Unless you’ve just returned from a twenty-year holiday in outer space, you’ll have heard in the news that the climate is changing. Here in the UK, milder and wetter is the new order of the day. We’re tending to get more rain these days, and even on the relatively dry east coast of Scotland we get our share. Here on the Reserve, there’s been a definite increase in standing water over the last 10-15 years.
Generally speaking, we’re happy to let these new wetlands develop naturally. In the past, when the Reserve was managed as a sporting estate prior to its sale to Scottish Natural Heritage, a network of drains kept the moorland dry. The aim of this was to maintain good habitat for Red Grouse, a popular quarry species for field-sports enthusiasts. Red Grouse like dry heather moorland and don’t much enjoy getting their feet wet. So, with the exception of a couple of artificial flight-ponds (which were built for the purposes of duck-shooting), most of the Reserve was kept dry. The heather was even burned from time to time to produce fresh regrowth for the grouse to eat.
Heather-burning and maintenance of the drains ceased here in the 1970s, and the Red Grouse population gradually declined as conditions became less favourable. There have not been any grouse seen at Forvie for a number of years now, though they remain plentiful in the hills of inland Aberdeenshire. As the Reserve ‘wets up’, the grouse have been replaced by a range of species that favour a more watery landscape.
There are a few bits of the Reserve where we still have to maintain the ditches and drains. These are the areas where the footpaths or vehicle tracks are prone to flooding or getting excessively muddy, and even then, we only ever drain the bits that we absolutely have to. It’s a case of putting on your overalls and waders, rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into some good old-fashioned hard yakka.
This week we turned our attention to a bit of the Rockend Track – the one that bisects the Reserve from Waterside car park to the beach – which has flooded badly in recent times. As well as being one of the principal footpaths on site, it’s also our only means of getting the 4×4 vehicle onto the beach. This is crucial for collecting beach litter, transporting all the fencing gear to the ternery, and maintaining vital infrastructure in the south of the Reserve. It’s our equivalent of the M6 – a critical transport link!
A bit of closer investigation revealed an old overgrown ditch, to the right of the track in the photo above. It was completely choked with rushes and other vegetation, and the water level was higher than the track – hence the flooding. Time to get our hands dirty again then.
Over the course of an afternoon, I manually cleared about 25 metres of ditch, but the bad news is that there’s another 50 metres to go! At least it’ll help me burn off some of the excess calories enjoyed during the Christmas holidays. And once completed, it should improve the condition of the path markedly. It’s actually remarkably satisfying work, and by carrying out the work by hand rather than hiring-in a machine, the environmental impact is kept to a minimum. Because we’re only clearing the essential bits, the surrounding wet areas are left to continue developing naturally.
While ditch-clearing yesterday, the weather was remarkably mild, and the mist periodically came and went. It was surprisingly hot work with the humidity being so high, though it did make for some attractive vistas over the Reserve.
All this talk of wetlands is a handy reminder that 2020 is the Year of Coasts and Waters. Here at Forvie we do a good line in both coasts and waters, so stay tuned for some more watery-themed blog posts this year. Added to that, it’ll be World Wetlands Day on 2nd February – once again, watch this space for more.
Meanwhile, I’m heading back to my favourite ditch…