Week 7 – A smashing water bar

So this week I found out I have been re-christened ‘Bill’ by the rest of my team as I am now “One of the lads”. I can’t begin to describe how happy I am about this new title…(note the sarcastic tone).

This week I don’t have so many exciting pictures of varied Scottish landscapes as we’ve just been based at our Path site at Craigmore trying to crack on with our stone features and landscaping. The giant crossdrain built by Ryan and Jake is  now complete and Ross even managed to dig out some aggregate for surfacing material. Perhaps not enough to cover the whole path, but it is good to see things begin to come together.

Rory and I built our first water bar, which last week I explained functions to divert surface water off the path. It involved a lot of initiative on our part, trusting our judgement when choosing the stones we were going to build with. After reading a bit about the construction the night before and getting some tips from Gordon, I felt quite confident we could do it. After a brief mistake of not setting the heaviest stone at the bottom, we managed to build it in just a morning. We also built another two anchor bars and continued the week landscaping over some spoil piles, borrow pits and breaking stone for cobble. My Sledge hammer skills are improving everyday. Dad will be so proud!

On Tuesday morning Will Huckerby, Community, Recreation and Tourism manager for Forest Enterprise Scotland came up to our site to talk to us a bit more about the role of The Forestry commission.

Forest Enterprise Scotland are the operations arm of Forestry Commission Scotland and manage Scotland’s National Forest Estate in line with the Government’s Scottish Forestry Strategy. Many people think this means just timber production, which is part of it but they also work to develop opportunities for renewable energy, create and maintain trails and visitor facilities, and conserve the estate’s habitats, wildlife and archaeological treasures.

Will also touched on a few initiatives they are working on to promote public engagement with the outdoors.

One being their ‘Keep It Clean’ campaign, making people aware of the risks that affect our forests. Pests and diseases are so easily spread and can dramatically affect the health of our trees, upsetting the delicate ecosystem balance and devastating large areas of woodland. They can be carried in mud and debris on shoes, paws and tyres, ending up in new forests and can then spread rapidly in environments with no natural resilience. The idea is to just take a moment to brush off any visible dirt, and give everything a good wash. This helps slow the spread of disease, preserving our woodlands now and for future generations.

He also spoke to us about The Great Trossachs Forest. It is a partnership between Forest Enterprise Scotland, RSPB Scotland and Woodland Trust Scotland and is located at the heart of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. It covers an area the size of Glasgow (16,500ha) and more than 1.5 million trees have been planted through the project, eventually creating one of the UKs largest native woodlands. The accolade of National Nature Reserve reflects the forests diverse mix of qualities and helps confirm the Great Trossachs Forest project as a showcase for landscape-scale and co-operative land management. The Great Trossachs Forest met the NNR criteria on several counts. It contains nine designated sites along with other important non-designated habitats. It’s home to protected species such as golden eagle, pine marten, otter and red squirrel. There is also an ongoing programme of work to remove invasive species and non-native trees.

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On Wednesday, we were invited along to National Park Headquarters 10.02 meeting as Tom and Rosie were giving a presentation about The Mountains and the People to the park staff. It was great to meet some of the people who have been involved in working with the project and there were a lot of really kind words about the blog. I got to put some faces to a lot of twitter names and It’s really nice to know that my blog is apparently a good read. I feel like the pressure is on now for me to keep it interesting! A big thank you for having us along.

Week 6 – PLUVIOPHILE – a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days

Monday and Tuesday came and went with a pleasant few days of cobbling, finally completing one very large cross drain and the double anchor bar towards the top of the path. We all continued to make cobble with stone brought up in the power barrow and landscaped the areas of spoil dug out. These are known as blister patches which are really mounds of soil dug out from ditches or the path tray and when turfed, function as a way of keeping people on the path.

As Ryan and Fraser were away in Arran with NTS for the first contractor placement week, we were only a team of five so worked together to get some of the larger tasks completed.

Onto Wednesday, and yes, the heavens finally opened. I’d been waiting for it for a while. Time for some more realistic Scottish path work! Warm and wet conditions even tempted the midges out from the peat bog so we were all really happy! This was also new team member Simon’s first day, so we thought we’d make a wee shelter to make our lunch break a little more enjoyable.

On a more positive note, this was a good chance for us to see how some of the path features we had already built were functioning. The water was definitely flowing down our top side ditches and the two cross drains were taking the water across the path well. There was however, still a lot of surface water sitting on the worst section of path and it was a little soul destroying watching it go from lovely, dry and walkable back to a wellyboot vacuum quagmire.

We needed to get the worst areas cobbled quickly as well as setting in a few more anchor bars, which is a lot harder in wet peat. On Thursday I was challenged with building my first water bar. This was a priority so that the water flow could be controlled over the weekend. As Kieran was doing a site visit to Arran, I had to trust my own judgement a little when choosing my building stones. It is unfinished as the weather really came in during the afternoon so I will find out on Monday if it passes for what it’s supposed to be. All I know is that is was definitely diverting the water flow into the ditch when I left!

We also came across a small birds nest on site near to where Jake was working. We have marked it with a tree sapling dug from the ditch and made everyone aware of it to try and cause as little disturbance as possible. I have tried to do a little research as to what it could be, and have deduced that the eggs look very much like they belong to a species of tit. Which one, i’m not sure. I have seen Coal tits and Blue tits in the area. Anyone with advice or superior knowledge would be much appreciated.

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In terms of building features, I also thought it might help if I provided a quick run down of what’s what instead of throwing all these technical terms around.

Waterbar The purpose if this is to divert the surface water off a sloping path. Without them, the path surface will be gradually washed downwards and eventually be so rough and wet, walkers will not use it. They can also help to stabilise the path surface.

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Anchor bar : The anchor bar is a solid, immovable structure within the path which acts as a small step up, holding aggregate path surfacing on the above slope as it is likely to migrate downwards on any gradient over 8º.

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Stone Cross-drain : The cross-drain is a traditional drainage feature. The design used today is relatively unchanged from those used on old stalkers paths and hill tracks. This channels water from above the path to the lower side. The source of water could be from small streams, mossy damp vegetation or areas of uphill surface water.

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Week 5 – Anchor Bars and NNRs

This week at Craigmore I began creating some stone features once I had completed turf lining the top side ditch. This was a chance to test my strength and understand the techniques of using the pinch bar to my advantage. I was to build two anchor bars. Solid structures which function as a step to decrease path gradient and hold any aggregate/path surfacing on the above slope as it can migrate downwards with weathering or due to high levels of path use.

The photos show examples of the work I carried out and include techniques in undercutting turfs to landscape edges and creating cobble to make a solid base for laying my stones. Laika, canine mascot for the week is also showing off his top side ditch skills (pre-turfing).

As well as our path works this week, we spent Tuesday at SNH’s Taynish National Nature Reserve (NNR) with head ranger Gordon Campbell. Taynish is found on the West coast about 20km from Lochgilphead. It’s situated in the heart of Knapdale and has one of the finest examples of Atlantic oak woodland in Europe. The wooded ridges (Knaps) and the waterlogged valley mires (Dales) form an area of mixed deciduous woodland. Having survived for over 7000 years the ‘temperate rainforest’ is home to a rich abundance of wildlife.

The biodiversity at Taynish is down to its geology, hydrology, climate and topography. The range of woods is dominated by oak and more locally with ash, birch and alder. The range of habitats we were able to experience throughout the day was amazing as the 300+ hectare reserve is home to closed canopy woodlands, scrub, open heath, mire, grassland, maritime heath and saltmarsh. The mild and moist climate allows for a variety of lichens, mosses, ferns and liverworts to thrive and both dense woodland and more open habitats are home to a range of insects including butterflies, moths, dragonflies and beetles. Taynish is also home to the threatened Marsh Fritillary butterfly whose larvae feed on the wild flower, Devils Bit Scabious. This grows in abundance on the herb rich maritime heath. This area of the reserve is also a great place to spot otters and here we got to see an amazing example of handbuilt drystane dyking. Gordon explained that once upon a time, this whole area of the reserve would have been a boulder field. To make it viable as arable land for the estate it would have been cleared by hand. Something they are still trying to date. There were many examples of stones which had been drilled by hand before moving and it’s hard to imagine the original size of some of these rocks as it was a very impressive wall!

Traditionally the coastal grasslands would have been grazed and this technique has been continued to prevent the open areas developing into scrub woodland, suppressing the spread of fast growing grasses giving the important flowering plants such as Devils Bit Scabious a chance to thrive.

I was truly taken by the natural woodland character and rich biodiversity at Taynish and really do hope to return again…soon!

As if I didn’t get enough from that NNR, the next day I got to experience another. A little closer to home this time, I spent the day on Inchcailloch, the largest island on Loch Lomond. It too is cloaked by oak woodland and is particularly important because of it’s rich flora and distinctive community of mosses, lichens and bird life.

It’s woodland is of international importance, given a designation of Special Area for Conservation (SAC). Planted at the end of the 18th Century from a seed bank in England, the oak was used for industries such as tanning and charcoal but now, since the industrial use of oak woodland has ceased, many of the trees are aged at 200 years. It now also holds an SSSI designation. Most of the non-native invasive species have been removed and towards the summit of the island stands an example of ancient Caledonian pine forest providing even more diverse habitats. Inchcailloch’s important wildlife includes a variety of birds, insects, fallow deer which do need managed, mosses and lichens which specialise in the conditions of light and humidity on the island and a huge range of wildflowers which was the reason for my visit.

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From Top Left: Wood Sorrel, Bugle, Greater Stitchwort, Red Campion, Yellow Pimpernel, Wavy Bittercress

Led by volunteer manager for Loch Lomond and the Trosschas, Craig Walker, his extensive knowledge of habitats and species thriving on the island was fascinating and I really did learn a lot. I am determined to take my new knowledge of wildflowers and transfer it to areas that I will be working in the future. Already I have seen Bugle, Wood Sorrel, Dog Violets and Wood Anemones at our Craigmore site and am confident my identification is correct.

It is so easy to bypass these lovely species if you don’t know what to look for. I fully recommend going out with someone who know’s their stuff if you get the chance. When we first arrived at Inchcailloch all I could see was bluebells, but once I really began looking, I managed to make a list of almost 30 different species! Amazing!

 

Week 4 – Path pioneering

This was the first week working at our path site at Craigmore in Aberfoyle. Before sinking my spade into the peat, we had to meet with Will Huckerby from Forestry Commission Scotland to talk through the PCM (Pre Commencement Meeting). This focused on the FC health and safety legislation and covered all areas that we needed to consider for our risk assessment on site. Will explained that the dangers at work in the forestry industry are extremely high so the importance of covering all eventualities is mandatory before work can start. He also highlighted that towards the top of our site, there is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) a protected oak woodland, something that we need to keep in mind when working in that area.

Once on site, we split into groups of two and each took a 40 metre stretch of path. This week, the plan was to dig out turfs from the path to create a tray and dig out a top side ditch to begin controlling the water flow away from the path surface.

This week, we were also introduced to the power barrow, my new best friend! After spending Monday to Wednesday moving buckets of spoil I had dug from the ditch by hand, the revelation of the barrow meant I could move about five times as much in one go and it’s quite good fun.

On Wednesday we met Katy Anderson from Forestry Commission Scotland. She came up to the site to discuss the environmental impacts of path work and how important it is for us to be aware of the biodiversity in the area where we are working. So far I have seen a few common lizards, frogs, some wood sorrel and a variety of birds including Sand Martins, Skylarks and Whinchats. Katy also mentioned we might see wild boar, feral goats, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles and even White Tailed Sea Eagles due to the thermals that sit above the high site of the path. It was interesting to hear of about the species that thrive in the area. As we are working at ground level being aware of ground nesting birds, any wild flowers or perhaps adders in the high grasses promotes environmental good practice. We have to work in a way that will cause as little disruption as possible. Dependant on the level of protection of certain species, we may have to make SNH and FC aware of any rare plant or animal species we come across. This could result in a diversion of our path, moving to an alternative site or stopping work altogether.

One very interesting point Katy made was about the Sitka Spruce. Introduced to Britain in 1831, it is a non native conifer. It has a very fast growth rate compared to some trees so can yield high volumes of timber very quickly. Sitka spruce only needs to grow for 40-60 years to reach its maximum timber potential comparable to an oak which can take up to and over 150 years. The problem with this however is that the seeds from Sitka which are dropped naturally are also very successful. They grow quickly and if close together, create a very dense canopy making it difficult for sunlight to find its way through to the woodland floor so few plants can grow underneath them. They don’t provide great habitats and can have a negative impact on the regeneration of native trees such as Birch and Ash. For the Forestry Commission, Sitka is the most efficient tree species for harvesting but also their worst enemy enemy in terms of biodiversity. The photo above is of a plantation forest I visited on Saturday at Glen Dochart. It highlighted Katy’s point of how quickly the reseeding of Sitka really can take over.

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Bob Aitken and the team

The highlight of my week was having the pleasure of meeting Dr Bob Aitken. He kindly came down to the office to talk to us about the recent history of path works in Scotland, the roots of how it all began and some of the unsung heroes he has met from spending over 40 years in the industry. The main purpose of managing paths is not to make them easier, but to restore the quality of the landscape that brings people there in the first place.

In the 1980’s the Countryside Commission for Scotland realised that a change was needed. A footpath management project was set up with Bob at the helm. It took a more systematic approach developing path surveying, testing new techniques and included the first team of paid workers with both the skills and knowledge of site sensitivity. This led to the creation of ‘Pathcraft ltd’, the first professional path contracting operation in Scotland.

Bob highlighted the three main physical impacts of the environment that need to be addressed when looking at any path management problems. SLOPE, WETNESS and ROUGHNESS. They are often interconnected, but with careful handling they may be advantageous.

If the slope is too steep there may be issues with instability especially where running water is apparent. Paths should generally have gradient of no more than 15º otherwise getting a stable path will  become very difficult. This can be controlled with re-alignment or switchbacks. If this is not possible, stone pitching is probably the best way, but is always a last resort.

As we all know, Scotland gets A LOT of rain. And on mountain paths, it can come in the form of run-off, surface water, groundwater or waterlogged peat. This is why it is good to visit site in a variety of seasons and weather. The aim should always be to keep water off the path or at least get it off as fast as possible by looking at whether it can be diverted before it reaches the path using basic tools such as open ditches, cross drains and water bars. These features need to be robust to withstand extreme weather and footfall.

In terms of path roughness, walkers will always try to find more comfortable way up the mountain. It is apparent that even minor obstacles will lead to path widening so if the path can be smoother than the surrounding areas, hopefully it will stop people from veering off route. One aspect of path roughness is that it can be beneficial as an avoidance tool controlling path migration.

Bob focused on how to maintain and manage paths whilst always having a sensitivity to not domesticating the mountains. We want them to be accessible but also to conserve their wild values rather than building motorways up hills that can be seen from miles away. Again, path maintenance was highlighted and if work can be monitored and updated every 5 years or less this is a small fix, rather than having paths that were created in the 80’s now needing completely re-built 25 years on.

I hope now to take what I have learned and implement it at our path site at Craigmore over the next 8 weeks. I have also added an link to Bridget Jones’ (Head of Visitor Management for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs) BBC Radio Scotland interview, discussing the benefits The Mountains and the People project. (36mins in)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0791mzs#play