now been moved outside on to the staging for hardening up. The staging is looking quite full with oaks, rowans, downy birch, rose and willows being de-celled and wrapped for planting in the New Year.

Over the summer, we collected willow seed when we saw it fluffing up and being carried on the wind. It doesn’t last long and you have to sow it immediately, but we’ve had some success with plenty of seedlings being pricked out into cells for growing on. This autumn we also received a lot of acorns from Forestry and Land Scotland in Selkirk which will hopefully have a mouse-free winter and start showing signs of life in spring.

Elsewhere there are local hawthorn and rose being stratified for at least two winters. We also collected rowan berries from above the ponds, which will be sowed in spring. It was a bumper year for tree production it seems, and our alder cones were much bigger than last years (which could still be seen on some trees).

One of our skilled volunteers Richard put together plans for a new nursery shed behind the poly tunnel, with the aim to clear up space for more trees as well as find a good home for all the pots, cells and other nursery materials. The plans took into account our need to discourage wasps nesting in the eves and maximise storage space. Richard crafted a lot of it initially at home in Edinburgh, and then the rest was constructed on site over the summer as weather permitted. Many of our regular volunteers mucked in with the roofing, cladding, ditching and footpath around it, and it looks fantastic.

Other groups and visits

Our regular groups have been out with us again this year Works+ coming out on one of the hottest days of the year to help with some hawthorn planting and a litter pick along the roadside.

The Green Team got on site despite a cancellation earlier in the year due to snow. This time there was a staff/volunteer leader gathering which involved an overnight camp at the Stell and some tree planting the next day. Their Thrive project group (which focuses on mental health) have also been down to explore a more remote site than they are used to, and have helped build bird boxes by the fire in the hut.

George Watson’s College continue to return as part of their DofE Bronze award and are getting stuck in to all manner of conservation tasks, including a brash hedge of their own, as well as continuing with their deer survey as in previous years.

One of our most active collaborations of the year has come from working with the South Scotland Golden Eagle Project, namely with their community engagement officers Phil and Rick. We had one day of old fence removal with a few of their volunteers, and look to have a few more set up next year. 

Phil and Rick also brought groups from Galashiels/Melrose Scouts, Peebles High School as part of a community learning group for pupils struggling with school, and Borders College who have a group of ASL students on a Skills for Learning course. All these groups have been involved in tree planting, brashing, and learning about rewilding on site, and will return in the New Year to continue to work with us which is exciting news.

It’s been an enjoyable, eventful year at Glenlude and 2020 is shaping up to be even more so. Enormous thanks to everyone who’s supported us along the way and we look forward to seeing you all in the New Year.

Photo by Sandy Maxwell shows some of our fantastic conservation work party volunteers clearing timber from a brash hedge.