Our customary late winter residential was held once again in Dumfries and Galloway, funded by the LCV reserve development funds. The task was to remove birch scrub from the Carsegowan Moss and beech saplings from Carstramon Wood.
We happy few (8 in this case) departed Edinburgh on the evening on the 9th February with more than usual trepidation as the weather forecast was dreadful. The prospect of a day on a peat bog being lashed by traditional Scottish weather did not appeal. Fortunately such worries were entirely misplaced, as you shall see.
Collecting volunteers and shopping, we left Edinburgh shorly after 1700, planning to stop for our usual greasefest in Moffat - thanks due to due to Maria's Chip Shop who were unfazed by the sudden influx of carb-loading conservation volunteers. Honestly, it's preparation not greed...
We had an uneventful journey as all the real weather was due to hit on the Saturday and Sunday and reached our accomodation at the Stronord Outdoor Centre shortly after 2100. While waiting for the caretaker we got to enjoy the most wonderful clear night sky, sprinkled with stars. Such a sight is rare, particularly when one stays in the middle of a major city. ALl volunteers thoroughly cricked their necks staring upwards and demonstrated our lamentable lack of astronomical knowledge without the crutch of Google Sky to fall back on. Stronord Outdoor centre does not lack for many things but unfortunately mobile data is one of them!
Once the attractions of the sky had paled in comparison to the more concrete charms of a hot cup of tea, we betook ourselves inside and so to bed, fretting slightly over the drenching we believed was coming on Saturday. The mild sense of dread was reinforced by being woken in the night by the rain starting.
Saturday dawned with the rain still hammering down. Engulfing a large breakfast and filling our flasks with something hot -- bitter experience has taught us that our Volcano Kettle is not an appliance remotely suitable for use on a peat bog -- we donned our waterproofs and crept into the minibus. Some noted with interest the large puddle outside the center, perfect for jumping in with wellies and making a big splash!
On this occasion the task plan was to work the Saturday on Carsegowan Moss and the Sunday at the excellent Carstramon Wood, unlike our previous visit to Dumfries and Galloway in Autumn 2017 where we spent both days on the Moss. All were united in the opinion that one day on the Moss would be more than enough on this occasion as our minibus reverberated to the sound of rain.
SWT ranger Chris Archbold and two Dutch apprentices met us at the site of the derelict Carsegowan gunpowder factory with provides the access to the Moss. This site was apparently chosen for the factory as it was well out of the way of anything that might be inconvenienced by unexpected explosions. I suspect that the copious water resources for firefighting may also have played a part. On our arrival it certainly looked like a great day for preventing fires. Also perfect for crushing the spirit, already worn down by months of Scottish winter.
Off to work we went, discovering along the way that the neighbouring land owner had undertaken some drainage work on the route onto the Moss. Regrettably -- and as is usually the way with such things -- this had left the area looking like a family of crazed elephants had trampled everything in sight, leaving a sea of deep sucking mud to cross.
By the time we had waded through the mud and emerged onto the Moss, the rain had stopped, to no little amazement from all hands who were prepared for the worst. Off came the waterproofs and we started work removing birch saplings from the area around the Spooky Trees in the center of the moss. This area contains a number of ring-barked (and thus dead) spruce trees and an osprey platform on one of the dead trunks. The area also contains (or rather, contained) a vast amount of regenerating birch scrub which we proceeded to destroy.
Removal of such scrub helps to reduce water losses to the Moss and helps the peat to regenerate. This is important as good quality peat bog habitat is rare in Scotland.
As we were all gathered together in a group, the task was rather more social than previous visits to the Moss where we would be scattered far and wide, hunting for saplings amidst the fragrant bog myrtle. The close quarters were perfect for calling attention to items of interest like owl pellets; old birds nests; possible otter spraint/fox poo (naturally I choose the former interpretation) interesting moth chrysalises and more. Proof if proof were needed that this is a site worth preserving and maintaining.
The day got warmer. The sun came out. Some people even complained of being hot, though shortly afterwards the rain came back on. Conveniently the rain started just before home time so we didn't feel guilty about leaving promptly to head back to the outdoor centre for dinner, prepared by Sarah and helpers.
There was no clear sky for gawping at in the evening and outside the centre the rain continued, ignored and unlamented by the cheery company within.
Also ignored, the impressive puddle slowly got larger. Nobody noticed the two submerged manhole covers or wondered what this might mean.
Time passed, until inside the centre someone happened to go into the drying room, to find a half-full sink and ominous bubblings from the floor drain! After some frantic investigations of the plumbing we spent a somewhat uneasy night wondering whether the toilets were going to follow the example of the floor drain and erupt on us. Fortunately they did not, but the next morning's conversations with our neighbour in the Stronord Schoolhouse revealed that we were lucky.
The morning also dawned with an unexpected covering of snow. By the time we packed up and left this was melting rapidly and we didn't have any problems reaching Carstramon Wood north of Gatehouse of Fleet. This ancient woodland contains a number of beech trees which are shading out more useful species for that location. Our job is to remove any beech saplings to help ensure that the natural succession within the woodland will eventually replace the beeches with other species.
Chris and colleagues took us to one end of the wood and we set out in a very loose (and almost immediately notional) line to tackle saplings both small enough to pluck out between thumb+forefinger and large enough to require multiple felling cuts and processing of waste wood.
All enjoyed wandering in the woods looking for trees and for the most part the weather was cooperative, only dropping more snow later in the day, again just before hometime at 1600.
Once again we returned via Moffat and, instead of the usual two chippies sampled the third (the Moffat Chippy) for a change. Most excellent, and hearty portions.
Many thanks to Sarah for the catering and all the volunteers for their efforts over the two days.