Field Notes: Local Members' Groups get stuck into 2020

Our Local Members' Groups have been out already in 2020 helping restore their local areas

P1070003 detail

James Brownhill - North East Scotland

Our monthly conservation days, working with the rangers at Glen Tanar Estate on Royal Deeside are now in their tenth year and the first of the 2020s was last Saturday. 

There is no “winter break” in the schedule, but short daylight hours restrict the work location to being relatively close to the visitors’ centre.  A good turnout of 12 volunteers met at 10am under blue skies and temperatures just above freezing, with a dry day predicted – perfect.

Two work projects had been identified by our regular host ranger, Mike Martin, focussing on the most popular walk on the estate - the Riverside and Fairy Lochan walk - often taken by the rangers’ weekly Health Walks and a route enjoyed by not just locals out with their dogs, but by many folk from Aberdeen, just 30 miles east.

A November flooding of the Water of Tanar had scoured the material off the path in several places, and foot fall had been gradually exposing tree routes along a good stretch, so remedial work was necessary to bring it back into tip-top condition. The “surface team” of eight, shovelling, transporting and raking, were soon taking off hats and jackets!

NE Scot Wheelbarrows Jan 2020

The smaller group of volunteers were equipped with loppers, bowsaws, and pruning saws - both conventional and high level, to tackle unsafe tree limbs and overgrown gorse and broom further downstream.

Post-lunch saw some volunteers move to the alternative team and though the pruning is a never-ending task, the dumped pile of path material was completely used up and the path surface is now robust, hopefully for some time to come.   By 4pm, after a lot of exercise and volumes of fresh air, everyone was heading home and anticipating a very good night’s sleep.

As well as the monthly conservation days at Glen Tanar, the North East Group works with the rangers at Balmoral on three separate days a year.  Tasks ranging from capercaillie habitat improvement and rhododendron control at lower elevations, to footpath repair and peat conservation measures higher up around the popular Loch Muick, in the shadow of Lochnagar.

NE Scotland LMG lunch break Jan 2020

Two-day volunteering events take place in spring and autumn at NTS Mar Lodge, with accommodation at the cosy Mar Lodge ‘Basecamp’. Part of the estate is defined as a “regeneration zone”, so work has often involved trees, planting (even at 600m elevation), but has also included fence building and removal, and searching and identifying wood ant nests.

Additionally, the NE Scotland Group arrange two visiting speakers to Aberdeen in spring and autumn each year, one usually being Trust staff to keep local members up-to-date with the activities of the charity, and one presenting an outdoor topic, from wildlife photography and conservation (Peter Cairns, David Lintern) to hill and long distance walking.

2020 is now with us, and the John Muir Trust North East Scotland group will be as busy as ever putting in place over 15 events during the year.

Get in touch with the North East Scotland Group here and see all their events here.

John Hodgson - North West England

We have had some great groups of people volunteering with us over the years, but our first volunteering day of 2020 has already been described (by ourselves) as the “best group ever”. If 2020 continues along this trajectory, we could easily have the project finished well before our 200-year deadline.

We had 16 people turn up to our regular second Sunday, including a local family, folk from all corners of Cumbria, a campsite warden, two vets, a retired teacher and even a professional conservation worker.  We also had our two new staff, Tasmin and Craig, on site, which was a huge help.

NW England LMG - Jan 2020

Much of the project is concerned with the removal of regenerating Sitka spruce and other commercial conifer species. However, today’s plan was to plant the remaining stock of our native trees alongside Grassguards Gill, which is the site of some classic wildlife sightings, such as a pair of otters, and the almost-famous leaping stoat. We had a mixture of aspen, hawthorn and oak supplied by our project partners Forestry England, plus a few extra holly which one of our volunteers had propagated for us.

Once these were in, we had time to finish clearing an area of Sitka spruce I had started work on the month before with another group. It’s always satisfying to completely clear an area, as the whole site has varying degrees of naturally regenerating native trees which are much more evident once freed of the spruce!

NW LMG 2020 Jan Stoat

^The almost-famous stoat captured by the trail cam!

As the project progresses, the areas which have had longer to establish are already looking like a native woodland. There’s a mixture of birch, holly, rowan and willow all seeding themselves from the surrounding ancient semi-natural woodland further down the valley. Nature is doing most of the work here, which suits us!

The project started here 15 years ago as a partnership between the University of Leeds and Forestry England - many of the original volunteers were John Muir Trust members. In the past two years successful funding bids, including from The North Face Explore Fund, has enabled the project to expand.

Returning a 630 hectare former conifer plantation to native woodland takes a range of strategies. For 2020 we have employed contractors to remove more established areas of non-native regen which would be too large to remove by volunteers using hand tools. We’ve been able to employ two new staff who are already busy repairing fences (to keep sheep out) and setting up monitoring plots throughout the site. With the help of experts from Forestry England we have plans to rewet an area of drained peatbog. This will be completed early in 2020.

Our regular volunteer days and residentials are continuing (contact us for details), as are our visits from local schools and other interested groups. More of this to come in 2020, and much more flapjack.

Email John Hodgson for more details. See all their events here.

Find out more about our Local Members' Groups and their events.