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19 Mar 2020

Out and about at Threave

Written by Niall Jootun
Woodland path lined with herbaceous plants at Threave.
My name is Niall Jootun and during January I was lucky enough to spend time volunteering at Threave, shadowing Estate Manager Dave Thompson.

Tuesday 21 January

After a tour of the gardens and wider estate we took a drive to Brownie Hill Wood where I got my first glimpse at the day-to-day work of an estate manager. Dave talked me through the attributes of the wood, what has happened here previously and what he wants for the land going forward. Featuring mostly silver birch trees that had naturally taken up there, we could also see some great mature English oak specimens as well as alder, hazel, willow, poplar, sycamore and ash. Some of the sycamores had previously been coppiced and allowed to grow back into wide multi-stemmed trees. We discussed how trees like these, and others being cut back or thinned out, could benefit the diversity and fauna of the wood. A group of volunteers were coming on Thursday and together we formed a plan on how to use their help in the wood, including removing tree tubes and stakes that had served their purpose and stacking the brash into neat habitat piles.

Woodland with birch trees and debris lying on the ground.
Brownie Hill Wood before we carried out the work

Thursday 23 January

On Thursday, I briefed the volunteers on what we would be doing and then we set about it. We worked in teams, with some bow sawing, some moving brash into the habitat piles and the rest clearing the stakes and tubes. It was great getting to meet and chat with others who are so passionate about conservation and especially Threave! We made great progress and could all see the difference at the end of the day.

Brownie Hill Wood after work completed
Brownie Hill Wood after we had completed the work.

Tuesday 28 January

In the morning James (Visitor Services Supervisor) and I removed a small spruce tree that had fallen onto one of the paths. It was great to chat with James about our love for working outdoors and his experiences at Threave. It also reminded me that the paths, and the visitors who come to walk them, are a vital part of the mission at Threave, being able to provide a sanctuary for flora and fauna while also letting the public walk right amongst it all.

Dave and I then made our way to Lodge of Kelton Farm where I met Jim the farmer, his wife and son Hamish. Jim’s family have been tenants on the farm since 1883. This showed me how varied the work is for an estate manager – it’s not always about being out in the wilderness, people have their part to play too. After a quick tour of the farm, I got to try unpasteurised milk – not too bad! We were there to inspect a damaged skylight in one of the calf sheds, and after a good chinwag with Jim we headed back to the workshop.

The afternoon was spent cutting and painting squirrel boxes as the weather had turned bad – not what I expected to be doing but again it just goes to show the diverse skillset needed in this line of work. Then Dave gave me a test and refresher on chainsaw sharpening and safety.

A tractor trailer with many large rocks overlooking fields and rolling hills.
The view from the newly constructed dyke at Kelton Woods

Thursday 30 January

With the same group of volunteers we were up at Kelton Woods at a recent installation featuring a newly constructed drystone dyke with a beautiful viewpoint looking over rolling hills and the nearby loch. Dave told me how he felled trees to reveal the amazing scenery then arranged and helped with the construction of the wall, which is shaped into a crescent to accentuate the natural spectacle. Today, with the help of a tractor we were removing excess stones, making it ready for visitors.

After this we followed Dave to a badger sett, where he explained some of the signs to spot them and their setts.

In the afternoon we all headed back up to Brownie Hill Wood to finish the work there. We could really see the difference, both aesthetically and environmentally, we had made to this small wood. Looking neater and more inviting is a great way to encourage more visitors, and the habitat piles will provide a great place for many fungi, plants, invertebrates and plenty of other animals to live and scavenge.

Once we cleared a short section, we had an amazing session on tree identification. I discovered new tricks on how to ID trees I already knew, as well as learning several new species – cherry, honeysuckle, alder and elder.

Wild cherry tree trunk showing its distinctive lenticels.
Wild cherry tree, with its distinctive lenticels on the trunk

Friday 31 January

My last day on the estate. Following a morning in the office, Dave and I headed out to inspect a trail camera that Dave had set up to capture any animals that had passed through in the night. We had some great images of mice and ‘Bill the badger’. An aspect of conservation I love is having animals like these living on your doorstep, so seeing them out and about just feet from where we worked was great.

I learned a lot about tree form and future tree management from Dave – wolf, dominant, co-dominant and supressed all being forms that trees can exhibit depending on their access to light and space. We talked about pruning trees to keep them healthy, and then about which limbs and trees will need to be felled in the future in the interests of public safety.

I very much enjoyed my time at Threave and couldn’t possibly fit everything I learned there in this diary. I’m really looking forward to spending more time there, either as visitor when the gardens reopen, or doing more volunteer work.

A winding path through a woodland, with piles of refuse on the right hand side.
Refuse collected and ready for removal

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