Woodland Creation Project

2020 also went by in a whirl of trees! I have managed to grow and provide 17,500 trees in the tree nursery in the last two years for our Woodland Creation Project (WCP). 4,000 were provided and planted in March 2020 and the further 13,500 trees have just gone out over the last 6wks. The first picture below is the tunnel just going into Autumn colours of 2020 and the second picture taken in January 2021.

A short sharp shock was indicated in March 2020 with the announcement of the first lockdown that I might be in for a busy year! I had volunteers lined up to arrive in April to help grade, pack and plant out the first 4,000 trees from the nursery for the start of the WCP. I also had four separate weeks fully booked of conservation working holidays helping transplant the tiny seedlings germinated in seeds trays into individual rootrainer cells.

The initial planting in March 2020 had its trials and logistical tribulations! This was the first time packing this size an order of trees to leave the tree nursery. I had started wrapping them in pallet wrap which was a good solution but took absolutely ages bu hand… and then I started reusing and packing the trees in compost bags. It had to be manageable smaller amounts as the first planting site was only accessible by foot. Without the cancellation of volunteers I had the help from Wes the islands ‘tree man’. We were going to the tunnel in the morning, packing what we needed for the day and carrying everything in and then planting. You can imagine this was slow progress and absolutely exhausting! My most favourite day was on the third week when Wes appeared out of the woods pulling the trees up the hill in a pull along granny shopping trolley!! It still makes me laugh out loud when I see this picture a year later….

Despite the challenges and hilarity(!) we managed to complete the first portion of the WCP . I went on to methodically work through the seedling transplants to ensure there was enough for the second batch of the much larger amount of 13,500 to be ready for planting January 2021.

Covid restrictions actually had a very positive outcome for me personally and the tree nursery. I was enormously lucky to still have work and something to focus on throughout these strange times! And especially a job that was focused on growing and planting trees, learning so much from being in the outdoors, in and around the tunnel on such a regular period monitoring the seasons throughout the year.

As an island, we decided to stay closed to visitors as restrictions lifted everywhere else to remain as a large bubble and keep our whole community safe. We only opened up to non residents in September briefly, until we went onto the winter ferry service and by xmas another lockdown with everyone else. With virtually no visitor season it allowed me to fully focus on the tree nursery alone and achieve the target of supplying the full 13,500 trees to fulfill the Woodland Creation Project..

Autumn of 2020 seed collecting was able to commence as normal as all species can be collected on island bar the acorns. Acorns are conveniently ready to collect in October when travel restrictions were relaxed here and I managed a trip off island which was an immense relief to get a break away from the island and to see new faces! Although most of my time was spent wondering about local woodlands but it was well worth it as it was a brilliant year for acorns again.

Straight after the quietest New Year on record, I started to sort through and make a plan on how we were going to pack the trees for the upcoming planting. You can see from the first picture below we had a significant amount of trees lost to vole damage. Something new to learn every day. These kinds of natural disasters(!) have to be accounted for and add a % on to the final stock required for each year. Even with the vole damage luckily I had enough stock as we had a bumper year for Oak and Hazel. Packing the second time round I initially reused banana boxes given from the islands shop until we found the perfect solution. Energyze cattle tubs with tight fitting lids! They are ideal for bumpy transportation and keeping the trees moist until planting.

There was some significant upgrades on the second planting phase. We were able to employ two other residents along with myself to plant and complete the project before the deadline of March. The largest upgrade was from shopping trolley(!) to an Argo plus our trusty logistical advisor/driver! Without the use of the Argo the project would not have been possible without a lot of blood sweat and tears! The actual feasibility of transporting that amount of trees, guards and tools through the thick/high heather terrain to the planting sites wouldn’t have been possible within the timescales.

It was still a challenging couple of months even getting the extra planting power and Argo wheels mainly due the erratic weather, We were incredibly lucky as the worst of the gales and rain seemed to happen overnight or at the weekends up until the fourth week when we were hit with the super cold snap and the ground was frozen solid for the entire week. We can only hope that the trees we had already planted will survive ok…. With the dedicated team in delivering the project we still managed to finish before the deadline. It has been a huge learning experience to follow through the entire 18month chain of the project from collecting the seed, sowing, transplanting, nurturing, packing and planting! How fantastic is that…

The Woodland Trust has helped finance the project by bridging the financial gap between the outgoings prior to the grant money being paid in from Scottish Forestry for Woodland Creation.

Another aspect of the WCP that has been really interesting is the archaeological sites. 20mtr buffer zones had to be marked out to ensure no planting was done on any mapped archaeological sites within the planting area. And then when planting began it was interesting to be working the ground around these ancient hut circles imagining how folk used and lived on these sites. After a few days I started to realise each hut had the folklore distinctive Rowan tree planted near by to keep bad spirits away.

When I had first properly tramped and surveyed over the terrain of the WCP site it was Oct/Nov 2019 when the bracken was dying back but still very thick to wade through and the only other areas other than the open bracken areas is thick waist high heather exhausting to fight through or areas of extreme bog! I really wasn’t looking forward to the start of planting. But as planting began and time was being spent on different areas I could start to imagine the little communities living in these areas working the land we were planting in. It has been a pleasure getting to know an area of Eigg I had least explored.

With the WCP complete I can focus on the next year of orders and requirements for our own replanting in the policy woodlands, the recently harvested plantation, setting up a memorial woodland and allowing for the beat up operation of the WCP. Approx 8 – 10,000 trees. Similar to last year but without the pressure as I now know it is possible on my own if we don’t have volunteers again this year.

Now the planting has finished I am straight back into the polytunnel to set the next generation of trees off in seed trays.

2019 has flown by in a whirl of trees. From growing trees to harvesting trees, it all happened in 2019!! We had a really busy but very successful year in the tree nursery.  After a stock take we have the very first 5,000 trees ready to be planted out in their final destination, its like the first babies leaving home!! 4,500 trees will make a start towards our Woodland Creation Project (WCP) to eventually plant 17,000 native trees by Feb 2021.  Anybody that has just done the maths will know that there is only another 12,500 trees to grow and plants by this time next year, no pressure there then! The remaining 500 trees in stock will be planted out in other areas of woodland on the island. Below is pictures of our Oak and Birch taken in September when they were in full leaf.

The harvesting project started in August 2019 and concluded on schedule in October. 3,300 tonnes of mainly Sitka Spruce was harvested from the forestry plantation. 75% was sold and exported off island to finance the project whilst 25% has been retained to give us 3 – 5yrs of wood fuel. The harvesting project is the start of our long term forest plan that involves a phased programme of harvesting across the main plantation. We had a fantastic model of community spirit and smaller contractors working together of which we very much hope will repeat again in the next phase. Replanting on the harvested areas could happen as early as 2022 after surveying the sites to monitor weevil activity and soil acidity.

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Changes have been made to the volunteer programme this year only having places available for the month of June for individual volunteers and we have two weeks available for conservation working holidays in April. So if you are interested in volunteering this year, apply quickly as places are filling up fast!!

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A little from a volunteers point of view…

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

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April 2019

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….

  Ash

Hawthorn

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.

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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 2019

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…

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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….

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Spring is coming

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!

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Sycamore, Alder and Ash seed

Sycamore, Alder and Ash seed laid out in trays before getting compost over the top

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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…..

Tree Nursery Weeks

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.

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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.

April 2018

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!

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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!!