Kinclaven Bluebell Woods – A view during a global pandemic
Ian Riches is one of two fantastic and incredibly dedicated Woodland Working Group leaders at Kinclaven Bluebell Wood in Perthshire, Ian is also a Woodland Warden at Kinclaven and he has shared his lockdown experiences and some lovely photos from his beloved Kinclaven with us. Put your feet up, grab a cuppa, and enjoy this entertaining read!……
We had a plan. We’d managed to continue our work to remove the Rhododendron ponticum in the first months of 2020. We’d even managed to plant about 7000 trees in the new area of the woods. And a working party was all set to go and spend a weekend at Loch Arkaig learning from the team there and bringing some of our expertise to bear.
And then Covid-19. And everything stopped. The Woodland Trust stopped all volunteering and our Woodland Working Group (WWG) was put on hold. No path maintenance. No bracken bashing. No new tree maintenance.
As a WWG leader and warden I am also in the fortunate position of being able to call Kinclaven Bluebell Woods my local exercise location; its less than 5 minutes by car. So my wife and I would walk the dog there a one or two times a week in the early days of lockdown. My volunteer manager, Jill Aitken, was restricted in her movements, so as a member of the public I could still be her eyes and ears on the ground. I also knew that my fellow volunteers come from far and wide to help at the woods and were now restricted in their movements and would be missing the woods. So began a monthly newsletter letting everyone know what was happening.
It was relatively easy to describe changes to a wood that the WWG volunteers knew, but a picture was worth a thousand words. The one thing that I couldn’t give them was the noise; the chatter of the birds and the woodpeckers knocking on the trees. It was also great to be able to tell them what I had seen, including 8 fallow deer only a few yards away from me – me watching them, them watching me!
Kinclaven has a great reputation of being one of the best native bluebell woods in Scotland and probably in the whole of the UK. With bluebell season on its way I knew that many of the volunteers would be disappointed to miss the carpet of blue, as would our normal visitors. Many come from across Scotland just to visit our Hyacinthoides non-scripta! Perhaps a bonus of lockdown was that there were far fewer visitors, which meant far less trampling of the bluebells to get that ‘perfect’ shot. There were still a few that needed that polite reminder, even one who tried to cycle into the middle of a field of blue! But it was lovely to watch the woods come back to life in April and May; violets, primrose, wood anemone, pink purslane and even the wretched sp.ponticum (it is attractive briefly when in bloom!).
And then just as the bluebells began to fade (remember they put in an appearance later here in Scotland), the Scottish Government began to relax the lockdown rules and the Woodland Trust reopened the car park! And our visitors began to return. There have been a lot more young families discovering the woods for the first time and realising what a great ‘playground’ it is, which is great news for the future. The vibrant greens were on display in late May as the canopy began to close over the bluebells and the oaks and beech took their rightful place in the woodland calendar. It also meant that the 25,000 trees that our WWG, the public and the Woodland Trust corporate sponsors have planted in the last two years all began to establish themselves on the scene. Yes we’ve lost a few. With the high temperatures we were experiencing in April, May and early June it was only to be expected, particularly in the young ‘twigs’ that were planted in March. But I think it is fair to say the Woodland Trust’s investment for future generations in the expansion of Kinclaven Woods is looking good and we even had a few bluebells that have crossed into the newly planted areas too!
The inexorable spread of bracken began to take over the woods in June; I swear you can both see it and hear it grow! A great hiding place for all the newly born fawns, whilst mum goes off foraging, but also part of the character of our woods. A quick trim of path edges by the contractor prevents the bracken from collapsing under its own weight onto the path. And the rides through the new planting were given a ‘short back and sides’ too. And before we know it the first signs of autumn are heading our way with the brilliant reds of the Rowan berries and the blues of the harebells and still the purslane flowers! The dung beetles are out on their patrols now, cleaning up (in their own way) after the dog owners who have failed to do so; perhaps there is a poo (bag) fairy after all!
As a WWG we’re all hoping to go back to our woods as a team and continue the work that has been ours for the last three years. It has been a difficult time for everyone but I think there are some great positives to come from this time too. Not least, as a ‘local’ amenity, more families have undoubtedly discovered Kinclaven Bluebell Woods for the first time and are using it on a regular basis. Part of the ethos of the Woodland Trust is education. Here is an opportunity and I am sure that other WWGs across the country are experiencing the same.
In the meantime, good luck to all WWGs across the UK and here’s hoping that we can get back out there and continue our good work! There’s 7000 more trees to plant before Christmas!
Ian Riches, WWG Leader and Warden