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The view from Alderley Edge looking towards the Pennines.  © Copyright Brian Abbott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.  From www.geograph.org.uk

The view from Alderley Edge looking towards the Pennines. © Copyright Brian Abbott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. From http://www.geograph.org.uk

Where the flatness of the Cheshire plain begins to ripple into the Pennine Chain, the peaceful village of Alderley Edge nestles under the ancient, wooded sandstone ridge that gave its name to the village.   Red brick shops in the High Street and elegant Victorian villas are little changed from when the nascent Alderley Edge made its first appearance on Cheshire maps of the 1840s.  But in contrast to its relatively modern origins,  Alderley Edge has a rich and ancient past, a tapestry woven through with mines, myths and magic.

Habitation of the richly wooded escarpment of Alderley Edge, known locally as “the Edge”, can be traced back to some 3500 years ago, when Neolithic man first mined the soft sandstone.  He was followed by Bronze Age and Roman miners who in turn tunnelled for rich deposits of copper and lead, malachite and azurite,  and who left behind them a legacy of tools and coins, myths and folklore.  The Doomsday Book is the first mention of Alderley, the name probably a reference to the sacred alder trees which grew in the area.  The Edge has been associated with witchcraft and Old Magic from time immemorial, and sightings of Little People have been frequently reported even in these modern times.  There are records of several Ley Lines, linking Neolithic sites such as burial mounds and beacons, passing across the Edge.  The Edge’s Ley Lines have been detected as strong positive feelings, but in contrast there are some sensitive people who feel a malevolent and dark presence in the Edge’s tranquil beauty. Hallowe’en is one of the Edge’s busiest times, when crowds prowl through the pitch-black lanes in the hope of catching witches and wizards practising their craft, although the covens are now long gone.  Even today the supernatural associations are perpetuated by thirteen irregularly shaped stones south west of Stormy Point which form a circle known as the Druid’s Stones, although they are probably a 18th century folly.

The face of the area changed forever though in 1842 when a new railway line was opened, linking industrial Manchester with the major railway hub of Crewe, and which included a railway station at the tiny Cheshire hamlet of Chorley.  To encourage the use of the new-fangled mode of transport, the railway company, the L&NWR and its subsidiary the M&MR, offered 21 years’ free rail travel to people who owned a house with a rateable value greater than £50 a year within a 1 mile radius of the station.  Combined with the opportunity to move from the city grime to the lush green countryside of Cheshire, this proved an irresistible magnet for the self-made business men of Manchester, and the hamlet of Chorley developed into a prosperous Victorian commuter town. In the 1860s Chorley renamed itself after the sandstone ridge just a mile from the new railway station, avoiding confusion with the Lancashire village of the same name.  The village of Alderley Edge was born.

The ancient village cross of Nether Alderely is a Scheduled monument and stands on the A34 at the junction of Artists Lane and Welsh Row.  It reminds us that the area's rich history started long before the arrival of the railways.

The ancient village cross of Nether Alderely is a Scheduled monument and stands on the A34 at the junction of Artists Lane and Welsh Row. It reminds us that the area’s rich history started long before the arrival of the railways.

The advent of the railway fed a housing boom in the area which many local landowners were keen to exploit.  However, Lord Stanley, whose ancestral  family estate at Nether Alderley included much of the local land, wanted nothing to do with these “new money” upstarts, refusing to either sell land or allow an increase in public access to the beautiful countryside which formed part of their extensive estate at Alderley Park. The Stanley’s lands included the dramatic escarpment and picturesque woods of the Alderley Edge ridge to which they  allowed the local folk access once a week.  The M&MR, however, had other ideas; they were keen to exploit the attractions of the Edge to day visitors, with offers of special excursion trains from London Road station in Manchester on Saturday afternoons (fare 2 shillings 1st class, or 1shilling covered wagon).  The M&MR – eventually – persuaded Lord Stanley to increase public access to 3 days a week; pushing their luck a little the M&MR also tried to negotiate a “Special Private Excursion Day” for the railway directors and important Manchester business men who had no wish to mix with common folk.  Although tolerant of the visits of the (defferential) working classes, who knew their position in the pecking order, Lady Stanley and her daughters were horrified at the intrusion of their privacy by (non-defferential) business men whose fortunes came from Lancashire’s cotton mills, and who considered themselves the equals of the aristocratic upper classes. Lady Stanley’s feelings about the “Cottontots”, as she referred to them dismissively, were not disguised in a letter to her daughter when she wrote with evident feeling that “the Manchester gentry are more annoying than their operatives as one can neither cuff them nor great dog them”.

It is easy to understand why the Stanleys were so possessive of this relatively small but spectacular area.  Dense clumps of trees cling tenaciously to dramatic golden coloured cliffs, and here and there stunning views suddenly appear through the lush green canopy of the woodlands.  From a flat cliff top known as Stormy Point, the distant hills of the Pennines can be seen to the north and west, and a little further across, Beacon Hill was the site of an Armada beacon, whose fiery message would blaze some 20 miles east across the Cheshire plain to Frodsham.  The Edge is full of convoluted rock formations, fissures and cracks such as the “Devil’s Grave”, a narrow gash some fifty feet long and six feet deep. Further along the same path, water drips through a rocky outcrop into a stone trough, above which is a crudely carved face of a man and the inscription “Drink of this and take thy fill for the water falls by the wizard’s will”.

Alderley Edge is inextricably linked with the story of the Wizard, a fireside tale of treasure, kings and magic. The Legend recounts the adventure of a Mobberley farmer who was taking his milk-white mare to be sold at Macclesfield market. On the road passing the Edge he was stopped by an old man who offered him a good price for the mare, but the farmer refused to sell.  The old man told the farmer he wouldn’t sell the mare that day, and he would wait at the same spot for the farmer’s return.  Sure enough,  the mare was much admired at  Market, but no one would buy her.   At dusk farmer set off back for home, and exactly as predicted, was greeted again by the old man on the road by the Edge.  The weary farmer agreed to sell the horse, and was then ordered to follow the old man into the darkness of the Edge, past Stormy Point and into the pitch black woods.  Suddenly, the old man struck the steep rock face lining the path with his staff.  A terrifying noise filled the air, and from nowhere, a pair of iron gates appeared, opening slowly to reveal a passageway into the very heart of the rock. The farmer, realising he was in the company not of an old man but a Wizard, obediently followed him through the gates into an enormous underground cavern, where a hundred Knights lay in a magical sleep.  All but one had a milk-white horse by his side.  The Wizard took the mare, and in return filled the farmer’s  pockets with gold and jewels from huge treasure chests lining the cavern, telling the farmer that the Knights would sleep until Britain’s darkest hour, when they would awake to defend their country.  By now completely terrified, the farmer took his treasure and fled back through the Iron Gates.  The gates slammed shut behind him, and have never been seen again.

Thomas Broadbent assured the local rector in 1753 that the Legend was true, having occurred some 80 years earlier.  It was printed in a Manchester newspaper in the early 1800s,  and added  to the air of mystery already surrounding Alderley Edge.  A local hostelry, the Miners Arms, changed its name to “the Wizard of the Edge” (still a notable local landmark known now as “the Wizard”) sometime after the publication of the Legend; in 1843 Lady Stanley noted that the “new [hostelry] sign is … very well painted… but I expect the people will take the figure for my Lord in his dressing gown”.

Welsh Row, named for the miners who came to work in the Alderley Edge mines

Welsh Row, named for the miners who came to work in the Alderley Edge mines

After thousands of years of excavation, the Alderley Edge mines finally closed for good in 1918.  During the 18th and 19th centuries Cornish tin and Welsh coal miners travelled to work in the comparatively benign mines of Alderley Edge, settling in the area still known today as Welsh Row.  As a result the Edge became riddled with the mineshafts and tunnels of some half dozen mine systems, all now disused. Today, the mines are leased from the National Trust (who now owns Alderley Edge, and the majority of the land under which the mines run)  by the Derbyshire Caving Club (DCC), who have undertaken the responsibility  for surveying and maintaining the mines and their access.

The DCC conduct guided tours of 2 mine systems, Wood Mine and West Mine.  By prior appointment, groups of visitors are provided with a miner’s lamp at a small white building known locally as the Surgery, and then escorted around Wood Mine or West Mine by DCC guides, veritable fonts of knowledge about the local history, geology, archaeology and social history of the area (as well as knowing the mines systems like the back of their hands).  I joined a tour of West Mine, which proved to be an exciting scramble through low tunnels and enormous caverns.  Sometimes I was bent double, or even flat on my stomach trying to ooze through a bone-squeezing fissure.  The DCC guide was always waiting at the other end of the gap having taken the easy way round.  In the warm glow of my miner’s lamp, the soft and sandy tunnels, streaked with rich veins of coloured ore, felt warm and friendly, and it was easy to understand their welcoming lure to casual explorers. After the mines’ closure, the open mine shaft entrances proved fatally attractive to ill-prepared explorers, disorientated in a nightmare blackness when their lights ran out.  Many of the mine entrances were not sealed until the 1960s,  and tragically more people were killed after the closure of the mines than when they were operational. The entrance to West Mine is never more than 100 metres from any point in the tunnels, but in the absolute blackness of an unlit mineshaft it may as well be 100 miles. At the end of the trip, I followed the lights of my colleagues through the cosy, sandy tunnels, amazed to find myself suddenly outside in the chill night air.  Behind me, the unlit mine entrance was invisible in the shadows and crevices of the hillside.  I could understand how the farmer of the Legend was unable to find the Iron Gates again.

The National Trust information centre at the carpark for Alderley Edge

The National Trust information centre at the carpark for Alderley Edge

Alderley Edge was bought by the National Trust in 1948 following the sale of the Stanley estates.  They have a visitor centre and car park by the Wizard on the B5087 which links Alderley Edge with Macclesfield; access to the Edge is free and, in contrast with Lord Stanley’s days, open all year round. Be sure to make some time to visit if you ever find yourself in the Alderley Edge area.  There is more information about the Edge and its woodlands on the Woodland Trust’s VisitWoods page, too. From the car park follow the path through the woods over to Stormy Point.  On a sunny day when there’s no-one around, with the sun on your face and the whispering of the trees and a breathtaking view of the distant Derbyshire hills framed by the woodland falling away beneath your feet,  it is impossible not to feel the Magic of Alderley Edge.

Bibliography:

A Descriptive Account of the Area Known as Alderley Edge; Alan James Findlow.  Albion Press, Macclesfield

The Ladies of Alderley. Being the letters between Maria Josepha, Lady Stanley of Alderley, and Henrietta Maria Stanley during the years 1841-1850. Maria Josepha STANLEY, Baroness Stanley of Alderley.; Edited by Nancy Mitford. Hamish Hamilton: London, 1967.

Further reading: (actually children’s books but set in the heart of the Edge and its mythology)

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen: A Tale of Alderley by Alan Garner ISBN13: 9780152017668

The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner ISBN13: 9780152017965

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Prologue

Guelder rose in autumn glory

Guelder rose in autumn glory

Hands up, we have to admit the blogging output here at Wood Elf Towers has been – well, pretty non-existent of late, with Wood Elf Weekly becoming more like Wood Elf Only Very Occasionally.  And like most things in life, it seems as though the less the blogging muscles are exercised, the more flabby and out of condition they become.  So today the Wood Elves had a Board Meeting to put things in order and to see what we could blog about.  There was a collective chewing of pencils, lots of thoughtful faces pulled, and some worthy suggestions (the spread of Phytopthera in southwest Scotland; latest news on threatened ancient woodlands; impacts of climate change) but they all seemed such depressing ideas and there was nothing that got us excited and the brain juices flowing.  Fast running out of ideas, tea and fondant fancies, our collective gaze eventually turned to stare out of the window, where a pair of buzzards were lazily circling up into a sapphire blue sky, above a hillside ablaze with autumn tinted bracken and dotted with flame coloured trees………

Autumn tinted trees are beautiful against a clear blue sky

Autumn tinted trees are beautiful against a clear blue sky

 

One thousand shades of Autumn

Autumn often gets overlooked in the grand scheme of things.  We talk about snowy/mild/wet winters, hot/mild/wet summers and even late/mild/wet springs, but autumn just seems to be forgotten.  Personally I love Autumn, it’s absolutely my favourite season.  I love the way the leaves just blaze in a thousand different colours in low afternoon sunlight, and the hedgerows are be-sequinned with dots of glorious colour from fruits, berries and nuts; it’s just full-on bling.  Autumn 2013 is, however, notable because it is, officially a ‘mast year’, where seed and nut bearing trees produce an unusually large harvest, with huge benefits for both the trees and shrubs and the vast number of seed and berry eating birds and mammals they support.

Certainly here in south west Scotland the hedgerows are dripping with vivid red hips, haws and berries, the sloes are plump and plentiful and the blackberries sweet and juicy.  We have been foraging this autumn and not having to feel too guilty about it; bottles of sloe gin, blackberry and apple crumble, and jars of amber-coloured rosehip jelly are now safely stocked on our shelves and in our freezer.  A walk down our country lane takes at least twice as long as normal because even the least pre-possessing of views are now jaw-droppingly gorgeous.  Maples and sycamores glow in shades of pinks and russet, whilst the beeches are a zinging coppery-gold.  In contrast, the mature and stately veteran oaks in the Glen are taking their time turning, with their leaves delicately edged with delicate metallic hues at the moment, although the younger oaks are embracing autumn with youthful exuberance and rocking a fabulous bronze foliage right now.

A maple's two-tone autumn colour

A maple’s two-tone autumn colour

The local wildlife is making the most of the bounty too.  Red squirrels are furiously digging up our lawn at every opportunity, burying stashes of ripened beech nuts for leaner times.  Blackbirds and thrushes are trying their best to strip the hawthorns bare, and soon flocks of visiting fieldfares and redwings will be adding their best efforts to the gargantuan task of removing every last hedgerow berry and un-gathered apple from the apple trees in our garden.

The hedgerows are vivid red this year with berries and rosehips

The hedgerows are vivid red this year with berries and rosehips

It’s not just here in SW Scotland where the colours are so amazing, either,  The Woodland Trust has a ’Top 10’ list of Autumn Woodlands in the UK for Autumn foliage which are great places to visit, and some great activity packs too including tree and fungi identification packs.

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Low afternoon light illuminates the golden leaves of an old oak

Even when the weather is that drab, battleship grey and the damp mists cling to the hill sides and the rain is cold and miserable, Autumn colours still manage to zing and bring an unexpected lift to an otherwise monochrome vista.  So, Daffodils, Mr Wordsworth? you can keep them, my ‘Mind’s Eye’ will always be thinking of Autumn.

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Blackberries (photo from channel4.com)

Blackberries (photo from channel4.com)

Although I am sorry to see summer slipping away, I think autumn might be my favourite time of year, with rich gold and russet colours in the trees and hedges. Our hedgerows here in SWScotland are already full of plump red rosehips, and the blackberries are looking as though they aren’t far behind – a bit more sun required, perhaps, they are full of promise but desperately tart at the moment!

The sloes on the blackthorns are coming along nicely too – but they need a good hard frost before they are fully ready.

We are great foragers here at Wood Elf Towers, with blackberry jam and apple and rosehip jelly some of our favourite foraging fodder.   And we have been known to try the odd sloe gin too!   We’re always on the lookout for new recipes, and we’ve just discovered some lovely ones on the Woodland Trust’s VisitWoods site – I’m looking forward to trying bramble sauce when the blackberries are out!  You can see these recipes at Free Food From Nature’s Larder.  There is also a wonderful Foragers Fact Pack too, with suggestions for other foraging edibles such as sorrel and wild garlic.  I may leave the puffball though…..!

But please remember to forage responsibly – leave plenty for our beleagured wildlife (especially if it’s going to be another hard winter) and remember that these are the seeds for next year’s bumper crops too!

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Trees sculpted by Atlantic winds cling on to a rocky shore in Brittany.

Trees sculpted by Atlantic winds cling on to a rocky shore in Brittany.

Dense mangrove swamps living in semi-submerged seawater world are a frequent image of wonderfully adapted tropical forest ecosystems.  But in more temperate climes, our native woods and forests are less well adapted to life on ‘the edge’, the where the shoreline meets the soil, and the trees that live here cling to windswept rocky shores and the edges of sandy beaches.

The often harsh conditions of the seashore can be difficult conditions for normally land-loving trees to grow.  Strong, salty winds, and edaphic (soil characteristic) factors such as shallow sandy soils, pH, drainage, and nutrient deficiencies can make living life at the edge tough for trees.  In addition, where there are lush forest growths down to the shore, harvesting trees by cutting them and just letting them fall into the water for easy transport has resulted in over-exploitation and degradation of forest ecosystems.  On British Columbia’s shores, the ancient Douglas Fir ecosystems have been repeatedly exploited since the mid 1840s and are now in serious danger; not only are the remnants of an ancient woodland being cut down, but due to opportunistic invaders the nature of the area is changing too, leaving it vulnerable to fires, changing local weather patterns and species extinction (Coastal Douglas-fir Ecosystems, BC).

But where native trees manage to survive they create the best of both worlds – a wonderful walk through woodlands against a backdrop of waves rolling onto the shoreline below, and a strange juxtaposition of seabirds calling and woodland birds singing!  In the UK we have some lovely woodland walks along the seashore, some of my favourites being the small but perfectly formed East Wood, with fragments of an ancient woodland overlooking the dynamic tidal flow the of the Severn Estuary (what difference would a barrage make to this lovely wood?   But that’s for another blog….)

Admire the views surrounded by woodland - East Wood, Portishead.

Admire the views surrounded by woodland – East Wood, Portishead.

And then there’s the wonderful Rockcliffe Woods on the beautiful Stewartry Coast in Dumfries and Galloway, where the Solway sweeps in, covering the sands and causeway with alarming speed to the unwary.  On a clear day the plentiful benches along the path provide an opportunity to look across the Solway to the Isle of Man and the Cumbrian Hills (on a clear day!)

Snowy Rockcliffe, where the woodland paths overlook the Solway.

Snowy Rockcliffe, where the woodland paths overlook the Solway.

From Rockcliffe and Sandyhills you can also walk down the coast to the dramatic Needle’s Eye, a lovely archway in the granite rocks of the Southwick Coastal reserve, one of the last homes of an ancient Atlantic oakwood forest, and rich with wildlife and wonderful plants including orchids and violets.

Needle's Eye at Southwick, in the heart of ancient Atlantic Oak ecosystem and on the shores of the Solway.

Needle’s Eye at Southwick, in the heart of ancient Atlantic Oak ecosystem and on the shores of the Solway.

Up in the Highlands, where the winds are stronger and the winters long, trees struggle for survival in many places, not just on the sea’s edges.  One of the features of the Highland Clearances was the burning of houses and their wooden roof trusses – wood was so scarce a commodity that the cleared population would then have to leave their cottages to go and seek building materials elsewhere.  But where trees do grow in more sheltered areas they provide a wonderful addition to the dramatic scenery.

The Skye Bridge - The dramatic scenery of the Highlands is softened by trees which cling to survival in the harsh environment

The Skye Bridge – The dramatic scenery of the Highlands is softened by trees which cling to survival in the harsh environment

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Woodlands are, for the most part, magical places.  But sometimes their magic can also be enhanced by some carefully chosen artwork.  Here are some of my favourites!

The Eye in Galloway Forest Park is a majestic, 8 metre high tower whose deep red colour is a vibrant addition to the surrounding forest.  And on a calm day its reflection  in the loch is something special.  But The Eye has a secret – and you need to get close to it to see what it is!  The Eye is just one of a series of sculptures in the Galloway Forest; there’s more information about them at this web site here, and for more information about the huge Galloway Forest see the VisitWoods website for Galloway Forest.

The Eye in Galloway Forest Park

The Eye in Galloway Forest Park

Grizedale Forest in the Lake District is home to over 60 sculptures throughout the forest, and makes a walk in the woods a real journey of discovery!  The collection was started in the 1970s and can all be seen from the network of paths throughout the forest.  But you need to keep your eyes open – blink, and you’ll miss some of the ‘keys in trees’ and the sensitively-sited smaller pieces.  There’s a huge amount of information and some great photos on the Vistwoods website for Grizedale.

Grizedale Forest is a wonderful backdrop for large (and small!) sculptures.

Grizedale Forest is a wonderful backdrop for large (and small!) sculptures.

Back in Dumfries and Galloway, the wonderful (well, IMHO!) Andy Goldsworthy has made his mark on the local countryside through his Striding Arches which sit high on the Nithsdale skyline.  But, tucked away in a 100 year old stone farm building in the Cairnhead Forest is the amazing Arch in the Byre.  Half in and half out of the Byre, this Arch aims to interpret the local landscape and its history.  Near the Byre, the names of farming families who lived at the Byre have been carved into a stone bench.  The old, local names of the region are carved into the entrance way to the Byre.  The Cairnhead Forest is a beautiful woodland in its own right, and the Arches add a real sense of wonderment to the area.  Information about the Striding Arches can be found here.

The Byre by Andy Goldsworthy at Cairnhead Forest

The Byre by Andy Goldsworthy at Cairnhead Forest

And finally, a gentle stroll through the woodlands at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway has its own little secret – its own little arch!  We stumbled on this whilst exploring the less frequented paths along the Marr Burn.  There’s more information about Drumlanrig’s woods here, too.

Drumlanrig Castle's own Arch in the burn

Drumlanrig Castle’s own Arch in the burn

Personally, I think the most magical artworks are those you ‘discover’ for yourself in the woods, although all the ones I’ve talked about here are pretty awesome!

What are your favourite woodland arts?

 

 

 

 

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The entrance to Rockcliffe woods from Kippford

The entrance to Rockcliffe woods from Kippford

This is a lovely walk combining two woodlands; the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) owned Rockcliffe woods, and the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) owned Mark Hill woods.  Situated along the shores of the Solway Firth these are very popular walks, as shown by the amount of footprints in the deep snow just a few days after the worst blizzards for a generation!  So it’s best to visit these woods out of peak season if possible.

You can park at the seaside villages of Rockcliffe village or Kippford –  there’s good parking with toilets at both; access to Rockcliffe wood at Kippford is at the other end of the village to the carpark.  The linear ‘Jubilee Path’ and a network of paths off it links the two villages through the woods, managed by NTS for wildlife and recreation.  In summer there is a wonderful range of wild  flowers to support the local butterfly population, there’s a veritable choral society of songbirds in the trees, and we could also hear the eiders and  oystercatchers on the Solway coast below – quite surreal when you are surrounded by trees!

the Mote of Mark

the Mote of Mark

It’s also worth a wee detour to climb up the Mote of Mark,  the site of an ancient settlement which, it has been suggested, could have been of considerable strategic importance as the centre of the ancient kingdom of Rheged.  There are fantastic views over the Solway from here too.

You can walk back to where you parked along this route –  it’s an easy couple of miles or so there-and-back route on well maintained earth paths and it’s great for all the family, although some parts take you through open farmland with grazing cattle so it’s best to keep dogs on leads here.

Or you can add on Mark Hill and the ‘Muckle Walk’ – more strenuous, and in actively managed Forestry Commission Scotland plantation; there are currently (Feb 2013) signs on the paths warning of construction work, and path diversion in the forest.  Follow the blue way markers (don’t be tempted by the many side tracks which look very tempting – they lead nowhere!) to the top of Mark Hill, where you suddenly emerge out of the conifers and onto a large granite hilltop, wind swept and exposed and with the most amazing views of the Solway, over to the English Lake District and even to the Isle of Man on really clear days.

Fabulous views of the Solway and the Galloway hills

Fabulous views of the Solway and the Galloway hills from Mark Hill, on the Muckle Walk

Return back through the forest and down the hill and reconnect with the Jubilee Path to either Rockcliffe or Kippford.

In all the two paths combined are about 5 miles.  Walking boots are advised, although the going is generally very good (it can be a bit boggy on the top of Mark Hill).  And the tops of the Mote of Mark and Mark Hill can be whipped by strong, cold winds too!

In the summer there are NTS Ranger-led walks on the Rockcliffe shore and in the woods.  The beach at Rockcliffe is also the setting for Dumfries and Galloway’s World Oceans Week Celebrations in June.

There’s more information about these woods on the VisitWoods website – see here for Rockcliffe and here for Mark Hill.

There’s also a good local guide with simple route maps by Dumfries and Galloway Council here.

And a bit more about these walks on the Walking Britain web site here.

Please note that Wood Elf Weekly is not responsible for the content of external web sites!

 

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DSC_0035-001 Whilst Britain’s native squirrel, the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris L.), is in serious decline in England and Wales, figures suggest that in regions of SW Scotland numbers are on the increase.  Scientists now understand that red squirrels, one of our most iconic woodland animals, can survive happily in both deciduous and conifer habitats,  but don’t seem to be able to compete in deciduous woodlands or small and fragmented habitats if there are grey squirrels around (Forest Research; red squirrel).

Management of habitat for red squirrels favours large (200-2000 ha) areas of mixed conifer, with native small-seeded trees such as rowan, willow, birch, alder and ash.  Whilst red squirrels enjoy hazel nuts and acorns (which are actually a bit indigestible because of their high tannin content), these larger seeds are also enjoyed by their grey cousins, and competition for these food sources often results in the reds losing out.  There are now habitat management strategies for woodlands with red squirrel populations.

But red squirrels have also been devastated in recent years by Squirrelpox; a deadly virus carried by grey squirrels, which doesn’t affect non-native greys but is fatal to native reds.  In 2007 the first outbreaks of squirrelpox were found in the Dumfries and Galloway area, thought to have come over the Scottish-English border, and quickly spread throughout the region.  The effect was devastating and huge areas, including Wood Elf Towers, lost their regular garden visitors over the next few years.

Red squirrels love bird food, apparently..... Photo by Mike Hall

Red squirrels love bird food, apparently….. Photo by Mike Hall

But monitoring  disease outbreaks and prompt action has resulted in our local red squirrels making a come back to a bird feeder near you!  Our lovely red squirrels- Cyril and Cyrilina (and perhaps some Cyrilettes in the future!) now enjoy a hearty breakfast at the purpose-made squirrel box (fullof sunflower seeds) whilst also snacking at the bird feeders and even the fat balls too – squirrels are nothing if not eclectic in their choice of ‘menu du jour’!

Meanwhile, research continues to find a vaccine to the Squirrelpox virus.  You can read more about red squirrels in Dumfries and Galloway at www.red-squirrels.org.uk

There’s also a great list of where to spot red squirrels throughout the UK at the Vistwoods website – click on visitwoods.org.uk/en/visit-woods/pages/red-squirrels

Squirrels like peanuts too!  Photo Mike Hall.

Squirrels like peanuts too! Photo Mike Hall.

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