Eight of us left Edinburgh on Friday afternoon destined for a weekend of bog conservation. We eyed the weather forecast apprehensively: high-velocity sleet anyone?
First stop was Moffat with its fine selection of chip shops. Then it was onward to the bunkhouse of the Galloway Activity Centre on the shores of Loch Ken, our home for the weekend.
Next morning we were up early to drive over the lovely rolling Galloway hills to the Moss. After the customary warm welcome from the SWT reserve manager Chris we walked out onto the site. Our task for the weekend was to traverse sections of the raised bog while removing any invading saplings, mainly pine and birch.
Finding the pine was easy enough. Less straightforward was identifying the young birch, which were looking remarkably similar - even identical - to the acres of bog myrtle, which were to remain. "But they have totally different leaves!" I hear you cry. Indeed. But it was February. No leaves available. "Well, the buds are differently shaped." Yes, but the deer had browsed them off. Needless to say we may not have managed to remove precisely all of the right type of brown stick...
On the plus side, David had made limitless quantities of cake. And the weather, while blowy, was largely bright and sunny with only occasional passing wintry showers.
As the day progressed our brown-stick-ID skills had improved and we were finding larger clumps of invaders. Some of the birch had effectively been coppiced into multi-stemmed plants which proved quite troublesome to extract. The recent weeks' rainstorms had left the bog very wet underfoot so the roots often required some inventive sub-aqua bowsaw work and could require up to an hour of effort to remove. But nothing topped the satisfaction of cutting through the final root and heaving the tangled mass up onto the neighbouring vegetation.
In case you're wondering why a conservation charity is killing trees, it's worth explaining that as they mature their roots absorb large quantities of water which dries out the landscape and changes the habitat. And as the recent severe UK floods demonstrate, loss of such natural upstream sumps for excess rainwater can have devastating consequences.
The day's work over, we drove back to our digs. Water was everywhere (storm Dennis had wreaked its havoc the previous week) and we noticed several herons fishing in the large pools left on an arable field near the river, presumably enjoying invertebrates rather than fish!
That evening Trevor amply refuelled us with a tsunami of soup followed by so much veggie-feta-pasta that any thoughts of mobilising required careful strategic planning. Fellow volunteers could be seen gently frowning as they internally wrestled with such dilemmas as: "Does my desire to take a sip of my water outstrip the gargantuan effort it will require to stretch my arm over the table to reach my glass?" Extraordinarily, however, Edel and Willie actually managed a walk outside to look at the stars which were apparently resplendent given the local Dark Sky status. "Good for them", I thought as I contemplated which of my bodily functions I could switch off in order to devote more energy to breathing. Needless to say, I slept pretty well that night.
Sunday. A bit dreich. But a bit less windy. We returned to Carsegowan for Day Two. The sleety hail was a bit more prevalent but the showers remained mercifully brief. It was more of the same, work-wise. There were some pleasant diversions, however. These included a visitation from a beautiful pair of red kites swooping low over the Moss, their russet wings beautifully lit by the sun. And the alarm calls of a surprised snipe as it fled from our relentless advance. Then there was the occasional ruby glimpse of a cranberry nestled down among the lime-green sphagnum. And the skeletal stand of dead trees hosting the soon-to-be-moved-due-to-increasing-shooglieness osprey nest often caught my eye as the light changed. And we also found the remains of a downed Avro Anson aeroplane which had apparently crashed in the '40s (according to the local SWT warden who was visiting the site.)
Yes, there's always plenty to distract and enable several minutes' rest when you know how. Trust me. I've been resting on LCV tasks for years.
More of David's fine baking fuelled the workers as we started flagging and we finished up at around 4 o'clock. With spring approaching it was great to start the drive home in daylight. We were diverted off the main road through Dalbeattie due to roadworks but this meant we got the chance to pass through the delightfully-named Beeswing and Haugh of Urr (had we accidentally strayed into Tolkien's Middle Earth?) The daylight allowed us a view of a curious-looking earthen rampart which - thanks to David's rapid Googling, - turned out to be a 12th century monument, the Motte of Urr. Definitely worth a closer look in future, we decided.
More Moffat chips from a different chippie (how many chip shops does one small town actually need? Discuss.) then it was back home to Edinburgh.
Thanks to Trevor for leading and cooking, David for bringing cake and Willie for driving. And to Edel, Debbie and Katie for making the weekend so enjoyable. With a very special mention to Peter for falling in that hole and so cheering everybody up!