I was wondering about the road that lies ahead,

in my mind I heard the wisdom of the master….

“Every leaf seems to speak”   – John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938).   This last couple of weeks I’ve made visits to my special spots on Loch Lomondside (selected for my John Muir Award focusing on the seasons) and found myself again greeting familiar plants; none has answered back, so John Muir probably didn’t mean this literally!  But the leaves do speak in their own way.  They attest to changes in the amount of  daylight they receive and to the changes taking place inside maturing plants as they prepare to set seed, and changes inside trees as they respond to a drop in green surface area from which to synthesise food, that reduction caused by caterpillar damage. At least that’s how it seems to me… it appears that the oaks have experienced Lammas growth. It’s quite exciting to see this after spotting the numbers of busy caterpillars in early June. I don’t know what the science says to that, though. These photos were taken on 21st July.

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Spring has definitely given way to something else, but July has been a little disappointing as a summer month!  It’s made me wonder what lies ahead in August. The beautiful woodland along the West Highland Way between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay is brilliant green with yellow patches – so many of the flowers I’ve seen in bloom are yellow – look how they shine for you.  There’s still the carpet of low growing Common Cow-wheat, and now there’s Honeysuckle and Nipplewort and Slender St John’s-wort and Creeping Yellow-cress.

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nipplewort

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Creeping yellow cress Rorippa sylvestrisThe non-yellow plants are pretty in July: purple and pink flowers are out, with Self-heal, Common Spotted-orchid, Hedge Woundwort, Common Knapweed, Yarrow and Tufted Vetch.

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orchid

hedge woundwort  Stachys sylvatica

common knapweed

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The small band of wildflowers that I recognise is growing by means of trying to learn new ones while retaining  a handle on the ones I think I learned previously!  Using iSpot has been a great help, as people consider  your identifications, offering agreement or not.  Some contributors remind me of important distinguishing features!  I know, though, that I can be a bit blinkered  continuing to be convinced of an ID even when evidence against it is mounting…. and keying out each one is challenging as I don’t always have the vocabulary for that.  Wildflowers and how they change over the weeks has been one of the revelations so far of my JMA efforts, it’s such rich habitat  around the trees of the oak woodland.  I hope these IDs are correct – time will tell. I have no regrets about the focus being a relatively short stretch/small area along the WHW – getting to know it better is brilliant.

My photo points continue to provide amusement for passers-by and some frustration for me!  July has been green, green, green. I remember so vividly being delighted by the spring signs here on 16th April: but each individual plant had grown and greened up hugely by 15th July! And look, two sunny days, though not in a row, of course.

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The little island keeps changing too, not least because of the way the water level varies. Vegetation change is prominent when you compare these images from 20th May and 15th July.

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I’m delighted  to have enough photos of my chosen points to see real differences across the growing season so far.

I took a walk with a friend up the track at Cashel one afternoon.  It always surprises me that it is so calm and quiet up there, we talked for a while about what we saw and what was growing.  The mountain bog environment is represented by cotton grass, bog moss, bog myrtle and bog asphodel, to name some of the easy ones to see.  How close to my Balmaha to Milarrochy Bay area this is, yet it’s such a different habitat.  Both are important though, figuring in plans to protect and retain their biodiversity.

On one of my visits round my photo points, I took along the little video lapse camera (on a stick) and had great fun taking short movies under water in the loch – the waterproof case worked well.  I want to use to show some features of the woodland, to show a walk along the WHW path.  I tried that but found the position of the stick wasn’t quite right that time! The search for the best method of showing little videos on this blog – eight shots of a photo point, say, stitched together – continues and I think I’m getting somewhere, so more on that soon.

Reading recently has taken in Biodiversity Action Plans – BAPs: the international and European agreements that fostered these plans and the identification of priority species, and the steps local authorities have taken to develop and implement their plans.  My John Muir Award  area is  part of  Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park  and the NP BAP for the current period is called Wild Park 2020 – see http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/wildpark/.  More on that later.

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Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise

Well, plenty of sun to see, though not actually rising when I saw it!

June was to be 30 days wild, according to the twitter hashtag: I didn’t manage 30! I did fit in some practical conservation volunteering on two days (9th and 10th June) at wildlife sites with members of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Ranger team. Conservation is especially important to the John Muir Award (JMA) this year, with an audit of what JMA candidates do. As part of my plan for the JMA, I am choosing volunteer projects close to my special JMA place, the woodland between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay by beautiful Loch Lomond. The overall theme for me is seasons:  I love to see the landscape change as the months pass, but I want to learn more and to be a better informed and  more careful observer. Simple!?!!

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Wildlife Sites: Day 1

Critreoch is a lovely spot, a tract of (mostly) semi-natural grassland with the West Highland Way to one side and Loch Lomond to the other. There’s no signage or car parking so people who discover the Wildlife Site probably enjoy it in peace. The site has a pond – there are very few ponds in the area, unless you count the very big one called Loch Lomond! (Yes, I know, different habitat….)

The site is managed for biodiversity by, for example, cattle grazing in winter to keep bracken in check (with some human help on the bracken front too), and cutting back emerging alder before they can escape upwards and grow despite the attentions of the on-site roe deer. Critreoch is valued for its rich (in terms of flora) grassland habitat, relatively rare in the area; its species, especially invertebrates of the pond and meadow; and its use as an educational and kids’ event resource. There was a lightly trodden desire line path through the site visible that day.

I had a great day’s volunteering. One team  helped with some fencing work near the loch while another team trampled bracken. A third team (that included me!) tackled an in-burn construction task to safeguard the inflow of water to the pond: it’ll be interesting to see how the changes we made have fared in the face of the power of running water on the next volunteer day there, 4th August.

Wildlife sites: Day 2
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Aberfoyle Community Wildlife Site forms part of the flood plain of the River Forth. Rabbit Hill at the NE of the site has a mountain bike trail for skills development, but the rest of the site is managed for wildlife. This volunteer day let us get on with some of the tasks identified during an earlier one in May. The picture above was taken in May at the site: drastically cropped to avoid identifying people! Ben Lomond is in the centre background.

Boundaries of the site are the cycle path, the River Forth and the burn at the car park/western end. Public access to the site is marked by gate posts. It’s an important community resource, many dogs are walked! There are a variety of habitats: it is less wet towards the north and west while the boundary area along the River Forth in the south is wet grassland. An area near the centre of the site is marsh, with plants such as meadowsweet and valerian while in the centre there is also wet grassland/woodland carr, a potentially rich habitat with scattered alder and willow. Invasive plants have become a feature, though, with spirea (a shrub, member of the rose family) in large clumps in the centre of the site and encroaching rosebay willowherb towards the north. A footpath along the burn and the river is probably the most used route within the site, although ‘desire line’ trodden paths can be seen.

Volunteer teams that day made a drainage ditch, dug away overgrowth on a section of made path, and refurbished (see below) the signage/gateposts. Another great day of volunteering. IMG_2110 IMG_2114

Similar but different!

The biodiversity of both these sites may be partially attributed to human actions over time, so there would be loss of that diversity should management not take place – grassland can quickly change!. Both are relatively isolated areas of grassland in an increasingly wooded landscape. These two pockets of grassland could be seen as fragile because of their separation from other areas of similar habitat. Both sites are close by protected areas such as Doon Hill SSSI in Aberfoyle and Rowardennan Woods SSSI in the case of Critreoch. The Aberfoyle site is three times the size of Critreoch and has easy access from the car park and cycle path. Unlike Critreoch, there is a made path round the Aberfoyle site. Critreoch has no access infrastructure except a platform at the pond.

Seasonal change is central to the three conservation days I’ve had at these sites so far this year. The low levels of early spring growth on the marshland in the centre of the Aberfoyle site allowed us in to remove an old fence in May – and we were lucky it wasn’t too wet at that stage. The nesting season has prevented work on invasive bushes at that site and further work on some trees will have to wait till ‘the back end’ – till the plants are near dormant. At Critreoch, the June day allowed some bracken trampling before it grew to waist or hip height. All this is obvious of course, but having seasons in closer focus has made me more aware.

Both sites are really lovely, though each has a different feel. I’ve enjoyed learning about them so far and it’s satisfying to do practical conservation  volunteering any time, especially in my John Muir spring.

Meanwhile, back at the woodland….

My lovely guelder-rose has been eaten!  On 8th June, I saw  a few caterpillars and by 27th June, the impact was clear: lace leaves as a backdrop to the opening blossom!

Guelder Rose

As the weeks pass, the flowering plants of the woodland are changing – and some are harder for me to recognise!  The greenness of the woodland  is almost overwhelming, and the carpeting colours seem strongly yellow from the modest common cow-wheat to the brilliant, showy yellow iris on the marshy bits. As earlier flowering species set seed, their appearance becomes a new mystery: at the bottom is the seed head of water avens, still lovely on 27th June.

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This midsummer, a few days on Mull was a lovely wildlife experience – as well as  a good trip away.  I surprised myself by looking at what’s growing on the hills and coasts of Mull as often as I scanned the skies for the big birds. I tried to get pictures of plants in flower like butterwort, lousewort and tormentil that I saw on the hills and bird’s-foot trefoil and thrift by the coast. The emerging orchids, the heath milkwort and the many many yellow iris were wonderful. Some photos below.

Mull shore rocks thrift

Mull shore rocks birds foot trefoil

Mull upland wet ?tufted vetch