Woodland Heritage project nears an end

Learning about fish with the Galloway Fisheries Trust
Learning about fish with the Galloway Fisheries Trust

The current Heritage Lottery-funded Cree Valley Woodland Heritage project is now approaching its end, and to celebrate the achievements of the project Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust (CVCWT) recently held a final conference at the Crown Hotel in Newton Stewart attended by 60 people.

Slide presentations were given throughout the day by 7 speakers and displays and literature were available to browse.

Penninghame Primary pupils receive activity packs

Penninghame Primary pupils receive activity packs

The day began with a viewing of a 20 minute film made by the Cree Studio based at the Activity and Resource Centre in Newton Stewart. The film was compiled from pieces of footage shot on location over the period of the project, covering many aspects of the project. This film is being compiled onto a DVD and will be sent to everyone who attended the conference and others who were involved in the project.

The first presentation was given by CVCWT`s Ecologist/Project Manager, Pete Robinson who showed numerous slides which illustrated the wide range of work carried out during the project. As with previous CVCWT projects, the project had many elements with ambitious targets. Effective woodland management enabled large areas of native woodland to be restored and enhanced, through woodland restructuring, tree planting, conifer removal and bracken control. Links were formed to join together areas of native broad-leaved woodland to create a more valuable woodland network. A second polytunnel was added to the CVCWT tree nursery to improve the ability to produce commercially unavailable, local provenance tree species using seed collected by volunteers. Specialist surveys such as badger sett recording and bat surveys were carried out. The woodland sites were made more accessible to a wider range of people through new and upgraded paths.

The high value of the contribution of volunteers to the project can`t be overstated. Every Wednesday throughout the year volunteers, supervised by CVCWT staff, carry out essential project work, work which without the volunteers, simply would not happen. The volunteers are a varied group attending for different reasons, some coming every week and some more sporadically. All learn a range of skills, gaining beneficial exercise, in beautiful outdoor settings in a friendly social atmosphere.

Working with the local community, schools and colleges is always a high priority for CVCWT. A series of guided walks and events were carried out, some led by CVCWT staff and some by other experts. One special walk was organised with the Galloway Strollers, co-ordinated by the Health Improvement Team to officially open an all ability path created within the project at Low Camer Wood. The largest event was a bioblitz held in Knockman Wood which was attended by 52 local wildlife experts and members of the public who between them identified over 400 species of plants and animals in the wood.

Training days to help people to identify species from different animal and plant groups were organised and run by CVCWT covering subjects such as birds, butterflies, dragonflies, woodland plants and trees. An indoor presentation was followed by a visit in the field to practice identification.

One of the key aims of the project was to make people aware of the cultural and archaeological heritage associated with the Cree Valley and its woodlands. To this end Becky Shaw, a consultant archaeologist was employed to supervise special archaeological field days, primarily based at the Clauchrie farmstead in Knockman Wood. The work involved volunteers, students from Scotland`s Rural College (SRUC) and pupils from the Douglas Ewart High School and Penninghame Primary School in Newton Stewart, as well as members of the Activity and Resource Centre. Structures were uncovered to reveal the main buildings of the farmstead. These were then recorded using plane table recording which was taught to the volunteers by staff from the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). These structures including beautiful cobbled floors have been left open for people to enjoy. Archaeological equipment and tools purchased for the project will also be made available to schools, colleges and community groups for their use after the project end.

Very early in the project local poet Jean Atkin was employed to run an intergenerational `Poetry Partners’ project. This project involved children form Penninghame Primary School and members of the older generation from the Newton Stewart Day Centre. The children, inspired by a visit to Knockman Wood, wrote poems based on their experiences there and met with the adults to discuss the poems and the memories of the older folks, who also wrote poems based on these. This culminated in a celebratory event at the school where children and adults read out their poems to an audience of family and friends. The poems were compiled into a booklet and this has now been illustrated by CVCWT`s ecologist. The booklets were given out to the people involved and final conference attendees.

Education is an important aspect of CVCWT`s work. Apart from the Poetry project, Penninghame Primary School children were involved in other aspects of the project and special events such as pond dipping and tree planting. CVCWT also worked with the science class at the Douglas Ewart over the period of the project. Classroom sessions were followed by field visits to learn about the importance of protected habitats, biodiversity and woodland monitoring techniques.

Specially designed activity packs were also produced during the project and given to Penninghame Primary School children and Newton Stewart ARC members. These packs are designed to help the recipients learn about wildlife in an enjoyable way.

Improved website pages and a new Facebook page for CVCWT has helped people learn about what we do and find out about events being held. Information about the project and CVCWT`s work has also been made available through temporary and permanent displays such as interpretation panels in the Belted Galloway Visitor Centre in Newton Stewart. Interpretation panels are also to be situated in Knockman Wood to explain the archaeological features there, and panels at High Camer Wood, Water of Trool, Caldons Wood and Chain Wood at Creetown will also be provided to give a background to the woods and their wildlife.

Clair McFarlan, Senior Verifier with The Woodland Trust, was next to speak and gave details of the Ancient Tree Hunt Project and how to record ancient trees. This formed part of CVCWT`s project during which Clair trained volunteers and school children on how to record trees and the features of the trees which make them excellent for wildlife such as dead wood which harbours many invertebrates and fungi. CVCWT`s Ecologist was also trained as a verifier so that all volunteer records could be validated. By the end of the project it is hoped that over 300 trees will have been recorded. These records are entered onto a database on the Ancient Tree Hunt website and can be found on interactive maps on the site.

Dumfries and Galloway`s Biodiversity Officer, Peter Norman then gave a talk which highlighted the importance of the wildlife of the Cree Valley and the work which CVCWT is doing to preserve and enhance it. He stressed how important the area`s habitats and wildlife is, not only on a local scale, but on an international scale. The ancient oak woodlands of the Cree Valley are a good example, with their internationally important populations of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), lichens and bluebells.

A lovely spread was provided by the hotel for the buffet lunch and the break gave attendees time to view the various displays available. A continuous slide show showed a wide example of the wonderful wildlife that can be found in the Cree Valley. The slides were provided by local enthusiasts, Brian Walker and Gavin Chambers. A selection of tools which would have been used by people living on the farmsteads within the wood in the post-medieval period was also on display, kindly on loan from the Newton Stewart Museum. A selection of finds from the archaeological work carried out was also available to see.

The display most admired was a model of the Clauchrie farmstead within Knockman Wood which was built by members of the Activity and Resource Centre in Newton Stewart. The model was made to depict the farmstead as it was when inhabited in the 18th Century. This model will be going on display in various public venues, and is currently at Glentrool Community Centre. A heritage trail leaflet has also been produced which will guide visitors to Knockman Wood around the main archaeological and historical woodland features, including the Clauchrie farmstead.

After lunch, Becky Shaw who was the consultant archaeologist for the project, talked about what was found during archaeological works carried out during the period of the project, particularly focussing on Knockman Wood. She also went on to talk about a selection of other notable heritage features throughout the Cree Valley such as Bruce`s Stone and The Old Bridge of Minnoch, often known as the Roman Bridge. Apart from the archaeological groundwork carried out during the project, several volunteers also carried out research into the social, agricultural and industrial heritage of the Cree Valley. The information gathered was compiled into a free booklet which is to be distributed to people involved in the project as well as being made available at public venues, including the Wigtown Book Festival.

The use of woodland over the centuries was the subject of local historian Archie McConnel. Archie presented his information in a graph form which, when explained using his extensive research, showed some fascinating patterns of usage, often influenced by changes in industrial technology and world events such as the demand for oak bark for the massive leather tanning industry of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the demand for timber during the World Wars.

Andrew Jarrott from FCS Scotland gave a revealing talk about the efforts to re-establish areas of `woodland fringe’ at the uppermost areas of the conifer plantations where they join the open moorland. He explained how this sparsely wooded and scrubby habitat would have once been a feature of the Scottish landscape but has been lost due to grazing and fires. It is still a common habitat in Scandinavian countries. This habitat has been shown to be very valuable to a wide range of birds and other wildlife, including endangered species such as Black Grouse. CVCWT in partnership with FCS have been involved in re-establishing this habitat to a large area on the Bennan Hill, north of Loch Trool. Woodland fringe will also soften the harsh edges of conifer plantations, enhancing the landscape value of the area. CVCWT volunteers have produced over 9000 downy willow (Salix lapponum) for the project and have carried out surveys and planting.

The final presentation of the day was by Mark Pollitt of the Dumfries and Galloway Environmental Resource Centre. Mark gave us some extremely useful information on how to make and send in records of wildlife sightings. During specialist surveys and whilst making observations out in the field, CVCWT compiled lists of wildlife seen during the project. This information will be passed on to Mark at the DGERC so that it is entered into his data banks and also be shared nationally.

Summing up, the Heritage Lottery funded Cree Valley Woodland Heritage Project has been a great success, achieving goals which will leave a lasting legacy to the wildlife and people of the Cree Valley. Plans for the next project are underway and, as ever the scope to carry on the good work of the Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust is endless.