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10 Sep 2021

Tales from the Trust's teams #4: Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park

Written by Kate Sampson, Senior Ranger, Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park


My name is Kate Sampson, and I'm the Senior Ranger here at Brodick Country Park and look after Brodick Country Park and Goat Fell on the Isle of Arran. This is a story about a young lad -- let's call him Dylan -- who was transformed by working with us in the woods. The story takes place in Brodick Country Park on the isle of Arran. The woodlands of the country park form a backdrop to Brodick Castle, and have magnificent oak trees, towering silver firs, and stands of beech trees many hundreds of years old.
But there's a problem in our woodlands. During the Victorian era, the foresters planted an understory of rhododendron ponticum, a plant newly discovered in Turkey.
Here on Arran it grew thick and fast, and much taller than in its native habitat. Throwing out a million seeds from every bush, the plant spread quickly and soon was out-competing our native flora. A thick understory of rhodies resulted in any falling acorns never having a chance to thrive in the darkness below. Slowly through the centuries, the woodland trees matured, many succumbing to autumn gales, many reaching the last stages of growth and decay. Without the new seedlings to replace the aging trees, the woodland slowly changed to a stand of thick rhododendron, with only a few mature trees above.
The ranger service have been tackling this issue over many many years, cutting down the rhododendron, and giving tree saplings a chance to grow, and replace the lost woodland. A massive task: we have roped in as many volunteers as we can to help us out.
On the Isle of Arran, North Ayrshire council runs an outdoor centre, where mainland schools can come and have a week of activities. The island's a very different place from some of the places that the schools come from, and it gives the students a chance to take part in everything from rock climbing, to cycling, spending a night out in the woods under the stars, and experiencing the stunning landscapes of Arran.
As part of their week, the ranger service lead groups of students cutting down rhododendrons in our woodlands. Using saws and loppers, the kids love the thrill of destroying rhodies, chopping and burning them on a fire, rewarded at the end by a ceremonial toasting of marshmallows.
Now back to our story about Dylan.
Dylan, up to this point, was not having the greatest of weeks. Being slightly less fit than the other students, he'd struggled to keep up with the mountain biking, he'd found it difficult to climb up the rock face, and he was feeling a little left out of the group.
However, things were about to change.
We gave Dylan a bowsaw, and asked him to help us chop down some of the rhododendron. But did Dylan choose a small branch like the rest of the group? No! He chose the biggest and thickest rhododendron there was. Sawing the branch took a long time, but slowly others in the group saw what he was trying to achieve. As he started to get near the end, tensions grew. Was he able to cut this beast of a rhodie?
At last, there was a loud snap. A huge branch fell, and the whole group shouted a cheer: TIMBER! Dylan had become the hero of the day, but that's not the end of the story. His school returned the next year, and Dylan's teacher took me aside to tell me that Dylan had returned home and was inspired from his trip to Arran, and looked into volunteering in his own area. He now helps the rangers in Dean Castle Country Park, and is making a difference to his local environment.
Dylan has shown how getting involved in conservation, helping restore our woodlands, can give people confidence and transform their futures, as well as making a positive impact on our environment, for everybody's sake.

‘The Force of Nature’ is the last of our four tales from our front-line staff, showing how their dedication contributes to the Trust’s mission of conservation.

Of course, these are just four examples from the hundreds of initiatives that our teams are responsible for, day in and day out. We are so proud of the love shown for Scotland by all our staff and volunteers! We work to protect the places we all love, so as many people as possible can explore and enjoy the very best of Scotland.

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