I’ve been doing a bit of volunteering whilst up north, all organised by the head of our Craibstone Rural Skills Club (cheers Laura!). Plenty experience in all these fields will hopefully mean I broaden my knowledge of working outdoors and the types of jobs that need done in the line of work I’m wanting to get into.

Capercaille Habitat Management

I’ll start with Capercaille habitat management at Balmoral Estate. This was with the North East Scotland John Muir group who’d asked if anyone from SRUC Aberdeen would be interested. Of course I was, but no one else on my course went! Perhaps it had something to do with the early-ish wake up.

The habitat management that we carried out involved damming up a few wee burns that ran through the “remnant” Caledonian Scots Pine forest (I assume this means all the original tree were cut down and these are the one that grew from the seeds left behind?) that is found on Balmoral Estate. The idea was that the more boggy area there were, the more habitat there would be for bugs and such which breed in the damper conditions. If the Capercaille females have a good diet with these bugs then the shells of their eggs will be harder and the chicks that come out of them will be stronger and hopefully able to withstand the sometimes harsh conditions that the Cairngorms weather throws at them.

Here’s our work…

… uphill.

We probably made, in total, about 10 dams. There was already a few dams in place from another group and we just had to see where water was getting round, or where a new dam could go in to effectively wetten the surrounding area. I also had nice views of a male Sparrowhawk and a lovely male Red Deer.

Whilst walking about in the Heather I found a feather which turned out to be from a male Capercaille. Slightly worn but a nice reminder that they are still there, despite being in such small numbers.


After we’d run out of plywood and had pretty much exhausted ourselves we went to find Glynn’s (the ranger at Balmoral) camera trap, which gave lovely images of an awesome cock Capercaille.



Muir of Dinnet


This wasn’t so much voluntary, more educational. Paul Ross, the head ranger at Muir of Dinnet NNR, talked to us about what being a ranger entailed. Whether that’s management of bearberry heath or warning visitors not to allow their dogs in the loch due to an algal bloom, it all has to be done by  the rangers and it was interesting hearing about it all. They also obviously have to have a good knowledge of the reserve that they manage, which was evident all the time as Paul seemed to know the answer to everything.

Sands of Forvie

It helps when one of the heads of your club is a ranger at a reserve. Ellie is one of the rangers at Sands of Forvie NNR, so she borrowed our hands to help create wildflower habitat. This involved a lot of scything and then burning of grass in areas around the visitor centre. The removal of the grass from these areas means that the nutrients that would have gone into the soil from the decomposing grass does not go in, and wildflowers prefer this nutrient poor soil.

My wee area, nearly all scythed away.

Path Clearing on Elrick Hill

Elrick Hill is not far from my campus and in fact I had walked around it before we actually went to clear the paths there. Anyway, we carried out some basic path clearing, i.e. cutting back branches, on 2 occasions with Ranger Simon from the Aberdeen City Council Ranger Service (I think that’s what they’re called). Always nice to get out and clear paths, and it’s even better when you’re with a ranger who knows what he’s talking about. Simon quite clearly hates Sycamores, and had us pulling out young ones and sawing down some of the older ones, and rightly so! They aren’t native, and something else could be growing there which would provide habitat and a food source to far more organisms.

Simon also took us around Carnie Woods, renowned for its Red Squirrels. Unfortunately, they are the main problem in this area as there is actually far more of them than there should be. People have been feeding this population of Red Squirrels for so long that the population is at least 3 times what it should be considering the size of the woods. Simon explained the problems this can cause and how he has to deal with them, as well as other problems such as fly tipping and bonfires.




High level pruning at Glen Tanar NNR

This was much like the path clearance that we carried out on Elrick Hill, only we were focusing slightly more on the harder to reach branches. Ranger Mike also introduced me to a new concept. He pointed out the fact that a branch that is near the edge of a path, despite not actually being in the way, will make walkers subconsciously avoid them. This can lead to path widening and that’s something no one wants, so we were cutting away branches which looked like they were growing towards the path as well.

The pruning we were doing here was high level, not only because of the height of some of the branches, but also due to the fact we were clearing larger things as well, including whole trees. Not huge trees, but trees nonetheless. Anyway, I’ll post a few pictures of our work and also, Mike put together a wee video of the work we did and posted it on the Glen Tanar facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/317664328370503/videos/701122580024674/

Habitat piles are just piles of stick and branches which are laid out, roughly 1m square, which create habitat for mosses, fungi, lichen, and bugs, and then larger animals such as Wrens or Shrews. All sticks laid facing the same way so they degrade quicker.
Bird Cherry going down
A nice wee path, all cleared!

Kick-sampling on Craibstone Estate

One wee activity we carried out on campus was kick-sampling. We did this on the Gough Burn just after it passes under where the new Western Peripheral Bypass is being constructed. Kick-sampling is used to gauge how healthy a waterway is. The technique is quite easy. You simply place a net in front of you with the water flowing through it and kick the sediment from the bottom of the burn/stream/river/pond/lake/you-get-the-idea through the net so you catch any organisms living in the water.

Somehow we managed to pick a day in which the water was unusually clear. Every other day I’ve been up to that bit of the burn it’s been all cloudy as the mud that has come from the bypass flows through it. Anyway, made it a lot easier to see the creatures we got. Here’s a few…


We’ve also had a few field trips. One of which I was dreadfully hungover and travelsick for and ended up sleeping through the whole thing. But these two were good…

Soils Trip

This was a quick trip to a couple spots in Aberdeenshire to look at the different soil types. First up was Gley… Actually, I think I might just upload my soils essay after posting this, just because it’s easier and means you can read it if you wish. But I’ll post a few pics from that trip here:

Archaeology Trip

This was a wee trip to see a recumbent stone circle near Castle Fraser. Interesting to hear about the area and what used to be there. Again, I’ll just upload my History and Archaeology essay after posting this, but here are a few pictures…


That’s everything so far, I know I have other trips next term and hopefully I’ll remember to post about those at the time as it’s tricky remembering everything you were told a month or so ago. I don’t actually know my timetable yet, but I can tell you my timetable for 1st term was Biology and History&Archaeology on Monday, Environmental Awareness on Tuesday, I.T. on Wednesday (ugh…), and Geology&Geomorphology on a Thursday. A very varied course! But I’m loving every aspect of it (except I.T.), and am looking forward to next term 🙂





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