Duns reserve loses SWT designation

Mallard on the Hen Poo
Mallard on the Hen Poo

Scottish Wildlife Trust is severing its relationship with the wildlife reserve on Duns Castle estate after 53 years.

The Duns site was one of the first SWT reserves to be created but a difference of opinion over the estate’s forest plan has resulted in the SWT deciding to end the agreement.

Julian Warman, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserve manager for south east Scotland said: “During the estate’s review of woodland planting the trust requested that non-native conifer trees within the wildlife reserve should be removed and replaced with a significant amount of new native woodland.

“Unfortunately this recommendation, which represented a significant long-term opportunity to increase the wildlife value of the reserve, was not included in the estate’s new forest plan.

“As a charity we have to focus our limited resources where we can have the greatest positive impact on wildlife, and therefore we have ended our agreement with the estate.”

A spokesperson for Duns Castle Estate said: “The Scottish Wildlife Trust is not “removing support” but is instead simply removing its designation.

“The establishment of the nature reserve was originally a private agreement entered into on Duns Castle Estate between Colonel Hay and the Scottish Wildlife Trust in 1966. This was the first such partnership between the SWT and a private estate along with two other properties.

“A local volunteer group was set up of which first George Waddell and then Murray Henderson were stalwart working members for many years along with other local members doing bird counts, placing nesting boxes etc.

“The national body had little or no involvement on the ground apart from the local representatives. The SWT, however, received the estate’s official long-term forest plans on a ten-yearly basis.

“Prior to general public access, those accessing the grounds were expected to be members of the Scottish Wildlife Trust but after the Access Law was passed that requirement fell into abeyance, so the trust derived no income from the agreement and neither did they put any investment into the grounds.

“Indeed, when asked for assistance when there was once a major problem with the lake water level, the SWT intimated that they had no funding or labour available.

“As preservation of wildlife and sympathetic tree planting and harvesting are part of the ethos of the estate and their partners Scottish Woodlands, it seems sensible that the agreement with SWT ceases to be official but that the activity carries on, on a de facto basis.

“No change in usage is envisaged in the area currently covered by the reserve, the estate welcoming the ongoing support of the enthusiastic local volunteers whose committee has contributed greatly to the cultural life of the community.”

Chair of the Berwickshire Group of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, David Long, said they had been notified by the director of conservation at SWT that they had decided to withdraw completely from the wildlife reserve with effect from February 28, 2019.

“Our branch committee in Duns was consulted about this proposal and we voiced our strong opposition, and suggested a compromise solution; this was not accepted.

“Our committee are very disappointed, considering the work that our group has carried out, with funds raised locally, particularly by the reserve convener Murray Henderson who has worked tirelessly for several decades in many ways, such as erecting nest boxes, maintaining the popular bird hide and leading groups of visitors around the Hen Poo to enjoy the waterfowl and other wildlife.

“The Hay family have assured us that access to the estate, which members of the public enjoy at present, will continue without change, and we are hoping that a new arrangement to continue the reserve in some form can be made with them.”