Near to our house at Spottiswoode we were able to buy a small plot of woodland 13 years ago. It had been part of a state-owned Sitka Spruce forest since the 1930’s when the former Spottiswoode estate was divided up and sold off.
At the time we bought it, the Forestry Commission were giving grants to convert small plantations of conifers to encourage creation of new native woodlands.
The Scottish Borders has the lowest percentage of native woodland of any region in Scotland, so our application was welcomed and we received a grant to help to replace the conifers with native hardwoods.
Although conifer plantations are good for some wildlife, such as Red Squirrels and Crossbills, they are dark and shady and support a very limited range of wildlife.
here are plenty of conifer forests in the Borders, managed commercially for timber, but few native woods. Local trees such as oak, ash, birch and rowan can be much more pleasing to the eye (especially in autumn) and support many kinds of wildlife.
To get a grant required a fair bit of research, firstly on the woodland history, and old maps such as John Blackadder’s map of Berwickshire published in 1797 showed woodland on the site, and the published history of the estate recorded that 30,000 trees had been planted by John Spottiswoode in just ten years in the 1760’s.
In order to choose which species to plant, soils had to be tested (and were found to be acidic and peaty) and a nearby ‘ancient’ woodland by the Brunta Burn showed that the trees which would do best were Sessile Oak, Birch, Rowan and Hazel. At this point the hard work began, firstly felling the spruce trees, some of which were sold off as Christmas trees to boost funds of the local school, and the bigger ones kept for firewood.
We were very fortunate to get an offer of help from a wonderful bunch of helpers – the Lothian Conservation Volunteers – who over the years have made many visits, helping with tasks such as burning brash (the favourite occupation in winter) and planting trees
They are great enthusiasts for native woodland and supplying them with home-made soup, bread and cakes means we get regular visits and quite a high rating from them.
In this way we have now been able to plant over 6000 oak trees which are doing well and encouraging many new arrivals in the form of birds, insects, plants and fungi.
Further progress will be reported in the future.