Volunteering in Eigg for a whole month was an amazing experience. Growing native trees in the island’s tree nursery and helping local crofters certainly made me bond with the place. The isle is full of wildlife and scenic views. The volunteers’ house faces Laig bay – where every day the sun sets displaying different colours. And at night, the lack of street lights reveals a dramatic starry sky.
Jess Vian, São Paulo – Brazil
Over the last few weeks we have managed to transplant about 5,000 Ash seedlings a further 200 Hawthorn and Cherry! The Hawthorn and Cherry have had less survival rates but the strongest Ash have been very successful. There is so many variants why some have worked and others not, erratic temperatures, transplanting techniques, the seedling itself or just some survive and some don’t!! Anyhow any we get to grow is more than if we didn’t try at all….
The Hazel have finally starting to pop through which is brilliant as I was starting to loose hope that any were going to germinate. The Oak have also started to appear with the first few big enough to transplant into the rootrainers.
The next batch of seedlings that will be ready for transplanting in a week or so is Birch! Absolutely delighted to get this to germinate as I wasn’t successful last year at all. This year I went to great lengths to do all sorts of experimentations of soaking seed, not soaking and planting with no prep and another batch under plastic. And all of them have germinated and all at the same time so there was no noticeable differences to either batch. I spend nearly every morning staring at seed trays looking for any sign of life, below is a picture to see if you can spot the wee seedlings, once you do you will see hundreds of them! You can just imagine how excited I was when I saw them the other morning!
March has seen a burst of growth at our tree nursery and we are madly trying to keep up! The trees that have all looked completely dead over the winter are suddenly uncurling their leaves magically practically overnight. It is very exciting to see spring life…
The harsh winter weather and the inadequate soil condition of our outdoor growing beds has seen our Scots Pine, Alder and Rowan to be flattened and the soil being washed away exposing the roots. Over the last few weeks we have been madly transplanting them into rootrainers and move them into the polytunnel to save them all.
Saving the Scots Pine…
Now we have the outdoor beds becoming empty after our transplanting, we are now, when the weather allows, digging seaweed into the soil and going to leave it for a year to hopefully improve the condition. Along with finally creating a compost bin with a mixture of leaves, seaweed and soil.
The hard work does not stop there. Inside the polytunnel the seeds that were planted at the beginning of the month are more than ready to be transplanted from their seed trays into rootrainers.
On the first picture we have trays of germinating Ash seed on the 27th March and then the second picture the same trays on the 1st of April – I am amased by the dramatic growth in just 5days! They are all now at a crucial stage to get them transplanted before they become to big. Thankfully we now have a full team of volunteers for the season working hard to keep up….
Spring was in the air but then things have taken a dramatic change. Temperatures have plummeted and the wind has been blowing, even a touch of snow!
The volunteer house has had its spring scrubbing and ready for the first volunteers to arrive. And the volunteer places have all been filling up fast, still some availability but full enough to get us through the next few months. Just as well as developments in the tree nursery have been definitely behaving like spring.
This year is very exciting for the tree nursery as we have the polytunnel up and at the ready for the beginning of the season unlike last year. This will be our first full growing season. The seeds collected last Autumn have started to show signs of germination, some already sprouting so it has been a race and a few very long days to get them from their winter storage pots and planted into seed trays so we don’t loose them. Last year we lost quite a lot of our seed as they germinated in their winter storage pots as we had nowhere for them to go as the polytunnel was delayed in going up. We did our best at preparing a site outside but then we had to transplant what tiny seedlings had survived straight outside to be hit by either frosty wind one month to then scorched by the baking sunshine the next. I am hoping we can control the temperatures a bit better in the tunnel and certainly protect them from the fearsome winds when they are such delicate wee seedlings. I am sure there will be a whole other set of issues but for now I have been loving the indoor space to work in any weather and filling what was an empty space up with rows of seed trays! We have been doing different trials on planting some hazel straight into rootrainers, seed trays and outside to see if any differences can be noted. Also I had no success with Birch seed last year so I have some soaking in water for a period of three weeks, some planted in trays with plastic over the top and some just sprinkled on the surface of seed trays with vermiculite on top. Hopefully one if not all are successful and we can get some birch growing. The most exciting is now watching for the seedlings to pop up above the soil, so far we have Cherry and Ash winning the race!
Sycamore, Alder and Ash seed
Sycamore, Alder and Ash seed laid out in trays before getting compost over the top
Some seed like Hazelnuts and Acorns have had to be protected from the rats and mice in meshed box’s
The tunnel starting to fill up with seed trays and the first signs of seedlings…..
We are excited to announce we have new Conservation Working Holiday opportunities to offer for 2019! The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust has recently set up a tree nursery for the purpose of restoring our native woodlands along with some of the more exotic species found in the Lodge gardens with all the seed collected from the island. We are also working alongside our woodfuel team to grow productive, native and non native species for our forestry plantation.
We have a few different weeks available:
Weeks available for 2019:
6th – 13th April 2019 ~ Tree transplanting: The weeks activities will include preparing for pricking out seedlings, potting and pricking out seedlings, general polytunnel organising and watering schedules, weeding, outside ground prep and more. 6 places available.
13th – 20th April 2019 ~ Tree transplanting: The weeks activities will include preparing for pricking out seedlings, potting and pricking out seedlings, general polytunnel organising and watering schedules, weeding, outside ground prep and more. 6 places available.
29th June – 6th July 2019 ~ Tree Week: The weeks activities will include preparing for hardening off the trees, tree grading, stock rotation, moving stock to the outdoors, general tree nursery tasks, watering schedules and more. 4 places available.
Note: Please be aware with the nature of the project the tasks may have to be adjusted dependent on the stages of the seedlings due to seasonal changes, germination rates and weather conditions etc. Conservation land management tasks will be carried out as an alternative. Work takes place five days out of the week, no previous experience is needed to join our working holidays, just a willingness to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty!
For further information and costs please refer to the Conservation Working Holiday page.
A very Happy Christmas and all the very best for the New Year! A huge thanks to all those that helped out in 2018 and look forward to another successful volunteer season meeting new faces and hopefully seeing some familiar ones too… See you in 2019!!
The Isle of Eigg Tree Nursery project so far….
And suddenly before I know it the very first volunteers arrived for the season. We spent some pretty chilly days at our new tree nursery site keeping warm by making a start at digging over the ploughed ground picking out stones, twigs and roots and creating raised beds ready for the first seed to be planted! Off we went for a change of scenery and to fix up the busy path down to the Singing Sands as the little bridges needed some planks and wire replacing and repairs was needed on the stile.
We managed to squeeze in the Whale and Dolphin Conservation training to carry out Shorewatches keeping track of any cetacean activities, boats and weather conditions. When the weather has allowed we have seen plenty of seals lounging on sunny rocks and a few porpoises! Porpoises and Bottlenose Dolphins can be seen in Scottish waters all year round.
Onto the next week and back to finish of digging over ground at the tree nursery site, attacked many brambles in various locations with many more to go, weeded and tidied the herb garden…..
And then took control of another very overgrown escalonia hedge in the Lodge gardens, heres a before and after….
and some shots in-beween with some very happy faces to be finished!
No rest for the wicked as we were back planting in the very first tree seeds in our freshly dug beds, the tree nursery has officially begun! Exciting to get past the planning stage and actually making it happen….
Fencing around the area is the next important job to keep our seeds safer from a lively dog, child, adult or rabbit!
To finish off the month nicely we went and for more digging but in a new location. We dug some trial drainage ditches on the Sgurr path. Before we dig any more we’ll wait for the next big downpour (surprisingly when you want it to rain it doesn’t drip a drop!) and see if it is making any difference to the path which has been eroding quite seriously over the last few years, this project is definitely going to be continued…. hopefully with not such boisterous boys – a health and safety nightmare with this three around!!
All things have been quiet on here since the end of the volunteer season. I went into hibernation for a month to recover from a busy season and then have been focused on working towards setting up our new tree nursery!! We have been awarded funds from Awards for All, The Pebble Trust, Nature Save Trust and The Gordon and Ena Baxter Foundation! An enormous thank you to our funders to allow this project to go ahead. We are hoping to grow all our own trees to restock the productive conifers being harvested as part of our newly revived Woodfuel business and also to grow and create areas with more native species. As you can read from the last post the end of the season was spent wondering around identifying, picking and stratifying native tree seeds from all over the island to store them over the winter so we had something to plant in this spring!
As with all projects they all end up running a bit behind schedule, especially here on Eigg as I have been busy ordering polytunnels, tools and equipment but items are out of stock, delivery all the way to Eigg has its complications and then you have to wait until there is enough space on the boat especially for large bulky orders like ours….
In light of this we have had to prepare an area of ground separate from the polytunnel site to get the seeds into the ground as they had all started germinating in the last week. I looked at everything the previous week and there was not any sign of movement and then this week everything has burst out of their seeds and sprouting sprouts everywhere. I fear we may have lost some seeds like the Rowan as we have tried to transplant them but they were to small and delicate unfortunately and have shrivelled up! All a steep learning curve and I certainly won’t let that happen again next year as I spent hours upon hours separating the Rowan seed from the berry, won’t repeat that mistake again but will no doubt make plenty more next year! We have got plenty other seed that looks more successful from Elder, Hazel, Beech, White Beam, Oak, Horse Chestnut, Field Maple and still to plant the Birch and Alder.
The first of the ground prep….
As our season has drawn to a close I would like to thank our 2017 volunteer team for what must be one of the most productive volunteer seasons to date! Each and every volunteer gave their utmost enthusiasm and energy to every day even when faced with more brambles and bracken! We wouldn’t manage half of the tasks without volunteer input and are forever indebted to the time folk give. 2018 volunteers will have a lot to live up to…. Another huge thanks is due to Scottish Natural Heritage for funding the Volunteer Manager post for the last three years. This has allowed the volunteer programme to grow over the years and be far more of an effective programme that will hopefully continue to flourish in the coming years.
Our main concentration for September has been collecting tree seeds. To work alongside out long term forget plans, we hope to have a polytunnel by Spring 2018 for the start of creating a tree nursery. As most seeds are ready for collection from September onwards to have any seed to plant in spring it is necessary to work a season ahead of ourselves. So far we have collected Birch, Rowan, Hawthorn, Beech, Horse Chestnut, White Beam and Hazel. We found only a couple of acorns so don’t hold out much hope to collect any amount of them on Eigg. The next problem I have had is being able to identify the differences between conifers! No easy feat for a learner…. but I will continue the quest and brush up on these skills before sending somebody up the tree to collect the cones!!
The first seed to be collected was Birch. The small strobiles once brown will crumble when you touch them so it is a balancing act of a bag and nipping the strobile off and not having to much wind or all the seed you collect will happily blow away very easily! We will store the Birch seed in the fridge over the winter.
Rowan and Hawthorn berries, unlike the conifers – no climbing required! If you only take seeds and berries from the lower branches and arms length then this still leaves plenty for the birds. Once collected, the same process is taken for Rowan, Hawthorn and White Beam to mash them in a bucket and after many many hours of patience and gallons of water, pouring and sieving to separate the skin and pith from the sought after seeds. The Rowan and White beam having tiny seeds compared to the Hawthorn that only has one large seed per berry making it slightly easier to extract.
Here is the squishing, sieving and extracted seed. The centre picture is the extracted Rowan seed so you can appreciate how small they are and extracted Hawthorn on the right. I now know the future requirements will need careful consideration over the size of holes and mesh on colanders and sieve’s after going through my entire collection in the house to find the most useful. All trial and error, especially when you have misjudged the size of holes and see a batch of seed disappear down the plug hole!
Prickly Beech pods fall to the ground and when dry, the casings open and extract the seed. Currently ours are drying in my loft but I tested the first 10 seeds in the sink/float water test and only 1 seed sank so I don’t expect to have a great yield from this collection. Not sure if it is the same as the Hazel and you should avoid the first ones to fall as they are usually rotten or not fully grown and more float than sink making it not worth planting the floaters. I will see if there is more to collect in a week or so. The second picture is the collected seed processed and in their winter storage in a sand/compost mix until spring with all important mesh over the top to keep them safe from rats and mice! In the absence of volunteers I will continue to collect seeds that become ready over the winter and keep my fingers crossed that all will come together and we will have a lovely new polytunnel to plant them all in spring!