Week 18/19 – August Break with Ball Throwing, Bike Riding and Boot Stomping

I thought I would do a quick photo round up of my August break before returning to work on Monday 29th when we will be heading to our next work site back up The Cobbler.

Before beginning my holiday properly I spent the first three days doing some volunteering with LLATTNP and The Woodland Trust. On Monday I was out with Kevin McCulloch from SNH sailing up the mouth of the Endrick river doing some Himalayan Balsam pulling. Tuesday took me back to RSPB Loch Lomond to help Becky and her work party with an array of tasks around the reserve and on Wednesday I headed up to Glen Finglas to spend some time at the Gateway Centre.

After an enjoyable day spent at the Edinburgh Fringe taking in some comedy and culture I had a few days in the Trossachs trying  to tire Laika (unsuccessfully) at Lemahamish, near Gartmore and around Loch Ard with his favourite cousin.

The following week, we drove up to Carrbridge for the real holiday. The weather was fantastic and it was amazing comparing the landscape to Loch Lomond. One thing that sprung out at me is the lack of bracken that grows there, and this therefore allows the heather to provide an amazing carpet of purple across the hills and woodland floor. We managed to forage some chanterelles for breakfast, take in a lot of fantastic walks around Boat of Garten and Grantown On Spey, go on a fun canoe trip and my Shand Cycles ‘Stoater’ (which was given to me last Christmas, as I keep reminding Fraser) is finally finished and I had great fun doing some road riding around playing about in Glencharnoch woods!

The break was topped off with a trip to West Lothian on Sunday to take part in the Linlithgow Classic Car Club’s annual event with Dad. He was driving his Austin Healey 3000, which was voted 2nd overall in the drivers choice of about 200 cars and I got to have my first outing driving the MGBGT V8 that Mum recently acquired. (my guilty pleasure of petrol head has been revealed!) And a great end to a lovely two weeks off.

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Week 17 – Dry Stane Dyke Repairs

IMG_5586Ahead of our two week August holiday, we have been based up at Glen Fruin working on Luss Estates again. It was a chance for us to put our dry stane walling skills learnt by Gordon Kydd five weeks ago into practice. Ian from Luss Estates took us up to an extremely old, deteriorated wall which in parts had completely collapsed. As there was more modern fencing around the fields, it was really just a good chance for us to practice techniques and highlight some of the worse sections of wall that we could rebuild and improve.

Again, we worked in pairs, each taking on a side of the wall and filling the centre cavity of the wall with hearting to stabalise it. We only had stone salvaged from the original wall and what we could find buried in the ground or by the river, but once we got in the zone, we did manage to repair quite a large length of the wall, and other than missing some large cope stones, we all thought it looked pretty good.

Ross and I took on a few section. The first, a small gap repair. We even had a friendly mascot!

Section 1

Section 2

Ryan and Rory continued on from our second section and also repaired another large stretch damaged by a large tree.

And Simon, Jake and Kieran took on the largest stretch, completely dismantling the existing wall and starting from scratch.

I’m not going to lie, the weather has been absolutely horrible! But really chuffed we still managed to make such a big difference to the wall and we all agreed, Gordon is an excellent teacher as we kept reminding ourselves of all his advice. ‘Always have plenty of hearting’ and ‘Watch your batter’. Meaning always pack in loads of stone whilst building and make sure the front face of the wall is sitting good and flat.

I have written a previous blog during week 12 with more details of stone wall construction if you want more info. I’m now going to enjoy my two weeks off. I’m spending week one doing some volunteer days with SNH, RSPB and Woodland Trust before heading up to Carrbridge for a bit of a walking/cycling holiday. Got to get my practice in as we’ll be heading up the Cobbler on our first day back! They’re so kind to us!

Week 16 – Peat Bog Restoration and Path Specification

 

Blanket bog is only found in a few cool and wet parts of the world. Mosses and other plants break down over time to create a layer of peat which forms a habitat that dominates the landscape of upland Scotland. The peatlands host an assortment of wildlife, including iconic moorland breeding birds such as the hen harrier, golden plover and red grouse and plants such as heather, butterwort, bog asphodel and of course sphagnum moss.

There is however, a more fundamental attribute to peat that makes it essential in the landscape. The sphagnum moss which drives peat formation holds significant amounts of water and releases it very slowly. This means it filters towards the lowlands over a long period of time, so provides a degree of natural water regulation preventing downstream flooding.

The peat formed also plays a crucial role in slowing the effects of climate change. Organic matter barely decomposes in cool, waterlogged conditions, which means that the carbon stored in the generations of plants and animals that make up the peat is locked away. That’s many millions of tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has embarked on work to restore peatland habitats at Goatfell, Ben Lawers and Ben Lomond. Surveys revealed damage to natural drainage systems and erosion caused by past agricultural practices. In the 1940’s, deep drainage ditches were dug throughout the bogs as it was thought if the peat bogs could be dried out, the land would provide suitable conditions for crop growing. It was never a success but has now left large ditch scars across the landscape which now require attention.

We spent this week on Ben Lomond with Alasdair Eckersall, property manager and senior ranger with the National Trust for Scotland. He took us to see these ditches, some of which must have been at least 6 feet deep. He showed us areas where the restoration had already begun and how it was having a positive effect.

The idea was to remove the dark, oxygenated peat from the ditch surface to reach the milk chocolate coloured peat below. A large square hole was then dug down below the drain level which would be filled up with large building blocks of good peat to form a dam. The dam will form a solid wall in the drain, unable to be penetrated by water. The excess water backed up by the dam will then overflow into a side ditch and this will allow water to collect in a reservoir and slowly lap over the sides, gradually water-logging the surrounding landscape.

We built these dams approximately every 4m down the ditch line. It almost reminded me of a canal lock like Neptune’s Staircase, and the dams immediately began to work, filling up the reservoirs. The darker peat is unable to block water flow as it has been aerated so becomes waste material which can be transferred into these reservoirs along with any sphagnum moss to encourage future growth.

The mountain bog restoration work is just one of the nature conservation projects which form part of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park’s five flagship ‘Wild Challenges’.  They also include improving woodland habitats, increasing the number of red squirrels and black grouse, and the removal of non-native invasive species.

I have attached a link to some SNH peatland action videos for some more information if anyone is interested  – http://www.snh.gov.uk/climate-change/taking-action/carbon-management/peatland-action/peatland-action-videos/

We also had the chance to practice some of our site specification drawings and costings by carrying out surveys at The Harry Lauder Memorial walk in Argyll, the Beinn Dubh hill path, the Callander Crags and Duncryne Hill (The Dumpling).

Our week was finished off with a visit to Craigmore, our first path site up at Aberfoyle. It was really cathartic returning to site over a month later to see the path with fresh eyes. We got to see the effects that water has had on the path now we have had all this rain and how successful all of our drainage features are. The vegetation growth and transplanted turfs are lush and green and  other than a few ‘tweeks’ here and there, we were all really pleased with how it’s looking. It has been really good for us as a team to see that all the hard work we put in has been worth it and have a sense of pride over our first project.

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