“I leant upon a coppice gate,
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’ dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.”
– The Darkling Thrush; Thomas Hardy
Frost; spectre-grey; dregs; desolate; are these particularly disheartening, or realistic adjectives regarding the onset of winter? With autumn merging into the colder months at a rate of knots, there is undoubtedly a reduction in colour in the surrounding landscape as trees and plants enter a state of dormancy, which is a process similar to hibernation. For many plants and animals, dormancy is an essential part of their life cycle, allowing an organism the chance to pass through critical environmental stages with minimal impact on itself. During dormancy, everything within the plant slows down, including metabolism, energy consumption and growth. Winter is therefore the best time to prune trees, for a number of different reasons, and as a result you may be aware of a number of tree maintenance projects happening at The Carrick over the next few months.
- Pruning a tree during the growing season tends to make the tree bleed sap from the fresh cut. Pruning in the winter, however, helps the tree to heal faster because all the energy can go towards the healing process and not to the process of photosynthesis.
- Pruning during the growing season leaves an open “wound” or entrance for insects, bacterial and fungal problems. Freshly cut trees also emit odours which can attract bugs and insects that can cause the diseases, so there is a better chance of not spreading these by pruning in the winter.
- Finally, for practical reasons, it is much easier to see the branch structure in the winter when the leaves have dropped. It is also easier to identify dead, damaged or diseased branches.
I am currently managing a woodland thinning operation adjacent to the 18th fairway at The Carrick. This deciduous woodland has been unattended for a number of years, and has naturally become overgrown with a dense understorey of brambles, broom, and the occasional gorse with one or two struggling hawthorns. Assisted by a fantastic team; Craig Reich, Ryan Barrett, Brian Corr, Iain Horner and Liam Anson, I have been working hard to improve the aesthetics of the location for golfers and Lodge guests alike. I am confident that next spring the newly thinned woodland will also play host to a much bigger variety of woodland plants and flowers, whilst maintaining continuous cover. The phrase ‘continuous cover forestry’ is defined as the use of silvicultural systems whereby the forest canopy is maintained at one or more levels without clear felling. Clear felling is the cutting down of all trees, and in an area as abundant in wildlife as the shores of Loch Lomond, it goes without saying that wildlife habitats should be maintained, if not enhanced, wherever possible. For those of you who may have been disturbed by the not-so-melodious sounds of chainsaws, and a wood chipper, I can only apologise for any inconvenience, but rest assured this project will be completed well before the Christmas festivities begin.
Last month I was very excited to tell you about my involvement in a squirrel survey, co-ordinated by Clare McInroy from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and I was surprised and delighted to capture a somewhat larger visitor to one of the feeder boxes. This is not, in fact, a genetically mutated squirrel of any kind, but rather a pine marten, which sniffed out the free peanuts on offer. The pine marten (Martes martes) is native to Britain and is a member of the mustelid family, so its relatives include the weasel, stoat, polecat and otter. Pine martens are similar in size to domestic cats, with brown fur with a distinctive cream ‘bib’ on the throat, long bushy tail and prominent rounded ears. Pine martens prefer woodland habitats but can also live in conifer plantations and on rocky hillsides. They enjoy a variety of food, including small mammals, fruit, birds, eggs, insect, carrion and free peanuts!
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the pine marten population declined dramatically as a result of both woodland clearances as well as predator control associated with the increase in game shooting. By the early 20th century, pine martens had become extinct in most of southern Britain and were confined to north-west Scotland and some upland areas of northern England, such as the Lake District. From the 1930s, following a reduction in trapping pressure, pine martens began to recover in Scotland and the population has slowly expanded and re-colonised many parts of its former range. Pine martens are now listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside act 1981, which means it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a wild pine marten; damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place which such an animal uses for shelter or protection; disturb such an animal when it is occupying a structure or place for that purpose, or possess, sell, offer for sale or possess or transport for the purpose of sale any live or dead pine marten or any derivative of such an animal. Pine martens are crepuscular which means they are mainly active at night and at dusk, so unless you are out in the woods in the middle of the night the best place to view them is here on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/MWKrG3BpSn0