Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Boat of Bardmony to Balbrogie

Bardmony is a farm on the banks of the River Isla. The Ordnance Survey's map shows the crossing place under the name 'Boat of Bardmony', which indicates that a ferry took travellers across at least into the Middle of the nineteenth century, and possibly up to a century later. Louise and I left our car near the bridge and took the path along the flood defence (or levée?) that runs south of the river.

The floods have long since subsided and left behind a mixed detritus of coarse woody debris and an amazing jetsam of plastic bottles, balls, containers of mineral licks for farm stock.

Raising our eyes from the rubbish, we looked downstream, along this bank, bare of undergrowth in the winter, with groups of willow that are supplying the beavers with sustenance.

When we walked along this bank before Christmas there was a lodge here. The floods have washed the superstructure of branches away and the beavers have not returned.

Balbrogie was a grange of the nearby abbey of Coupar Angus. The Cistercian abbey was founded by King Malcolm IV in 1164 and has left its imprint on the history of the surrounding countryside. 

The name Balbrogie comes from the Gaelic Baile Brogain: 'Brogan's township'.

This island, just south of the confluence of the Rivers Ericht and Isla was the subject of an extraordinarily misleading news item on BBC Radio Scotland a couple of days ago.

A fishing ghillie, John Muller, described the destructive activities of the beavers and how they had killed the willows on the island. Where there were many willows, there were now only a few, he declared.

Looking at the island from all sides it was hard for us to see the justification for Mr Muller's claims. There were signs of fresh activity, but nothing dramatic. Any cutting will be more than made good by the pulse of new shoots when the spring comes. The bare, exposed banks of the Isla have resulted more from grazing by livestock over the centuries than any recent cutting by beavers.

This is the north end of the little island by Balbrogie, looking up the Ericht. The Isla flows away to the east. You can make out a recent blow out of the bank that must have resulted from the recent floods.

We walked back up the path, marvelling at the imaginative capacities of the ghillie. What could he have been talking about? His description of the beaver he had seen, with its fierce orange teeth, would have done Little Red Ridinghood proud!

By this time the silver light of the overcast day had given way to brilliant sunshine.

A management plan for the riparian Isla should be prepared. Litter should be removed and a programme of planting of willow arranged. Interestingly the farm leases of the Abbey of Coupar Angus nearly always included the requirement for the tenant to plant willow (as well as to drain the land).

Some years ago the WWF ran a Wild Rivers' project to restore Scotland's canalised rivers. There should be a revival of this project.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Winter Walks

Scottish Natural Heritage's project to trap all the free beavers in the catchment of the Tay means that we must be discreet about geography - or were these photographs taken in Bavaria?

The back entrance to a burrow in the same burn. The soil was very sandy and some of the bank was collapsing into the stream. I noticed that the farmer had given up cultivating as close to the stream bank as he used to. I guess that the weight of modern farm machinery was enough to destabilise the steep bank.

The sound of rushing water alerted me to the existence of this dam.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Floods and Thaws

Once again Morgan has reminded me, as if he needed to, that there had been no post on this blog for more than a week.

What more can I say, except that we are going through a welcome thaw, thought the ice is exchanged for flooding. Here are some photographs of the dams in the Burnieshed burn at Bamff. 

 The lowest of the Big Three. An overspill to the left of the picture is carrying a lot of water and contributing greatly to the reconfiguring of this rewilding stream.

Here is that long middle dam. This, more than the others, has been draped with rhododendron.

This is the first of the Big Three, looking at its northern end. The old fence straining post is more exposed than it was, but the dam has maintained its integrity, despite the volume of water behind it.

This photo shows the lowest of the Big Three from the path.

Felicity Martin asked how flooding affected beavers. The answer is that floods can affect beavers a lot. If the flood comes with enough warning they will make arrangements, move to higher burrows or shelters. The adults escort the young to places of safety.

In a sudden flood they may get caught and drowned inside their burrows, or washed away by the current. With any luck the animals will get out through a back entrance to the lodge or burrow and find some other shelter, or even build over the existing lodge. In places where floods are frequent, beavers may know of places that are safe in a time of flood.

The beaver that appeared in the Morton Lochs at Tentsmuir in Fife was probably washed down when the Tay was in flood. It was lucky in that it was able to find its way to shore and thus to Tentsmuir, though not so lucky in that it was trapped by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, taken to Edinburgh and then sent on to a wildlife centre in England, whence it escaped and is now thought to be living in the Thames.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Dusk around the Big Pond at Bamff

This afternoon I took a walk around the Big Pond enclosure here at Bamff. You can see the foot marks of beavers and the gnawed trunk of a fallen tree. It is as though a beaver had passed by and taken time off for a few bites at the bark.

 I had not been to look at this lodge for a while, but it seems to have grown a good deal since the autumn when I was last around here.

While waiting and photographing the lodge, I noticed gentle ripples in the open water in the photograph above. A moment later I caught a glimpse of a juvenile beaver, swimming away round the corner.

The importance of beavers in keeping waterways open for other animals can hardly be exaggerated.

Please ring the Zoo in Edinburgh (0131 - 334 9171 )and ask about Eric (or is she Erica?)

PS I forgot to wish you all a Happy New Year, please accept my belated greetings.