I love the smell of two-stroke oil in the morning. Good job too, as we’ve been smelling quite a bit of it this week. For last weekend brought not one but two apocalyptic storms to the north-east, and the resultant destruction meant we were on intimate terms with our chainsaws for much of the week that followed.
Back in November, Storm Arwen tore through our region with 100+ mph winds and a red warning from the Met Office. Then last Saturday, Storm Malik rolled in, with winds of a comparatively gentle 85 mph, and an associated amber warning. The after-show party was then provided by Storm Corrie on Sunday night into Monday, a rather understated affair that warranted just a yellow warning (we get these issued approximately every second week here on the Aberdeenshire coast).
The reality on the ground, however, was almost the inverse of the Met Office’s warnings. Arwen was rough, right enough, and we had to clear up a few fallen and damaged trees on the Grampian NNRs, but nothing too severe. A couple of days’ cutting at Forvie, and an easy day at Muir of Dinnet – and all was sorted. Malik, though ‘only’ amber-rated, was no less destructive, with further damage caused at both Forvie and Dinnet, but still nothing especially outlandish.
The worst damage here was along the track to Waulkmill hide, where two Sitka spruces had fallen onto the track (and blocked in a car belonging to one of our regulars – luckily both car and occupant were unharmed though). By Monday evening, these had been safely cut out and cleared away, and the track to the hide was open to traffic once again.
Corrie was the real joker in the pack though. She arrived on Sunday evening with little fanfare, under a run-of-the-mill yellow warning for high winds. Just another day at the office here. But what followed took us all by surprise, and the level of destruction surpassed the previous two storms by some distance. While Forvie was relatively unscathed, Dinnet wasn’t so lucky, and it was clear that we’d have to tear up our plans for the week and head inland to help clear up the debris.
Perhaps it was the direction of the wind (westerly, as opposed to northerly on the previous two occasions), or perhaps the preceding storms had weakened the trees and their root plates. Either way, most of the casualties at Dinnet were Scots Pines, whose heavy canopies of evergreen needles served to catch the wind with inevitable consequences. But even the deciduous species suffered, with both Silver Birch and Aspen also succumbing. Every trail and footpath on the Reserve was blocked (including the 100 metres between the car park and toilets), with some thirty fallen trees needing cleared; hundreds more had come down in the wider woodland, but being away from the paths these thankfully weren’t of concern to us.
After two solid days of cutting, winching and dragging, our small team managed to get all the waymarked trails at Muir of Dinnet safely cleared and reopened to the public in time for the weekend. A great relief for all concerned, but especially for Reserve Manager Kirstin, who has recently taken over the reins and is settling into her new role with aplomb. By way of exchange for our labour, we’ve promised to lay on some equally hard yakka for her at Forvie at some point in the future.
But in all seriousness though, as Grampian Reserve staff we’re all on the same team, and are always ready to assist each other as and when required. Not only does this help the Reserves to function effectively, but it also provides us with a change of scene (and work), helping to keep us fresh too. Mentally fresh, that is. After all that chainsawing, we certainly weren’t smelling fresh, I can tell you.
The fun isn’t quite over yet, as there remain a couple of damaged-but-not-immediately-dangerous trees left to come down at Forvie next week – so please take care if you see us working on site, and look for our hazard warning signs and hi-viz-wearing bankspeople. But this will hopefully be the last of it. Who knows, by this time next week I might actually have some wildlife news on which to report – barring any more apocalyptic weather events between now and then.