06 Oct Water voles and otter holts
This week the Lomond trainees have been working with the Forestry Commission Scotland. A great chance to explore another area of the National Park and undertake a different kind of conservation work. It also contributes to the John Muir Award which the trainees as undertaking as well. Isobel shares her experience of the week:
Leanach Ponds – a mosaic of waterways covering this lowland area of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. When working in a wetland every step is precarious – reeds and grasses disguise the murky depths of the bog below and vegetation may not be as solid as it appears!
Enthusiastic to see the ponds and get to work creating habitats we took many a careless step and our wellies quickly became filled with peat water. Kitted out with our bib and brace like any seasoned outdoorsman we accepted our fate of smelly, wet feet and got to work.
Working with Kenny McWilliams from Forestry Commission Scotland, our objective for the week was to open up the habitat corridor for otter and water vole populations. Sitka spruce had regenerated and encroached on the native vegetation, embezzling crucial resources like water and light, limiting biodiversity. Water vole populations have experienced a significant decline and although still present in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park these animals are unlikely to populate any areas shaded by trees. Water vole eat approximately 80% of their body weight per day so by removing the trees we’re encouraging swathe banquets of lush grasses needed to sustain their healthy appetites.
We encountered all types of weather this week as Scotland descends into winter. We spent damp rainy days kneeling in bogs and getting very wet felling trees and building small natural dams much like beavers (minus the use of teeth). However the last day of our habitat week was a lovely mild day of 11º the perfect conditions for building an artificial otter holt. An artificial otter holt looks kind of like a mini wood cabin. There are two doors – one to face the water and another to escape from incase it floods. Centred within is a cosy dark bedding chamber, conveniently located on a spongy bed of moss. The walls are built by stacking logs held into place using stakes. Here we learnt an important detail in the construction of otter homes, the width of the corridor surrounding two sides of the chamber and the entrance to the chamber itself must be 25cm wide to permit an adult otter to turn around if necessary. Working as a team to hammer in stakes and cut logs to the appropriate size for each wall we all watched in awe as log by log the habitat took shape to becoming a home. Finished off with branches this mini cabin looked fit for any otter to take a rest.
A break in our regular path construction education we all thoroughly enjoyed the satisfaction of creating habitats and participating in this landscape scale wildlife conservation exercise. Thank you to the Forestry Commission and especially to Kenny for taking the week to develop our skills in biodiversity and habitat management.