Willow trees are very useful at Loch Leven primarily because they provide duck broods with plenty of over-hanging shoreline vegetation to hide under. They prefer wet habitats, and are among the first species of tree to encroach on and dry out managed wetland habitats.
Levenmouth pool was once the natural course of the River Leven. In the 1830s the level of the loch was lowered and the river was canalized to instal sluice gates that would control the flow of water down river to benefit the booming industrial mills of the time in Fife.
Levenmouth pool was created at this time, but was always connected to the main body of the loch. In the last few decades willows have really taken route and have been growing a barrier between the loch and the pool. In order to keep Levenmouth pool as the special place for wildfowl that it is, the connectivity to the loch is important, as ducks like Teal and Wigeon are more likely to use it if there is no barrier hiding it away.
With volunteers Alan, Dave and Grant, and reserve manager Neil keen to push this gap in the barrier through, work began on a crisp autumnal morning on Tuesday.
The gang was in good spirits with two chainsaws in operation, and volunteers feeding a fire, the trees came down slowly but surely.
With a more blustery wind on Wednesday, the fire was kept in check as we were mindful of the surrounding reedbed.
By the end of day 2 we had cleared a significant gap in the willow, but there was still plenty of work to be done, with more willow to burn.
Day 3 saw the welcome return of our esteemed colleague Jeremy Squire, back once again from his season on the Isle of May. As expected, he hit the ground running, and we had soon burned a large chunk of the cut vegetation.
Thursday afternoon saw a calm and clear evening, and with the fire roaring and an area well cleared, I took the opportunity to get close to the loch shore for some reflected sunset shots.
On Friday Jeremy and I were left to tidy up some loose ends and retrieve the equipment. There is more vegetation to burn, and plenty of stumps to treat in order to prevent the otherwise inevitable regrowth, but it is certainly a good feeling to see this project now well underway. The plan at present is to dedicate a week’s worth of effort in each of the next 2-3 years in terms of removing more willow, thereby increasing the connectivity between two water bodies in the hope that more wildfowl will return to use the pool to feed and roost.