This week I had the chance to spend 5 days at RSPB Loch Lomond working alongside Assistant Warden Becky Austin and her two live in volunteers Ami and Struan. Located on the southeast shores of Loch Lomond, the site has a fantastic mix of habitats including woodland and grassland, rich floodplains, swampy mires and fens, providing habitats for a amazing range of wildlife.
There is an internationally important population of Greenland white-fronted geese which winter on the site and currently they are surveying for Spotted Crake which have a very specific breeding pattern. It can be very easy to miss their mating season and as their habitat is in the fen on the Aber Bog, they are extremely hard to find unless you hear them calling. They’re also hoping to increase the pied fly catcher numbers in the woodland which is an ongoing project and the reserve is home to the Scottish Dock, a plant that is found nowhere else in the UK.
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.
Our week began with a thorough tour around the reserve to experience the scale of the site and see the variety of habitats that are managed and why. We firstly headed towards the Aber Bog, a beautiful fen meadow home to an array of bird life, butterflies, moths, otters, and deer. It is currently covered in a blanket of Valerian and Meadowsweet and I couldn’t help but stop to look out across the horizon every time I was walking there.
Our plan here was to help bush whack back the vegetation on the bund paths around and through the fen. This allows the public to access the area, but also manages their route to control and reduce habitat disturbance.
Once through the fen, we arrived at Ring Wood. The Oak woodland is dominated by both sessile and pedunculate oak trees. Birch, holly, rowan and hazel are among the other trees found in this woodland habitat and a beech plantation surrounds. It provide a rich habitat for invertebrates, birds and mammals, along with an amazing array of fungi, mosses and lichens. Oak woodland of this age will often have been planted to be used for bark tanning but now are often protected with site designations due to the unique temperate Scottish rainforest habitat that exists.
We carried out woodland surveys across the reserve, looking at both tree species and canopy cover. As well as the oak woodland, alder, ash and willow are other dominant species we logged. On Tuesday we worked alongside Becky’s volunteer work party and some LLATTNP volunteers. Our tasks were to monitor the woodland trail for any dead wood that could potentially be dangerous, remove silver birch saplings from the orchid meadow and in Ring wood, we picked out some of the larger oak saplings which needed to be protected with tree guards. The beech, holly and oak all self seed quite successfully but unfortunately for the oak, it is the tastiest! As it’s an oak woodland, Becky wanted to try and help the saplings along the way. Hopefully in time, they will be able to set up a management plan to look at controlling the less flavoursome beech.
Throughout the week, we were quite consistently keeping an eye out for a few non-native species which grow around the reserve. Predominately Himalayan Balsam, Monkey Flower and Giant Hogweed. Luckily we didn’t find much. I think the guys last week might have done all the work! Good news for the reserve, and us.
We also carried out some Bracken pulling both on the reserve, and across the Loch at RSPB Inversnaid on the wettest day of the week! We did however get to go on a boat trip which we were all very excited about, and we visited the new RSPB visitor centre there (not yet open).
We spent the sunniest day of the week helping Ami and Struan with the butterfly survey. This follows a set route around the reserve each week and we logged ringlets, meadow browns, small pearl bordered fritillaries, large whites, green veined whites and a freshly emerged tortoise shell. We also saw hundreds of peacock caterpillars feeding on nettles across the Aber bog.
There is a weekly moth trap which is set up overnight and checked in the morning and the range of fungi growing in the woodland habitat is vast. My identification skills need work but I have definitely learned so much from having had a week on site. It has been great spending time with a knowledgable team and I am hoping to return in August for a second work experience opportunity.
If you haven’t yet visited the site, I really can’t recommend it enough. It is a charming and peaceful spot teaming with life.
The visitor hub is also now on site and is open on Saturday and Sunday 10am – 3pm until October 2016. There are guided walks at 11am and wellies are definitely necessary! The paths are still being created so it gets very muddy and uneven underfoot.