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!