12th April 2017, by John Hodgson
It was a real pleasure to be running the first conservation week of the Spring season with my fellow Volunteer Team Leader, and Trees for Life legend, Joan Fairhurst. It was a week based at our Dundreggan nursery, and coincided with the preparation of a huge order of trees which were off to Fasnakyle to be planted by the Forestry Commission. Just as we did, you'll have to keep going till the end to find the exact total we sent. (Yes, a transparent and unsubtle way to make sure you read the full article, but you'll not regret it!)
There was a real start of season feeling at Dundreggan this week. Spring was, quite literally, in the air and other places. Birds were singing, bees were buzzing, frogs and toads were...let's just say "active".
As well as our first conservation week volunteers of the season, three new "human wolves" arrived to begin their task of keeping the local deer population nervous enough not to hang around and eat our regenerating trees (more on them elsewhere). Also, two new members of staff started working at Dundreggan this week, helping the old regulars at this very busy time for the nursery. So we had plenty of folk to chat to while we worked.
Each morning began with a talk from nursery staff which gave a context for, and overview of, the day. So as well as picking up the practical skills we needed, we also learned the how's and why's of seed collection and propagation, aspen root collection, and all about rare montane tree species such as dwarf birch. Then we were busy digging and packing rowan, downy willow and downy birch (amongst other species) destined not just for the Forestry Commission site at Fasnakyle, but also some for Glen Affric and some for our own planting site at Dundreggan. Other tasks included sowing previously collected rowan seed in outdoor beds, and a fascinating session collecting aspen roots to enable further propagation of this tricky species.
In and around the work during the day, we had several treats lined up this week, one of which was an evening visit from a storyteller and musician. He entertained us with tales involving wolves and magic, as well as a few head scratching riddles. Whether my end of week quiz was as entertaining could be debated, but at least there was a prize! Volunteers also happily joined in with a few outdoor games (or were they activities?), one of which involved a frosty barefoot walk (optional). We were also treated to a morning session on spring birdsong, led by Doug, Dundreggan's manager and general font of knowledge. And we even had a day off when volunteers enjoyed various different walks and ambles in the surrounding area.
As ever the best part of the week was the fun, friendship and laughter between the volunteers. We seem to pack in so much that by leaving time on Saturday, the previous Saturday seems a lifetime ago. The combination of Trees for Life and a week in the Scottish Highlands remains a cracking combo, if you fancy the idea check out our website for future weeks. And a huge thank you and well done to our volunteers for this week, who were always ready early and were even seen putting in overtime on several occasions!
Well done for reading to the end... Did I forget something?
Just the small matter of over 30,000 trees prepared and bagged and ready to plant next week. By the time you read this they'll already be being planted out, continuing the process of restoring the Caledonian Forest.
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