Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Walking the Line - Fence Removal with the Borders Forest Trust

Hi all!

Well, I've been having a wonderful time volunteering recently. The nursery at the Falls of Clyde is coming together, and I'll write about that soon (those of you who receive the Lanark Gazette...anyone? or the Falls of Clyde blog may have already seen what I'm doing) but today I want to talk about what I did last Saturday!
The original forest, peeking out of the gully. The dark
shapes on the top of the hill are young trees growing up.

I volunteered with the Borders Forest Trust in April this year (and met David Mundell in the process), and was lined up to do another tree planting day a few weeks later, but the day was preceded by a very heavy lambing night and I couldn't face the hour's drive! I always wanted to return to Corehead, as I had a wonderful time the first time. I didn't blog about that first bout of volunteering with the BFT, but we were planting a riparian woodland to help stabilise the banks of a burn that runs through the farmland.

Corehead is a large area of land that is owned by the Borders Forest Trust and is both farm and young forest. The original woodland of the site is restricted to steep gullies and crags that deer and sheep have not been able to access and the trust is working to spread this woodland out into the hills and glens of the area while bringing back species that have been missing from the area, such as Juniper. You can find out more about Corehead here.

Corehead used to be solely worked for sheep, and the landscape was divided by fences to keep stock in. As the new forest grows, the fences remain as the only straight edged barriers as you look up the glen, and the trust is now starting to remove these fences, with a little help from the volunteers, of course! And that is where this story starts.
Annandale Way signpost, there was a
fence beside it, now gone!! 
We met at Corehead at 10 (although, ahem, guess who was a little late due to not reading the instructions properly...? Hmm) and walked up to the fence that was to be removed. The Annandale Way passes through this glen, and the fences we removed met on either side of the Way, thus creating a barrier for a walker to pass through. Now, I am pleased to say, there is nothing.

The fence removal was simple compared to the deer fences that I remove with Trees for Life (speaking of which, have you seen their fancy new website?). It was only a sheep fence, so only a layer of barbed wire (slow motion required while rolling this up to avoid barbation) and a stock fence needed removed. No straining wires, no twizzlers, and the fence posts were mainly so rotten that the staples came out easy peasy! I do love a good fencing tool so was glad of the opportunity to use one again. I need to perfect my technique before spring TfL sessions!
I love a fencing tool!
We also removed the fence posts so as to remove any treated wood from the area. Some broke at the base, and they will just have to rot into the ground, but most came out cleanly, though with difficulty in some cases! These, and the wire, were all removed from the site by quad. The holes left by the posts were filled in. This is to stop small voles and other small animals falling in and getting stuck. Such a simple thing, but it makes a real difference. It also makes the fence line safer to walk, and that the visual effect of the fence line will be lost much quicker. All positives, and it just takes a few minutes more but leaves you with the feeling of having completed the task well.
Where's the fence gone?
The thing I love about fence removal is how sudden the effect is. Most conservation work requires a long time frame before you can see the effect, but with fence removal, you have a positive visual difference right there and then. It's good, satisfying work, and I can't wait for my next day out with the BFT!

Lynn from the Borders Forest Trust has also written about the day here: and I do encourage you to start volunteering with the Trust if you live locally. I'm looking forward to getting more involved and would love to meet you there!

Hope you are all having a lovely week!


PS. You'll see in the pictures that the BFT use tree tubes on their young trees. These are biodegradeable, and made out of polypropolene that degrades in sunshine. I'm not, personally, very keen on tree tubes, but each individual charity has its own methods for carrying out work, and whatever is best for them is good. I will try to find out more, but the tubes do degrade and they are not harmful for the environment, so it's possible that my dislike comes from the visual effect (and of seeing trees 'stuck' in tubes), both while they're on the tree and when they're discarded on the ground. I shall research more and come back to you on this one!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pentland strolls

Last weekend desperately seeking a respite from everyday life, a good friend and I headed to the Pentlands. These marvellous hills stretch from Edinburgh all the way out to Carlops in the Scottish Borders, and offer a touch of wildness to many people in the area. As it was a Sunday, it certainly wasn't people we were escaping from!
The hills are lovely, and you may remember them from my post last year: Walking the Pentlands. We love these hills, and although they are heavily managed for sheep, timber and (possibly) red grouse, they are great places to escape to.

We walked from Harlaw Visitor Centre to the Ski Centre at Hillend, a wee short walk which was just perfect for the pair of us on that sunny day. Most of the walk, I was in my shirt, for it felt more like August or September than November. A worrying aspect, especially seeing as I'm missing the bite that comes with a cold autumn day. There just haven't been enough of them this year!
My friend and I have both had slight struggles in the past few years, we've both had to make decisions about what we want to do, and although she's had more success than I, we have a lot in common. We were able to talk freely and without restraint, and it's wonderful to be able to talk with someone like that.
During the walk I felt happier than I had for a while; more relaxed. It was as though being somewhere without walls again helped me let down some of my own.

Where we did encounter a stop, there was always a way over!
It reminded me again of how much we need these places. There were all kinds of people on the hills: mountain bikers; fell runners; walkers; joggers; strollers. Children, adults and elderly alike. They're open to everyone, and everyone should make use of them that can. Withdraw from the enclosures of the city, and open yourselves up to the width of the sky, the colours of the land and the silence of the air.

Wild places don't need to be untouched by man. To me, a wild place is a place that helps you re-find your centre. A place that calms the mind with nature, and a place where you can be your wonderful self without trying or forcing anything.

We both came away feeling like our muscles were stretched, our minds were clear, and the cobwebs were most certainly dispelled!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Rewilding talk, Edinburgh 2014

In October I attended a talk by George Monbiot and Alan Watson Featherstone of Trees for Life. And wow, did it do something to waken me up from my slumber again!

I had heard about the book Feral, of course (who hasn't?), but hadn't yet read it. I was intrigued though, I had heart a lot about George Monbiot, and of course, Alan is one of the most inspiring people I've ever had the honour to meet. So, when my old boss contacted me to ask if I would like to come along to this talk, entitled 'Rewilding the World' at Edinburgh University, I was a YES!

My notes from the talk are negligible, because I was just so utterly astonished and excited by the discussion going on that I could hardly share my attention with something else. The thing I was left with was an absolute and all-consuming positivity. What was said to make me feel like that? Well, first of all, George took to the stage. He talked about what rewildling meant to both him and the world. It's a pretty new word, is rewilding, and it's pretty good. It's about allowing land to be what it wants to be, and as Alan said "the first shared task of all humanity must surely be to restore and rewild our wounded world". We live in a time now when we have contact throughout the world, people are more connected now than we have ever been before, and we can put this to good use. We can use this connectivity to build a shared world that harks back to a wildness that used to be in place.

George talks a lot about the most important component in rewilding, in changing the world and that is hope. It is so obvious, and yet. We are bombarded every day with negative things, and it leads people to despair. We all end up thinking, but what can one person do? What we need to be bombarded with is hope, for hope is what makes us try harder, to keep the fight going, to respond and react better, hope is what keeps our hearts beating. It is why I love working for Trees for Life, because the charity is fighting a future of inertia with positive action

"Planting a pine gives birth to the ancient forests of the future."
- Alan Watson Featherstone

Another aspect of rewilding is rewilding of the human soul. We spend so much of our time in unnatural habitats i.e. the city and we have lost touch with what it is to be in a wild place. So much so that many of us don't even know what we're missing. I know that I do. When I spend too long indoors, I start to get restless and unhappy. My cure is the wild, open spaces, wide skies, real weather, and a sense of freedom and ability. Rewilding is about becoming more in touch with those feelings, and realising how important they are.

It's about choosing your battles. Here in Scotland we have large areas of land with low human populations. There is a freedom there, if you choose to accept it. To escape the masses is easy here, and you can still walk where you don't see a single soul, especially if you keep away from the Munroes and keep to less trodden paths. It's more difficult in countries without that space, but a little spot of rewilding is possible anywhere and everywhere. You may not be able to bring the lynx into your garden, but call in the hedgehogs, the foxes, the frogs and the badgers and you're accepting that little bit of wild that may not have been there before. 

Rewilding is about relinquishing control to nature. It's about saying "you do it best", for she does. We can give a helping hand, such as reintroducing the wolf, but then we must say "go sort it out". Can you imagine the results? Nature and humanity working in conjunction towards a goal, and that goal being freedom for land, animal, and soul. Wow, what an ambition. 

They are ambitious, Alan and George, but so they should be. So we should all be. This is the fight of our times, to give the right of wild back to the earth. We plant a forest so that one day we can say, now let it grow. Our work here is done. We plant where there is no seed source, to create one in the future. Our work is necessary to help this rewilding process, but it's not the be all and end all, it's what happens next that is truly spectacular. 

During the question and answer session, one girl asked, but how do you actually put this into practice, and Alan stood up and just replied "Just do it." He said a lot more beside those words, but they were the catalyst that made all our hearts beat that little bit faster and our spirits start to sing with that rare component that George talked of: hope.

We are a movement that's growing wings and learning to fly, and that night I think I just stepped off that cliff.