Imbewu Scotland is an inter-generational project which shares the knowledge and wisdom of stalkers, ghillies and other experienced countrymen and women,who live and work on rural estates, with young people from urban backgrounds who have demonstrated leadership potential , an interest in nature, and enjoyment of the outdoors.
Each Imbewu Scotland experiential learning week delivers a wilderness trail, bringing young people closer to the spectacle of wild nature than they have ever been before. Workshops looking at rural skills, employment and conservation opportunities follow.
Below are some of the magical wildlife and special places that our Imbewu participants have experienced this year.
1. Walking the Red Squirrel Trail in Big Tree Country, Perthshire
We followed the Red Squirrel Trail from Glen Tilt car park through the conifer woods of Atholl. The trail is the perfect place for spotting one of our most recognised species and one of Scotland’s ‘Big 5’. Scotland is home to over 75% of Britain’s endangered red squirrels and the conservation of the species is an important part of the work of the Atholl Estates Ranger Service.
The Estate aims to help maintain central Scotland as a stronghold of the native red squirrel.
Our ranger guide Liz, explained that appropriate habitat management is the key to helping the long-term survival of the species. The woodland is managed to ensure a good cone crop, while monitoring of grey squirrels takes place to prevent them from moving into the area. Grey squirrels carry Squirrelpox, a disease that is fatal to reds but does not affect the greys.
2. Creating mini national parks, Cairngorms National Park
What makes a National Park special? That was the question which our Imbewu trail participants had to answer when they were challenged to create their own mini national parks in the woods of Glen Girnaig.
Working at a micro level the group designated their special area based on a range of criteria including species diversity, beauty and uniqueness. Atholl Estates are working to re-establish the native woodland there; these are mainly pinewoods and will form an important contribution to the wildlife habitat of this part of Perthshire.
3. Spotting ring ouzel, Glenkindie, Cairngorms
Just below the Kildrummy Wind Farm we spotted a pair of ring ouzel. Slightly smaller and slimmer than a blackbird, male ring ouzels are particularly distinctive with their black plumage, pale wing panel and striking white breast band. The ring ouzel is primarily a bird of the uplands, where it breeds mainly in steep sided valleys, crags and gullies, from near sea level in the far north of Scotland up to 1,200m in the Cairngorms.
Breeding begins in mid-April and continues through to mid-July, with two broods common, and nests are located on or close to the ground in vegetation, typically in heather. The young are fed a diet consisting mainly of earthworms and beetles.
The ring ouzel is on the UK Red List, the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action to protect their populations.
4. The ascent of Ben Vrackie
Ben Vrackie or ‘Speckled Mountain’ is a familiar sight above the popular town of Pitlochry. At 2759ft in height, Ben Vrackie is a Corbett, a hill of between 2500ft and 2999ft in height. Our ascent route followed good paths through woodland and across open moorland. We spent over half an hour on the summit, one of the best viewpoints in the southern highlands. North lies the mass of Beinn a’ Ghlo with Glen Tilt and the vast wilderness of the Cairngorms beyond. It certainly was well worth the effort!
5. Mount Keen, Cairngorms National Park
Mount Keen is the most easterly of the Munros (Scotland’s 3000ft-plus peaks), an isolated cone-shaped summit rising above the vast Mounth plateaux. Our approach took us through the magnificent pinewoods of Glen Tanar, a National Nature Reserve, where it is possible to see rare wildlife such as the Scottish cross-bill, the red squirrel, the spectacular capercaillie or the crested tit. The summit of Mount Keen is marked by a trig point sitting on a rocky outcrop where the summiteers took the weight off their feet before descending through the low cloud back to base camp.
6. Wildlife tracking in Glen Tanar.
Four animals celebrated as part of Scottish Natural Heritage’s Big 5 Year of Natural Scotland campaign – red deer, golden eagle, red squirrel and otter – inhabit Glen Tanar. Estate ranger Mike took one Imbewu trail group to look for field signs of otter. We soon came upon some fresh otter tracks at the start of an otter slide into a fishing loch. Otters mark their territory with piles of dark and musky-smelling droppings called spraints. Mike pointed out some recently deposited spraint on a nearby rock in which we could see the tiny remains of fish. Opposite the slide, an obvious trail could be seen disappearing into the woods. Our tracking skills were later put to the test when we were asked to locate a badger sett in the woods. The active sett included several recently excavated holes.
7. Bracken bashing, Glen Tilt
Seven Imbewu volunteers, armed with sticks,took to the fields at the end of April in a bracken-bashing exercise that will help one of Scotland’s most endangered plants to flourish. Small cow-wheat is found in only 18 sites in Britain, 2 of which are within the Cairngorms National Park. Bracken is a vigorous native plant that can grow faster and taller than many other plants, often smothering smaller plants over large areas. In Glen Tilt, bracken has encroached over much of the meadow, threatening the habitat of the small cow-wheat. Hitting the bracken bruises the stem and causes it to fall over. The plant loses a lot of energy re-growing a new stem and, if repeated a couple of times a year, bracken bashing can be a very effective control measure. We certainly enjoyed venting our frustrations on the unwelcome bracken!
8. Tree planting, Douglas
At Douglas Estates they are working hard to re-establish the native broad-leaved woodland including oak and silver birch. Our group of volunteers spent the day strimming, digging, planting and putting up tree shelters with some of the Douglas Estate staff. Local walkers came over to see what was happening and lend their support.
At Douglas, much of the heather moorland, forms part of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area. The Red Moss is a nationally important raised peat bog and Millers Wood is a rare example of native Scottish birch woodland.
9. Listening to snipe drumming, Mount Keen base camp, Glen Tanar
One early spring morning in April, while lying in our tents at the head of Glen Tanar, we were treated to an early morning ‘drumming’ concert. Drumming (also called bleating) is a sound produced by snipe as part of their courtship display flights during the breeding season. The sound is produced mechanically by the vibration of the modified outer tail feathers. Snipe are medium sized, skulking wading birds with short legs and long straight bills. In winter, birds from northern Europe join resident birds. The UK population of snipe has undergone moderate declines overall in the past twenty-five years, with particularly steep declines in lowland wet grassland, making it an Amber List species.
10. Finding out about capercaillie conservation, Glen Tanar
Glen Tanar is a Special Protection Area and is an internationally important site for capercaillie. Imbewu participants found out how the Glen Tanar Estate is helping increase numbers of this iconic species in the Cairngorms.
Conservation work carried out in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage makes sure that the birds have enough food to eat. Around the edges and within the Caledonian pinewood, the estate staff have been busy burning, swiping, strimming, and clearing patches of heather and bracken, as well as thinning the woods to encourage the growth of blaeberry, an important food plant of capercaillie. Blaeberry provides caterpillars and other insect life for the chicks to eat, and the leaves and berries are a favourite of adult birds.
In addition to a good and reliable food supply, capercaillie need shelter for protection against the elements and predators. In response to this the estate staff have built many brushwood shelters and created a number of forest thickets in which the capercaillie and their chicks can find refuge.
If you would like to know more about Imbewu Scotland, please contact us on 0300 123 3073, or email firstname.lastname@example.org