See all stories
12 Jan 2022

Behind the scenes this winter

A view of the Round Drawing Room at Culzean Castle, showing the circular room. Floor-to-ceiling red curtains hang at the three large windows. Further round large, gilt-framed portraits hang on the wall above the fireplace. A large circular red patterned rug fills the floor.
The Round Drawing Room at Culzean Castle
The Trust’s team of expert staff and volunteers work all year round, carrying out important tasks to conserve our natural and cultural heritage. Here, we share updates from just a few of them.

Uncovering history at Culzean

At Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, specialists have been taking tiny samples of layers of paint from the interior walls. We already have fascinating information about the history of the building, but we know much less about how its rooms were decorated historically. Experts look at cross-sections under a microscope and test the pigments. By combining these results with historical records, we can peel back layers of history.

We will use that information to make decisions about how to decorate the castle rooms to best tell stories about their past. ‘We’ve already redecorated the main entrance where you buy your tickets, and we used previous sampling before the pandemic to choose the greenish colour that’s there,’ explains our curator Sarah Beattie.

Getting ready for spring at Pitmedden

At Pitmedden Garden, north of Aberdeen, there’s plenty to keep the gardeners busy over the winter. Just pruning the hundreds of apple and pear trees takes a few weeks. Coppiced and pollarded dogwoods and willows require special pruning, as do the pleached limes and hornbeams. Benches and fountains are cleaned, glasshouses and polytunnels are sterilised, and tools and lawnmowers are sharpened and repaired.

‘Roughly 30,000 bedding plants go into the gardens, and all of those pots and trays get hand-washed over the winter,’ explains head gardener Scott Smith. ‘We also have to plan and organise what next year’s display will look like, so we order the seeds and plugs. We change the beds every year so they’re different for our visitors. We need a display that will flower consistently over the whole summer. Over the years, we’ve fine-tuned a list of plants that do well in our bedding displays.’

A view of an apple orchard with a stone cottage in the background. Some apple trees have been trained to form an arch over a gravel path leading towards the cottage.
Apple trees at Pitmedden Garden

Preparing for a new season on St Kilda

In autumn, the team based out on St Kilda returns to the mainland. Over the winter months, Western Isles manager Susan Bain analyses seabird monitoring reports from the last season and prepares for the next one.

“We circulate our reports to both national and international bodies, because St Kilda is probably the most important seabird colony in Northern Europe.”
Susan Bain
Western Isles manager

The winter also provides an opportunity to plan for next year, and sometimes even two years ahead – booking tradespeople and ordering materials to be shipped out to the archipelago for necessary repairs. Susan explains: ‘We draw up a list of what we need, and then we tend to go out in late February or early March for what we call a “winter damage visit” to see if anything has changed and have a look at our priorities for the new season.’

Wiping out invasive plants

Rhododendron ponticum is the most invasive terrestrial plant in the British Isles. It is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity in the west of Scotland, where the soil and climate provide ideal conditions for rapid spread. We recently held an event for other landowners and stakeholders that outlined how we’re turning the problem of Rhododendron ponticum into a solution as part of Project Wipeout, funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery. This event highlighted how we are burning the rhododendron wood in a special retort kiln, at a very high temperature. The resulting biochar is mixed into compost to create a product that is great for improving soil structure and fertility, and locks in carbon to prevent it being released into the atmosphere.

A yellow machine is mulching rhododendron bushes in woodland, looked on by a man in a safety helmet.
A mulching machine gets to work in removing invasive species at Torridon

Support us today

Your donation to help us protect everything that makes Scotland special and unique is more important than ever.

Donate now