Meeting Report: Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust
Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust (CVCWT) was the subject of Peter Robinson, ecologist and project manager of the site in Galloway, when he addressed Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society at the end of January.
The Trust was formed in 1999. It does not own the woods which it manages; instead it has a 25-year lease on various woodland sites, mainly from the Forestry Commission. CVCWT's influence extends northwards up the eastern side of the Cree from Newton Stewart. It has a vision of establishing a Forest Habitat Network from "source to sea", which incorporates a mosaic of native broad-leaved woodland and other habitats for all to enjoy. Regeneration and re-planting are partly the means of achieving these ends. Oak is the main species; however, ash and alder are present; and birch, rowan, hazel and hawthorn also feature in the landscape, especially from regeneration. CVCWT has its own tree nursery. Peter Norman was involved with improving woodland pasture. Holly trees, very palatable higher up, have been planted as fodder for animals.
Various woods were visited on screen and the fauna and flora covered. Starting in the south, the growing number of woods managed by the Trust are Blairmount Park and Doonhill, Duncree, Knockman, Garlies in partnership with the RSPB which purchased Barclye Farm recently, Wood of Cree also with the RSPB, Carner, Minnoch, Water of Trool, Caldons and Buchan linked Glenhead. The early leases are well advanced, whereas the newer ones are in the early stages of adaptation.
The wonderful scenery, the range of trees and wide variety of plants and wildlife at these sites enabled Peter to deliver an awe-inspiring presentation, which cannot be replicated by the written word alone and the complete list of which is too numerous to mention.
As oakland is high on the list of the managed woods, its promotion formed the greater part of the talk. In the south Garlies Wood was part of the Earl of Galloway's estate, where there is a problem with fallow deer browsing. He established a deer park in the 1820s. The carpets of bluebells indicate ancient oak woodland.
There are vast stretches of coniferous woodland in Galloway. Camer Wood was underplanted with conifers in the 1970s: birch is early to regenerate when the conifers are taken out. Ferns, which had adapted to the shady conditions, prosper in the extra light; blaeberries, too. A second rotation of conifers would kill regeneration almost completely.
Buchan and Glenhead in the uppermost reaches feature sessile oak, which is the native species of Scotland. It is wooded right back to the fourteenth century. There is evidence of one-time coppicing and former industrial processes like tanning and charcoal production, which ceased in the early twentieth century. Common cow-weed, wood anenomes and waxy-leaved yellow pimpernel are to be seen. This woodland, along with Caldons Wood, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) because of the biophytes and lichens, which thrive in the wet western Atlantic conditions.
There is a wealth of some seven thousand species of fungi in the valley, such as oak mazegill, which looks like a maze; chicken of the woods, which is edible and growing up to two feet across on oak stumps; the unspectacular oakwood milkcap, which is one of the most important, as it is essential for the breakdown of minerals for the trees; pulmonaria, half fungi, half algae, a rare but important group; hoof fungus grows on old birch in the wetter areas.
Providing food for birds, invertebrates in the form, for instance, of black and grey slugs, woodlice, dor beetles (a variety of dung beetle), two-bar longhorn beetles, help to break down vegetation. Spiked shielbug, sabre wasp and artichoke gall wasp are present. Specialist invertebrates are a sign of ancient woodland. There are 21 species of butterfly, such as small pearl-bordered fritillary, purple hairstreak, large skipper and scotch argus.
There is a breeding list of over 40 species of bird, affording sightings of redstarts, which in the absence of holes in new trees require nest boxes; pied flycatchers, which strip bark from honeysuckle; ground-nesting wood warblers. Nuthatches, which never used to be seen in Scotland and which were few in number only three years ago, have now become very numerous. They will use nest boxes, but they paste mud round the hole to have it the size they want, a practice which seals the box.
Animal life is represented by bats, which will occupy nest boxes. Present are six species of bat, including Leisler's bat. The Galloway Forest has the potential to be a haven for red squirrels. There is ample evidence of badgers: they always bury their dung, in the process of which they throw up tell-tale large stones. They can occupy a sett for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the huge mound depicted on screen at one site. Monitoring of badger setts is crucial to attempts to curb badger-baiting. Fallow deer, in preventing regeneration of their territory, have caused, especially in the early stages of new planting, attempts to fence them out. Young tree protectors are also necessary. Roe deer are also present. The Forestry Commission manages the deer.
Another vital part of the work of the Trust involves the community from schoolchildren to the elderly. Every Wednesday a group of six to ten volunteers, a good number for events in the west of the region, go out to plant trees from the nursery, a valuable ecological and socialising activity. University students from Ayr are also involved. Walking Festival experts put up barn owl boxes.
Professional archaeologist, Rebecca Shaw, is involved in investigating the remains of former farm steadings, revealed by the felling of conifers. Currently a longhouse and barn are being exposed and recorded. One aim is to know what a Lowland corn kiln looked like; it is already known what a Highland one looked like. Eventually the hope is that a booklet will be produced.
Claire Macfarlane is pursuing pond-dipping and the rescue of worms with schools in the Newton Stewart area. Pupils were also engaged, along with senior citizens of Newton Stewart Day Centre, in writing poems, as a result of which a book was published. Penninghame Primary School pupils have also been planting trees.
Training events take place: for instance, Archie McConnell, wood-working specialist, has been giving guidance on identifying trees on countryside walks.
The public generally is welcomed. Increasing provision, the heavy work for which is carried out by contractors, is being made for exploring the valley by driving, car parking and/or walking so that visitors, arriving at the northern end from the A714 or at the southern end from the A75, may view the growing variety of interests of the natural world in Galloway, fostered by the work of CVCWT staff, like Peter Robinson.