For almost eight years, the RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond team have been managing the 237 hectares of wetland, woodland, fen and meadows that make up the reserve in Gartocharn, to benefit wildlife. We’ve been learning about the mosaic of habitats, monitoring wetland and woodland birds and mammals, surveying for unusual plants, battling invasive non-native species and researching ways to manage this remarkable place in the best way possible. However, conservation is not only about the work we do on the ground. It’s about education for people of all ages, encouraging different groups into the outdoors and inspiring visitors, which, in turn, leads to more people caring about the state of the natural world and allowing them the opportunity to become invested in it.
Pond dipping - by Helen Pugh Photography
Investigating invertebrates - by David Palmar (photoscot.co.uk)
There is more and more research developing about the health and well-being benefits of getting outdoors, and with the current ecological and climate crisis looming it is more important than ever to inspire more people to care about the natural world around them. It is because of this we are now looking to extend our path network and link our existing visitor areas to each other.
Shore Wood Path - by Cara Bell
If you haven’t visited the site before, there is currently a small car park, Nature Hub (full of information and activities) and two short trails. The Viewpoint Trail leads out to some of the best views of the surrounding hills, and the Airey Woodland Trail is a 900m circular loop through coppiced alder woodland and meadows. There is also a path along the shore of Loch Lomond that is accessed via the Aber Right of Way. Our plan is to link these areas up with 1.3 km trail – the Loch Shore Link – which would open access up to areas of the reserve normally very difficult to get to, allowing people to sensitively access some unique places and learn about the species found within them.
Airey Woodland Trail - by Helen Pugh Photography
One of our aims is to encourage more people, with a wide range of differing abilities, to get first-hand and sometimes first-time experiences of nature. This could be seeing a red squirrel in the wild, investigating mini-beast habitats, watching a tadpole during pond dipping, learning the different sounds of the woodland, or being introduced to the wonders of Scotland’s wildlife. However, with this comes the challenge of providing access to areas that are very special for wildlife and habitats. After all, we have a responsibility to make sure the site is the best it can be for habitats and for the wildlife that relies upon them, which includes nationally and internationally important species such as Greenland white-fronted goose, spotted crake and hen harrier.
Water investigation - photo by Helen Pugh Photography
With this in mind, the route of the path has been planned following a thorough process and the proposed route has been chosen to have the least possible impact on wildlife and habitats. Throughout the process, which has taken place around 2 years, the project team have consulted with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scottish Natural Heritage, the local community and reserve visitors and received feedback which has fed into the plans accordingly. Ecological assessments have taken place including Environmental Impact Assessment scoping, an appraisal of Habitats Regulations Assessment, an ecological assessment across the project site and consultation with the Greenland white-fronted goose study group - a species which is a feature of the Special Protection Area (SPA).
Greenland white-fronted geese - by David McCulloch
The path itself will weave its way through the wetland and woodlands eventually joining up with the shoreline of Loch Lomond. The path material will be the same as our current trails (free-draining gravel from a local quarry) as well as areas of resin mineral boardwalk with a recycled plastic base. The width will be around 2m wide to allow access for pushchairs and wheelchair users and there will be benches and wildlife interpretation along the way.
Photo by David McCulloch
A lot of consideration has been taken to make sure disturbance to wildlife is minimal both during and after construction. Screening is proposed to be put in areas where there is a chance of geese feeding in the winter, and the path route has been designed so that no established trees need to be removed. Informal routes used across the site at the moment are causing damage and disturbance to important areas. By creating this path, we will reduce the disturbance in these other areas and maintain the environmental integrity of the site while providing people with the opportunity to have responsible access in a focused area.
Opening up access to a wider part of the reserve is vital to our mission to protect nature. People should have the opportunity to experience these special areas for themselves and this proposed route will allow them the chance to do this. This combined with our fantastic team of staff and volunteers will hopefully add to more and more people understanding, appreciating and taking action for nature.
Photo by Helen Pugh Photography
You can view our plans on the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park website by searching postcode G83 8SB https://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/planning/planning-applications/find-an-application/ and we welcome your feedback.
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