The Friends of Almondell and Calderwood Country Park tell us how they‘re implementing management to improve the biodiversity of their local wildlife site – Calderwood Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The group embarked on an initial five year plan to control the spread of invasive reed canary grass and improve the biodiversity of a little known area of fen within the park in West Lothian, just 100m from the busy A71.
With the support and advice from their local Scottish Natural Heritage Area Officer, Mike Thornton, and the West Lothian Countryside Ranger Service, a conservation plan was developed and funding agreed. First up was the purchase of traditional scything equipment, as well as training on their use, care and maintenance provided through the National Trust for Scotland Thistle Camp working holidays.
Scything was commonly practiced throughout Scotland in the 19th century to manage hay meadows; a land management practice which maintained a rich biodiversity. However, this form of management eventually died out in the 20th century due to mechanisation and intensification of grassland management, sadly leading to a loss of biodiversity.
The group explain: The reed canary grass had spread throughout the fen, leading to a loss of plant diversity in what is probably an old river channel or old oxbow lake of the Linhouse Water.
At first the area appeared to be dominated by two species – reed canary grass in the low lying circular fen and bracken on the surrounding raised area. However to our delight, we discovered a much wider variety of plant species during an initial survey, with 77 flower, 19 grass and 11 tree species identified in the fen and its immediate environ. As a result we subdivided the area into 10 separate sites to reflect these findings. The different habitats discovered numerous bird species, mainly in the surrounding woodlands. However, butterflies, moths and other insect species were noted on the fen along with toads & frogs. Finally our survey confirmed sightings of visiting roe deer, fox (resident) and evidence of smaller mammals.
The plan is for the reed canary grass to be scythed twice a year for five years which in historic cases is enough to discourage its growth and allow a greater diversity of native plant species to grow in its place. The interesting and still very much open question is how much it is discouraged as there is a lot of it on the fen. A key indication of success will be the removal of the cut grass from the fen so that nutrients are not recycled, however this is proving difficult as there is no access (except on foot) to the fen. Because of this we were restricted this year to creating ‘haystacks’ and scattering the grass over the higher ground where the bracken is. Perhaps next year we may attempt to burn it; we’d be interested to hear from other groups on other successful methods.
So what next? Over the winter the team will be opening up a number of small areas of open water, among the roots of the reed canary grass, to provide increased habitat for amphibians and insects. As the grass starts to grow, and to avoid disturbing nesting birds, we’ll be out in early spring with the scythes and rakes to cut it back and remove. In addition, with a few more volunteers, a significant portion of the bracken on the higher land will be cut back to provide areas for a greater diversity of plants, insects and birds.
In the longer term, with evidence of success in our battle with the invasive reed canary grass, we hope to source grant funding to provide better visitor access to the area from both Calderwood and Oakbank ends of the park as well as a circular route for visitors to enjoy the fen and its abundant wildlife.
The Friends of Almondell and Calderwood Country Park are an energetic group of volunteers who meet one Saturday each month to work with the Rangers. Tasks can include tree planting, gardening, path maintenance, biological recording and countryside patrols.
Find them on Facebook and if you’d like to get involved contact the Ranger Team at the Visitor Centre on 01506 882254.