Flanders Moss and Blawhorn Moss
Over the past few weeks the team at Stirling have been shifting from summer mode and looking ahead to the colder months which certainly felt like they have come upon us rapidly this year. But the change in season also brings changes to the nature reserves. With less events throughout the autumn and winter, fellow Seasonal Reserve Officer Emma and I have been getting more hands on with the conservation work on the reserves.
This past week our efforts have been split across both Blawhorn Moss and Flanders Moss, providing some TLC to the infrastructure on each reserve that allows our visitors to enjoy them.
At Blawhorn, we had noticed one of the wooden planks along the bridge to the boardwalk had become rotten. So, with a freshly measured and cut replacement plank, Reserve Officer Steve’s trusty tool kit and absolutely no woodworking experience beyond a bendy mug tree I’d made in High School, we set off on our mission.
Steve had given us clear instructions, it was bound to be a piece of cake. The first task was to get the rotten plank out of place without damaging the others around it. This soon proved to be more difficult than we anticipated as the screws in the wood that held each plank in place were held firm and would take some niggling to shift. Determined to avoid getting saws involved, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on a wooden bridge exposed on what defiantly has to be the windiest of our three reserves, and slowly, began loosening the screws until they could be extracted.
One by one, the four screws holding our rotten plank hostage came loose. Each one celebrated with excited squeals from Emma and I. More excitement and satisfaction followed once we had placed the new plank into the now empty space as it slotted into place perfectly.
Drilling the last few screws and grip pad into place, our mission was accomplished. Cold and soaked we took in our finished work. I was proud to admit it looked a lot better, and much more stable, than my mug tree had done.
Flanders Moss wasn’t to be left out either. With the recent rains our access fields had become too wet, postponing our planed damming activities. Instead, the team along with a few long standing volunteers turned our attention to the meadow space in the car park and the paths leading onto the boardwalk.
Like the bridge plank from Blawhorn, one of the picnic benches at Flanders had definitely seen better days and so it was time for a replacement. Despite my new found confidence in woodwork, it was best to leave this job with Steve.
With Ellie off to clear some birch which will be used to make bug hotels, the rest of us got to work clearing an area of bracken near the car park and loping some branches of Willow that has grown over the past year. Willow trees are excellent early sources of pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinators. Their branches also make good spots for nesting and roosting. We hope that by attempting to grow willow in the area of cleared bracken we can make best use of every space on the reserve and increase biodiversity at the site.
Once the bracken was clear and we had piled up all our willow branches we began planting them into the soil again. Growing more willows had been attempted before by scattering each of the planted branches randomly. The bracken had proved to be too relentless for any of them to take hold. But this time, Steve had a new plan…
We planted the branches, about 6 inches deep, in clusters together as opposed to individually to try and allow them more of a chance against the bracken. In the damp soil, the willow branches will try to establish roots over the next few months. Only time will tell how our efforts will fair.
Looking at the new bench and and planted willow branches gave me a similar feeling of accomplishment that replacing the wooden plank at the bridge had done. And although these tasks may have been more arduous than our summer days of pond dipping and dragonfly spotting, the challenge of learning new skills and getting our hands dirty brought a great sense of fulfilment and excitement to watch what would become of space we had made.
It’s a feeling I have often reflected on and discussed as one of the main reasons for the work we all do, whether it be as a career or through volunteering. Why do so many dedicated volunteers come back each winter to help clear birch and sitka from the bog, knowing it will surely spread again. Why do we show up rain or shine to get the job done, despite not knowing what will become of our efforts in decades from now.
For me, I hope that one day in the years to come I will visit the reserves I worked on in my very first job in the field and I will come across a garden of willows, or a plank of wood on the bridge lighter in colour than the rest, and I’ll remember the days spent there. The long hours with volunteers strimming, building and planting before sharing some of Steve’s latest cake, the fascination on the faces of visitors on tours when Emma and I would show them cranberries or sundews, and the excitement of the many children that came pond dipping and found a new love for bog creatures as I did alongside them. That’s the reason it’s all worth it for me and I’m sure for many others, the optimism of having made a positive impact, however small or temporary.