Loch Lomond NNR
Site patrols this week took us to Gartfairn Wood, a strange, waterlogged world of tangled branches and fallen trees. There’s no such thing as a direct route through Gartfairn. Turn left to avoid a fallen willow, sprouting new and impassable growth – duck under a grasping blackthorn – meet a hidden burn, too broad and deep to pass – and wonder how you got there, how to get back, and which way is north… A compass is essential.
The woodland lies in the floodplain of the river Endrick and operates as a natural flood defence, retaining water and delaying its spread further downstream.
In winter, high water levels often make the wood completely inaccessible. It is unusual to be able to travel into Gartfairn in winter. More unusual still was the sight that met us – a woodland rising from the ice. The water had frozen before the water level had dropped, leaving a sheet of white ice a few inches above the ground level. In some places it was strong enough to bear our weight, in others it shattered. We moved carefully, using our sticks to test the ice, as it held, groaned, or cracked.
Gartfairn is a rich habitat for wet woodland flora, invertebrates and birds. In summer, herons raise their pterodactyl-like offspring in the wood’s heronry. One flew overhead as we crunched through the trees.
Unfortunately, this area of swamp is also an appealing home for one of our less well-known invasive species: the American skunk cabbage. This member of the lily family flowers early, its huge leaves shading out and stifling the wood’s native ground flora. We’ve managed to reduce the population of this species over the past 15 years – come the spring, we’ll be back in the wood with spades to tackle the survivors. It will seem quite a different place.
Wondrous sights and interesting facts for me in the middle of a long drought in South Africa 🙂
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