Heading for the picturesque Stronord Old Schoolhouse outdoor activity centre 5 miles from Newton Stewart we travelled down on Friday evening. David Nutter was our well organised leader and caterer; Sarah McConachie, Willie and myself were sharing the driving. In the minibus were also Louisa, Edel and Bruno. Pete Carthy joined us at the centre. It was a long drive and we stopped off for chips etc. in Moffat. This very southern bit of Scotland feels properly wild and remote. LCV and I had been to both sites before and I was looking forward to continuing the work to preserve both very special sites.
Scottish Wildlife Trust describes Carsegowan Moss as "one of the best examples of a lowland raised peat bog in Galloway. Cranberry and bog rosemary grow in the sphagnum carpet and adders bask in the heather. Hen harriers, merlins, short-eared owls and barn owls can be seen occasionally hunting across the bog."
Personally my initial impression was that it was a bit creepy. It is accessed by walking through a long abandoned military airfield and concrete munition stores. The bog itself is bounded by rusty metal fence posts. The standing dead trees in the centre add to the eerie atmosphere. On my second visit it seemed more welcoming. We met up with the Ranger - Chris Archbold - and set about pulling up baby birch and scots pine trees from the bog to prevent it reverting to forest over time. Some of the trees were not so much babies as difficult teenagers and took a lot of effort, and sometimes two volunteers, to dig them up roots and all to prevent re-growth.
The weather was good with only a few rain showers. All seemed to have a good, if exhausting, time. Willie took his normal power nap lying on the soft bog bed and disappeared from view for a while as he slowly sank into the bog. Preserved prehistoric bodies - bog people - have been found all over Europe. I wonder what a world 500 years in the future would make of Willie and his clothing!
Carstramon Wood is a beautiful Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) Reserve near Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway. It consists of a canopy of sessile oak grown from acorns some 2 centuries ago, ancient beech pollards and an understorey of hazel, ash, alder and holly.
A pollard is a tree that has been cut at head height forcing the tree to send up new, multiple shoots. The old pollards at Carstramon were once cut like this every 10 -15 years in order to produce evenly sized branches used mainly for charcoal for local industry. This constant regrowth extends the life of trees. Although pollarding stopped decades ago the old beeches are important for wildlife and a home for insects, plants and fungi. However, the shadows of these large beech trees are dead zones with no undergrowth except beautiful bluebells in spring. Left unchecked the beeches at Carstramon would spread, eventually excluding the oaks, hazel, ash, elder and holly. So our job for Sunday was to pull up small beech saplings and cut down young beech trees to preserve the mixed woodland.
We walked through the wood alone pulling up beech saplings as we came across them. I collected some 40 that I saved from death and gave a new life in Edinburgh or with Willie in Falkirk! It was quite difficult staying together and we mostly spilt up and walked alone through the wood. I took a few photos on my journey.
Huge thanks to David for his leading and for pasta e fagioli and home baked foccacia bread, to Bruno for his delicious chickpea and almond tart, to Sarah and Willie for excellent driving and to everyone else for their hard work.