Wednesday 10 April 2019

An inordinate fondness

Yesterday was a lovely day, which was rather fortuitous, as a few members of the Orkney Field Club committee had volunteered to help out with some habitat management tasks on a small piece of RSPB land in the West Mainland.

A small plantation had been planted up years ago, no-one was sure exactly how long ago, and the only verifiable way to confirm the trees' ages seemed to be cutting one down and counting the rings. We did not do this!

This being windswept Orkney, the trees were not of any great size, so although some trunks were easily 6" in diameter, the topmost branches were only just above our heads.

We began with a wander around the plantation, which was helpful, as I had not previously visited the site. The planting was a mix of deciduous trees, mainly Birch, Alder, Rowan and Willow. Walking was quite difficult, pushing through whippy branches and stumbling over tussocky grass, so an obvious solution presented itself for our maintenance task... create a path!

Whilst the Field Club folk marked a meandering route, pruned the trees along the way, built brash piles with the cuttings and removed any tree guards from young saplings, the RSPB staff set about brush-cutting the marked route to remove the worst of the tussocks.

Rabbits were obviously seen as Public Enemy Number One back in the early days of the plantation, such that damage to the trees was prevented by erecting a stout fence around the perimeter of the site, as well as several internal fences too. These inner fences could be crossed by stiles, but they were feeling their age, even if we could find them amongst all the tree growth. A decision was taken to open up gaps in the internal fences, which the new path would use, thereby making the stiles redundant (although one became a handy seat!).

The tussocky sward was full of the runs of the endemic Orkney Vole, which was fascinating to see. The voles themselves were staying well out of the way, but I was minded to perhaps mount a camera trap in the area, as there must be herds of the flippin' things!

After a morning of healthy exercise and jolly conversation, we all sat down for a picnic together and Field Club thoughts turned to the latest club newsletter which is about to be published, with details of our Spring and Summer activities. The conversation went something like this:

OFC Secretary: "There's a bit of space left at the end of the draft newsletter, has anyone got a short paragraph on some topic of wildlife interest? 

Everybody else: [Silence]

OFC Secretary: "Or perhaps a photograph?"

RSPB staff member: "A photo of today's activity would be good!"

OFC Secretary: "Ah, it would have to be black and white, that's the trouble. How about some beetles in silhouette?"

OFC Chair: "Well, if you want black and white... and beetles... there's really only one image that would fit the bill."

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