Week 23 – LLATTNP Work Placement

Day 1 : We began our week with a morning briefing with Charlotte Wallace, Volunteering, Education and Engagement Manager at the National ParkShe talked us through all the activities we would be involved in throughout the week and what aspects of our SVQ course modules the park was looking to help us achieve. We had a chance to discuss any particular course objectives that we would like to work on during our time at the park and went over all of our risk assessments for each day.

We were then introduced to Guy Keating and Kenny Auld, both Recreation and Access Advisers within the National Parks Planning Department. They drove us up to Aberfoyle where we firstly walked to the Aberfoyle Bike Park. This project was developed to create a accessible and useable public space for mountain biking of all levels in an area that would previously have been considered a waste ground by the local community. They explained the conflicts and oppositions that can sometimes slow or even stop these kinds of developments completely and really highlighted the amount of time, planning and communication with a variety of authorities that is needed to allow these kind of projects to go ahead.
We also had a look at the National Cycle Network 7 route which runs from Sunderland to Inverness. We discussed the aspects of partnership working with organisations such as Sustrans and Cycling Scotland and the shared usage of that kind of path. It provides accessibility for a wide range of users, such as bikes, buggies, dog walkers and wheelchairs and we highlighted the pros and cons of the tarmac track and who might oppose or disagree with such a proposal.
Our day ended with a visit to The Forestry Commission Lodge where we looked in more detail at Access Legislation, The Scottish Outdoor Access Code and The Land Reform Act (2003). This allowed us to understand in more detail the rights and responsibilities of land owners, authorities and members of the public.
And we finished with a walk along the more recently built ‘All Abilities’ route at the lodge. This has been specifically built following strict specifications allowing users to have access to the waterfall views avoiding the steeper route and is open to everyone.
A really interesting day finding out more about an aspect of the National Park I previously knew little about from two really great and knowledgable guys.
Day 2 : This day was organised by Craig Walker, Volunteer Advisior with the park. Tommy Lusk, one of the parks Volunteer Rangers and I set off to meet Stuart at the Callander Meadows car park in the morning to begin our cycle along NCN7 to Balquidder. Simon was attending a path skills recruitment day in Keswick in the Lakes so lucky for me, that meant I could bring my own bike along! The route, apart from crossing one road at Kilmahog, is all off road and the setting is beautiful.
We passed by the Falls of Leny and reached Strathyre taking in stunning views across Loch Lubnaig and towards the summit of Ben Ledi. The day consisted of engaging with path users offering information and advice and monitoring people numbers in key tourist locations.
A really great cycle route, highly recommended and even better in the sunshine! Rather than coming back the same way, which you can do, we carried on to Balquidder and looped back along a very minor road to return to Strathyre. A really lovely detour through some really atmospheric woodland. A big thanks to Stuart and Tommy for having me.
Day 3 : We spent Wednesday with Ali Cush, the National Parks Education and Inclusion Advisor. We discussed the main roles of the National Park as a public body, making the outdoors accessible to everyone and educating people about why it’s such an important place for wildlife, biodiversity and health.
We looked at the byelaws which will come into place next year and why antisocial behaviour and littering can create negative impacts, not just on the landscape but to communities, local businesses and beyond. We highlighted how education and outdoor learning has such positive results for not just schools, but people who feel they don’t have access to such a great and free resource. Balmaha is a really great place for a case study as it encourages such a variety of tourism. It is a real honeypot for visitors looking for an outdoor experience, be it water sports, hillwalking, West Highland Way traffic, camping or just day trippers. It also has very interesting geological history with the Highland boundary fault line running through it, so from an educational point of view, social and physical geography, travel and tourism, economics and conservation can all be highlighted.
We finished up by spending the afternoon at the visitor centre working along side seasonal rangers Sarah, Ian and Mike. We had the opportunity to engage with a variety of tourists, providing help and advice about walking routes, amenities, camping or general info about the park.
Simon and I really felt like we had the chance to focus a lot more on some of the SVQ modules relating to public engagement and promoting responsible use of the outdoors than we get to out on the hill. Talking with Ali about inclusion and education was great and I really believe that by teaching young people about understanding, respecting and protecting their free natural resource, this will result in them teaching their elders in the future. Massive thanks to all the guys for having us for the day.
Day 4 : We were based down at the maintenance unit in Alexandria with the parks maintenance team on Thursday and our plan was to head up the south side of Conic Hill to carry out some path maintenance. Matt and Stuart clearly knew that Simon and I would be experiencing withdrawals from the hills at this stage in the week, so with the sun beaming down we started from the top and worked our way down clearing the waterbars of silt and vegetation build up and opening up, clearing and deepening the ditch lines where necessary.
We also had a look at some of their fencing techniques and Matt provided a lot of interesting reading material related to both path work and BTCV fencing guides.
They were a really great team to spend the day with and so helpful for us to learn about all the work they consistently carry out across the park.
Day 5: The final day with the park took us to Callander to meet with Grahame Auty, Assistant Land Management Officer with the National Park. He talked us through the Wild Park 2020 biodiversity action plan which is looking at various projects with the objective to conserve and enhance the ecosystems and wildlife across the National Park.
We were focusing on the Black Grouse project which are a priority species within the Park. We were carrying out a land survey at The Commonty, near the Callander Crags. The project is looking at managed grazing, controlling cattle numbers and the amount of time they are left on the land. Hopefully by reducing this it will help the regeneration of plant species that will encourage black grouse back to the area. It is a five year long survey but realistically, to allow vegetation to recover and regenerate could potentially take a lot longer.
Graham taught us how to use the survey techniques and has helped us tick off a big part of our habitat management and surveying SVQ modules. Great company and a big thanks for having us.
Finally I’d just like to say a huge thanks to Charlotte Wallace for organising the whole week and making it all possible. She put so much work into the five day schedule and clearly spent a lot of time trying to relate each day back to our course modules which is so so helpful for us achieving our SVQ qualification. Thank you!

Week 22 – Pitching and Ditching

Arriving fresh and ready to climb after our week away on flat ground, Rory and I re-joined the others to carry on with our path work on The Cobbler. With Ryan and Stephen both being away on their second work placements with Stonescape and Upland Access, we were a smaller team this week.

img_5999The weather has been very mixed, with Monday being one of the wettest days on the hill yet but with the temperature rising everyday, we were gifted with some sun by the end of the week.

It was great to see how much the guys had all achieved while  we were away at the RSPB reserve. Lots of sections of stone pitching from the spec have been completed with revetment and landscaping the path edges finishing it all off nicely.

The previous week Rory and I had finished off building a double anchor bar, clearing a water bar and extending the ditch line, so on our return we began by digging a borrow pit near the top of the path to try and gain some good surfacing material. This is a sort of large hole which is often dug on an area with a slight gradient in the hope to find some less soil rich and more mineral based, sand/clay like deposits. You can often tell where is good to dig by what kind of vegetation is growing there. By peeling the turfs back, we removed the good surfacing in buckets and then were able to return the peat layer and grass back, allowing it to regenerate looking like we were never even there!

After opening the pit and successfully reaching a nice layer of the good stuff, we moved onto our first section of pitching. Towards the top of the path, there are four small sections of existing pitching which need a bit of work. Our plan was to take what is currently there out and start again, working from the bottom up. Once the first stone was in (which for us, took three pinch bars, a lot of testosterone and grunting) we could then work up hill, pinching the next stone onto the back of the one in front and so on. The photos show our progress after two days, the last one is the finished product with all the revetment stones and landscaping at the sides to try and deter walkers from trampling the edges and sticking to the stepping stones.

There are three more sections of pitching to complete with water bars at the top along with finishing off some areas with fresh surfacing, landscaping and a bit of a tidy up. Even though the climb up through the forest is a bit of a killer, we’re starting to take a bit of ownership of The Cobbler now we’ve all spent so much time there. We’ve even been greeted by this heard of red deer most mornings which I never tire of.



Week 21 – A Story of Fire and Bog

With 7 weeks of the course left to go, Rory and I returned to RSPB Loch Lomond to spend a week back on the Fen.img_5947As well as our consistent practical path work and portfolio, our SVQ requires us to carry out two work placements. It is mandatory that one is path based, which for me was my week with the NTS mountain path team on Ben Lawers and for Rory, a week with Upland Access Ltd. on The Cobbler. However the second one can be related to something else within the course and I wanted to focus a little more on the habitat management, surveying and people engagement aspects. After chatting with Rory, we decided to get back in touch with Becky Austin, the Assistant Warden at the RSPB to arrange to return to carry out some more work on the reserve.

As mentioned in a previous post, the site forms part of the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve (NNR) and was acquired by the RSPB in April 2012. It is managed by the RSPB, SNH and LLTNP in a unique partnership and the RSPB are currently developing the site to make it an even better home for nature.

The plan for the week was mainly to carry out Burning and Turning on the Aber Bog. There are many different site designations across the reserve, a lot of which are linked to the protection of breeding birds in the fen habitat. Before the RSPB owned the reserve, the burn that runs through the bog was situated closer to the central bund. It has since been re-directed lower down, but it has resulted in the leaching of nitrates from agricultural fertilisers. This has allowed the Canary Grass to flourish across the Aber Bog which is very dominant and creates a matted carpet of thick, almost thatch like grass. This will continue to become denser every year and makes it extremely hard for the Spotted Crake to move around on the ground. This bird species is one that the RSPB are trying to encourage to the area, so the Canary Grass needs to be managed.

After the large area of fen has been cut, it is raked into long piles to dry out ready for burning. It can then be moved onto large metal sheets which will conduct heat, and by using both wet and dry cuttings, the fire can be controlled. The ash produced is then removed from the fen and composted.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you are aware, the weather this week didn’t really go hand in hand with trying to build a fire outdoors, so other than Wednesday afternoon, we didn’t manage to achieve as much burning as Becky had originally hoped for.

Instead, we had a really varied week which included finishing off the woodland survey, consisting of checking tree ID’s within the woods against the relative documents and taking canopy cover percentages. We removed a fence line in preparation for the construction of the new path, we cleared vegetation from the bases of tree saplings and planted some more at the Net Bay viewpoint and spent a morning (with a bit of trial and error) moving 12 more metal sheets down to the Aber Bog to use as burning mats. We also had the opportunity to join Becky on her first Hen Harrier survey of the year and we ticked off a lot of aspects of our health and safety module by carrying out fist aid kit, PPE, tool and vehicle safety checks. The week wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of path maintenance! So Rory and I used our professional skills to help widen the foot path at Net Point, getting rid of any weeds and larger stones which could be classed as trip hazards.

Regardless of the weather, it’s been a really great week. We’ve enjoyed a real mixture of tasks and the company of Becky, Ami and all of their lovely volunteers has been thoroughly enjoyable. I’m hoping to keep returning to the reserve as time goes on to see how things continue to improve and grow.

Week 20 – The Cobbler x5

Returning to work this week took us to The Cobbler to begin work on our second main path site of the course. On Monday we headed up the hill with Gordon White, COAT’s Technical Projects Officer. He had selected a site on the mountain to survey and spec for us which would include at least 8 sections of stone pitching, giving us all a chance to gain some more building experience. As you can see from the photographs, the weather was….changeable! But good for us to experience the reality of working in the Scottish hills.

Our site is 148 metres in total and includes 24 metres of stone pitching, 5 water bars, 6 anchor bars, ditching, landscaping and surfacing. It begins from the burn and climbs up towards the pitching that has recently been completed by Matt McConway and his team at Upland Access Ltd.

We had use of a power barrow for the week so have mainly been harvesting stone from the river for each section of the path before we begin building. It has been my first experience using the winch. It makes life a lot easier rather than trying to wrestle with a stone the size of a very, very large bear! We began some building towards the end of the week and on Friday, Rory, Simon and I were gifted with the task of driving the barrow back down the mountain. That was an experience!

You can imagine my response to Fraser when he asked if Laika and I fancied walking the Glen Loin loop from the Succoth forestry gate this weekend! My tired legs are taking a day off and next week Rory and I are spending the week with Becky and Ami at RSPB Loch Lomond for our second work experience opportunity.