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Outdoor Conservation Volunteering

Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve is a dramatic upland property - the eponymous waterfall cascades into the Moffat Water Valley below, and the hills provide a haven for rare upland plants and wildlife. Volunteers play an important role in preserving and conserving the landscape, so we asked volunteer David Foreman to tell us about a day (or three) in the life of a GMT volunteer!

It’s 6:30am and I’m out of bed, bright-eyed and ready for a day of volunteering at Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve! August is the month in which we count one of the rarest plants to be found on the reserve, so it’s a special day in our volunteering calendar.
Meeting up with ranger (and naturalist and Property Manager!) Richard, and fellow volunteers Julie and Thomas at 8:30am, we set off for our task. The object of our count today is the Oblong Woodsia, a fern which was collected to virtual extinction in the nineteenth century. The Tail reserve is now home to a re-established population of woodsia, so we volunteers and staff have the task of counting the remaining plants. After an hour's walking, we reach the work site. Given that woodsia is a tiny fern which is often submerged under competing vegetation, finding it can be a little like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack! For the most part, it is a pain-staking search on hands and knees through all the re-planting sites. We finish by mid-afternoon and collate results - unfortunately, they are not good reading. While some plants are doing well, overall numbers are worryingly down again this year. Task completed, we head home.

Day two sees Richard, another volunteer John and I carrying out the annual count of wild goats on the Reserve. The number of goats vary each year, often reflecting weather patterns, so after a mild winter and a good spring, the number of kids may well be up - we hope! This year, Richard also wants to count sheep. Setting out in different directions, we survey the reserve, and rendezvous late afternoon to compare notes. Sheep numbers are looking about average and, as expected, the goat count is up this year. It's been another great day volunteering, with some great views after the early mist lifted.

On the last day, our task is cross-drain clearance. There's a 300m long uphill path on the reserve, including these cross-drains, which divert rain from the path and reduce erosion. But naturally these drains fill up with gravel, stones, and bracken and need cleaned out several times a year. So, following our usual plan, Richard and I head up to the loch so that we can work back down again, drain by drain. Today, we need to carry spades and mattocks as well as our PPE and supplies for the day. It is physical work, so by the time 5pm comes round, Richard and I are glad to be done with our task, and are satisfied with the trail of cleared drains we're leaving behind!

As you have read, Grey Mare’s Tail offers a wide range of opportunities to volunteers who enjoy its beautiful hills, wildlife and plant life. And for those who don’t fancy climbing hills, there is still valuable work to be done to welcome visitors down at sea level! There really is a place for everyone at the reserve.

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