Put the kettle on!

P1080975Blawhorn Moss NNR

Parking up in the car park and then strolling down the track to Blawhorn is a quiet, peaceful experience. It is hard to imagine that the very track you walk along is tied up with the existence of Blackridge village and gave the name to Blawhorn Moss itself.  Because you are standing on the very first M8 motorway.

Back in 1796 as agricultural and industrial improvements gave people better lives and better livelihoods good roads and better settlements were needed to maintain communications and travel. A good, fast road was needed between the growing cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and work started with the route passing the small settlement of Blackrigg (to become Blackridge). Once the road was built Blackrigg was about halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow so made a good stopping off point for travellers, so the Craig Inn, a coaching house, was built. This was like a motorway services in the village offering refreshments, overnight accommodation and a place to refresh the horses pulling the stage coaches. The modern village of Blackridge grew up around the coaching house.

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This old road ran to the north of the modern A89, right along the ridge through our modern day car park and close to Blawhorn Moss. As you walk the track to the moss you can still see lines of old beech trees, some certainly look 220 years old, dating back to the road. As the stagecoaches got close to Blackridge and the Inn, at the end of a tough day’s travel, they would blow their horns to give warning to the Craig Inn that they were nearly there. And so Blawhorn (Blow Horn) Moss got its name.

Talking to the children of Blackridge Primary the other day we were discussing why the coaches would need to blow their horns. Well, if you imagine a cold, bumpy hard day spent in the drafty stagecoach, the horn blow almost certainly meant “put the kettle on!”

So on your next visit to the Moss maybe imagine the clip-clop of horses’ hoofs, the jingle of bridles and the blare of the horn. And when you get home put the kettle on as well.

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Below are some of the old beeches still standing that probably date back to the old Edinburgh – Glasgow main road.
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Fishermen causing blues

Loch Lomond NNR

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The Loch Lomond reserve is a stunning place: a beautiful landscape and full of wildlife. Some of this wildlife is in the shape of fish and this draws fishermen to the place. Lots of fishermen come to the reserve, fish, enjoy the site, go home and leave no sign of their presence. But, unfortunately, there are a few who leave all of their rubbish strewn across the banks of the river. This is what I saw on a recent visit.

Trees cut and burnt on the river bank with rubbish left.
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More piles of rubbish
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This is just 1 sack full of rubbish I picked up to put into the recycling.
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There is no doubt the rubbish is left primarily by fishermen.
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The problem is more than just making the place look untidy. Wildlife can get tangled in plastic.  There are plenty of otters on the river, no pictures of them here but the signs are there – lots of otter poo.
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But it is the unseen problem that is worse. Lots of this plastic gradually breaks down and crumbles to tiny pieces. These can get ingested by freshwater invertebrates living in the wetlands. See report here showing that plastics have been found in 50% of freshwater invertebrates in Wales. When, as part of the food web these invertebrates get eaten and absorbed by higher vertebrates such as fish and birds then they can accumulate and cause health problems in these vertebrates. So ironically littering fishermen are causing long-term damage to the fish stocks they come to the site for.
After carrying a sackful of litter for some distance I certainly wasn’t in the best of moods last week. If we don’t want to see plastic pollution building up in the wildlife of this reserve then something has to change. SNH doesn’t have the staff to patrol the river on a daily basis. So I wonder if maybe all of the good fishermen and fishing associations have to take on more responsibility to self-police the fishing of these rivers that they love to fish, and proactively discourage the littering behaviour of the fisherman that abuse these beautiful places?

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Slowing the flow

Loch Lomond NNR

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The marr burn choked up with brash

The mainland part of the Loch Lomond reserve to the north of the Endrick is a bit of a mess. Trees of all shapes, ages and sizes lie in all directions, many blown flat or leaning but still growing. Some have fallen across streams, choking the flow of water, backing it up and causing the banks to break. It has a look of neglect and lack of management.

But all of this is good.

So much of the UK is heavily influenced and managed by human activity. There are few areas that are left for nature to run wild, especially in the lowlands. Here in these wetlands at Loch Lomond NNR the natural process are allowed to happen and this has great benefits for wildlife – this is one of the most biodiverse areas in Scotland. The Scottish dock, a plant only found in the south-east part of Loch Lomond in the UK, has its strong hold on the reserve. There is a huge species lists of birds, flowering plants and invertebrates. There are even insects that specialise in living on the wet, woody debris that blocks up streams so this reserve is great for them. The only form of habitat management is that SNH pay the landowner to graze parts of the site very lightly with cattle and sheep.

But this management isn’t just for nature. This helps people. By holding the water on the reserve for longer, slowing the flow and letting it spread out across the low lying land this reduces the amount of flood water flowing out of the Endrick into Loch Lomond at any one time. But the mouth of the Endrick is right in the reserve so does this matter? What impact does it have?

It matters when you look to see where all of the water from the whole of the Loch Lomond catchment flows. It squeezes out along the Vale of Leven to the Clyde, through and by several communities such as Alexandria, Renton and Dumbarton. A look at the SEPA  potential flooding report on the area shows that up to 3300 homes could be affected by flooding and the average annual damages for that area is £17 million (SEPA definition =Annual Average Damages are the theoretical average economic damages caused by flooding when considered over a very long period of time. ). Obviously by allowing flooding on the Loch Lomond rerserve isn’t going to completely save the Vale of Leven from flooding but it will help reduce the damage and misery caused by flooding in this area. So suddenly the small amount of money spent on these places for nature can seem pretty good value in the long run when looking at the wider area. 

For more information of the SEPA report follow this link here.

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Trees of all ages.

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Some leaning

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Some blown flat but still growing

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If it is difficult to walk through often it is good for wildlife.

This wetland is home to special species such as the Scottish dock and whopper swans

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Early nesters

Flanders Moss NNR 

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The ravens on Flanders have repaired their nest. With a range of large stout birch trees all around they have chosen a thin spindly birch that looks barely strong enough to hold their construction. But ravens are very clever so I am sure this is by design; the thinner the tree the less chance of nest predators climbing it. It is interesting to see that the nest is made of very similar sized twigs, all strong but nobbly that link together well.

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Ravens are one of the first birds to start to breed. They should be just starting to lay eggs now. When the birds have to incubate those eggs in baltic winter conditions it can seem like bad planning but it is done so that the chicks hatch and can be fed at a time of maximum carrion i.e. at the end of winter / early spring.
There are always a load of twigs that either get discarded by the birds or don’t lock in and fall out.
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A group of ravens is called a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘unkindness’ of ravens because in the past they had a reputation for evil and bad luck. But this seems a bit unfair as researchers have found that ravens recognise other ravens even when they haven’t seen each other for years. And they have friends and acquaintances to whom they show favourable behavior which that suggests that they like them and are pleased to see them. They can even do basic non-verbal signals such as pointing beaks in the same way as we point fingers. How cool is that? This is why they are one of my favourite birds. If you get the chance to watch a raven take it, they never fail to entertain.

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Clinging to the moss edge

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Flanders Moss NNR

In one of the most out of the way, hidden corners of Flanders Moss there is a ruin. Just a pile of stones, mostly scattered but some still in an arranged form that shows that it was once a cluster of buildings. It lies across a boundary ditch to what is Flanders Moss today, on the edge of a part of the wider peat bog that unfortunately got planted up with conifer trees in the late 1960s. The rubble of stones is now completely over-shadowed by a maturing spruce crop, some of which has been blown across the ruin. It doesn’t look much but there are hints that it might once have been a more pleasant place to live.

It was maybe a bit of a damp place to live, situated between the boundary stream and the flood-prone Goodie Water. The sagging of some of remnants of layers of stone suggest that the wet foundations of clay may have moved when the floods reached the farm. Pre-plantation, a couple of big old ash trees still present would have shaded and sheltered the small farm when the next nearest trees were hundreds of yards away. They now stands cowering under the conifers. The dressed stones of what must have been a bridge across the ditch now lie scattered and broken. A threshold stone still lies where it was once crossed, and maybe sat upon, many times a day. This is the remains of the steading of Pollabay. The echos of its past life are hard to hear but they do beg the questions: who? why? and how?

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The sagging of old walls

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Old bridge stones lying by the boundary ditch

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An old hearth stone

A delve into the history books and records reveal a bit of its history. Pollabay was once a small farm associated with the larger farming unit of Blaircessnock lying to the west. There would have been a bridge across the Goodie, perhaps before the river was dredged deep, leading to Lower Tarr farm in the north. On early OS maps of the 1800s it is shown as being roofless and therefore uninhabited but sometime after that it was renovated and became a working farm. A Flanders Moss oral history project carried out in 2009 captured the memories of some of the older local people and Bertie Dougal of Mid Borland farm at the time could remember that a local farmer called Dan Fisher had been born there. According to Bertie, the Fisher family moved from Pollabay about 120 years ago, about 1900, and it may have fallen into ruin from then. It was always a small farm, probably barely big enough to support a family even in those days so when better tenanted farms became vacant farmers moved up the ladder. Pollaby was probably always a msrginal place to live, physically and economically.
Standing on the edge of the steading  it is hard to imagine it as a working farm with lives lived there and harder still to imagine that there were arable crops grown on either side of the Goodie Water on what is now peatland-edge wetlands. The Fisher family would have had a closer connection to Flanders than just about anybody has these days, living and working on the damp edge of the wide expanse of peat. These ruins mark a social change that is a blink of the eye in the life of Flanders Moss but it is still important to remember the past connections of people with the moss, as this colours our view of it today.
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An aerial view of the Goodie Water with the old farm ground of Pollabay lying to the right of it (the pale grass between the straight line of the Goodie Water and the purple of the deep peat. ). The ruins lie hidden in the plantation.

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Blawhorn well below zero

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Blawhorn Moss NNR

A few photos from Blawhorn last week to show why it is always worth heading outside for a walk, even when the temperature is well below zero.

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Fantastic Flanders

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Flanders Moss NNR
Flanders has been stunning to visit recently. Though it is all melting for the time being here are a few reminders of why it is always worth a visit, sun out or in, early in the day or late, looking close-up or at the mountains.
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