This year we celebrated a very special birthday at one of our nature reserves. Site Manager Stuart Jennings tells us more. 

On Monday this week, some RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers had a celebratory site visit to our Crannach reserve on the east side of the Cairngorms National Park. The reason for the celebration was that 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of RSPB Scotland acquiring Crannach as a nature reserve. The actual date of acquisition was 1 April 2011 but covid restrictions (not to mention snow) meant we couldn’t celebrate on the exact anniversary. Nevertheless, the get together on Monday was a fun day, in warm sunshine, with staff and volunteers involved in the acquisition of Crannach, or in the ten years of subsequent RSPB Scotland ownership and management, reflecting on what has been achieved and looking forward to the future.

 A grassy field with a tree-covered hill in the background

Walking up the east side of Crannach nature reserve

 

Crannach has a fascinating history. There are well over one hundred archaeological features recorded on the reserve, from possible bronze age kerb stones to a twentieth century rifle range. Recent woodland restoration on the site was started in the 1980s by the Crannach Management Group – a group of like-minded individuals who joined together and bought Crannach hill from a sporting estate and commenced a wide range of biological monitoring and habitat restoration. This included planting over 150,000 trees whilst also encouraging natural tree regeneration on the site, all in their spare time! After RSPB Scotland acquire the site in 2011, three of the previous owners became volunteers and continued to be involved at Crannach, providing immense knowledge and expertise as RSPB Scotland set about writing the reserve’s first management plan. Indeed, the operation of Crannach as a nature reserve would not be possible without the commitment, hard work and enthusiasm of our small but mighty team of volunteers.

 A group of four people in raincoats sit on the forest floor with flasks and sandwiches. Felled trees are in the background

RSPB Scotland volunteers taking a break from habitat management

 

Since 2011, staff and volunteers have undertaken some impressive conservation management on Crannach. There have been regular surveys of black grouse, woodland birds and pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies, the latter having a record year in 2019 with 132 butterflies counted on the annual survey! Experimental translocation of the rare pinewood plant twinflower has been undertaken and a programme of deadwood creation has been started to improve the woodland habitats on the site for plants, invertebrates and woodland birds. One of the most impressive tasks undertaken was the removal of a redundant deer fence from Crannach in 2013. This was done entirely by staff and volunteers, in deep snow and sweltering heat, and involved a truly impressive removal of over 5000 metres of fence material weighing well over 3000kg and all dismantled and removed by hand! In total, 25 volunteers contributed over 420 hours to get the job done.

 A group of people dismantling a tall wire fence in a snowy landscape

Deer fence removal in the snow

 

The celebration of Crannach’s tenth birthday as an RSPB Scotland reserve obviously invites reflection on how the site has changed. Thanks to our volunteers, we have some historical photos that show how the site has changed since woodland restoration began in the 1980s. What was essentially a heather covered, treeless hill has become a diverse mixed woodland, supporting species such as spotted flycatcher, redstart, cuckoo and red squirrel. This is the result of much dedication and hard work from staff and volunteers, and a birthday walk on the reserve (even if we didn’t quite manage a birthday cake due to covid protocols) was well deserved and much enjoyed. The next ten years (and many more) of RSPB Scotland management of Crannach will see the woodland continue to expand and develop, providing a home for even more amazing wildlife, and will hopefully bring as much fun, satisfaction and happiness to the staff and volunteers involved as the first ten years have.

 A trio of images of the same location, taken in 1970, 1997 and 2011. The hill shown increases in tree cover as the years go on.

 Landscape changes in Tullich Glen, photo credit Richard Marriott.

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