Variety is the spice of life at Loch Leven

We have a hugely varied team of volunteers at Loch Leven many of whom have featured in our blogs. They cover a whole range of ages and different backgrounds united by an enjoyment of the countryside and the desire to help look after it.

Unfortunately volunteers come and volunteers go. Next week we will be saying goodbye to one of our regulars over the last year. Sophie would get up at the crack of dawn to jump on a bus from Perth and join us on a Wednesday. Below she has written a wee bit about her year here and the experience she gained working with SNH. She even spent a week at our main office at Battleby to get an idea of the broad remit of SNH staff. Sophie writes:

During my fourth year at university, studying Environmental Science, I have been volunteering on a Wednesday with the SNH at Loch Leven NNR. A group of volunteers gather weekly to help with general reserve maintenance tasks, which vary greatly, always providing a new experience.

Some of the Wednesday volunteers in the picnic area.

Some of the Wednesday volunteers in the picnic area.

During the summer months the main tasks were Himalayan Balsam pulling, mowing and bailing and gorse cutting. Himalayan Balsam is an invasive non-native species and so the removal is very important to protect the biodiversity of other species in the area. The long grass at the Leven mouth ponds was cut to prevent scrub encroachment and encourage wading birds. The wild flower meadow at Burleigh is cut every winter to encourage regeneration and increase biodiversity. The grass left behind the mower had to be raked by hand before the bailer was used to collect the mounds.

After a day of bailing at Burleigh.

After a day of bailing at Burleigh.

While out and about on the reserve, we are always on the lookout for interesting wildlife. When mowing the flower meadow at Burleigh, Susan, one of the volunteers, came across New Zealand Truffle Fungus. It was the first ever record of this fungus at Loch Leven, so an exciting find!

One of my favourite Wednesdays was when we built a fence and a barrier on a bridge to prevent cattle falling into the stream. It was really rewarding to see the fence coming together!

The team hard at work building the barrier and fence.

The team hard at work building the barrier and fence.

Over the winter months we have been doing a lot of willow clearing, to allow for the natural wetland habitat to thrive and become established again, after being overgrown with willow. Clearing the trees that overshadow a wetland pond allows sunlight in to the ponds, increasing biodiversity of plant life and subsequently the biodiversity of invertebrates. There were a few bonfires to clear the wood from the wetland habitat, which was always exciting – and we toasted marshmallows!

Pic 4

Placement at Battleby
As part of my course at uni I was required to complete a placement with an organisation I was interested in, and SNH were very accommodating and gave me a placement at the Battleby office alongside volunteering. During this time, I took part in a site visit to a SSSI, which was really informative and I got an idea of the various management agreements the SNH are involved in.
I attended a two day meeting with Transport Scotland on the A9 Dualling, with an operations officer from SNH. I was able to have a look at the Environmental Statement and Environmental Impact Assessment, which I had learned a lot about at uni, so it was motivating to see it being put into practice. I also attended a goose management meeting within SNH at the Inverness Offices, with staff from all the different goose management schemes. It was interesting to learn about all the various management practices and understand the different conflicts in goose management.

Prior to the week spent at Battleby, I went round the Loch Leven Heritage Trail with a GPS and marked out coordinates of all the infrastructure, which was for a maintenance obligations document. I worked with a Rural Surveyor to create a spreadsheet, containing the recorded infrastructure, which states who is responsible for the maintenance of each piece of infrastructure.
During my placement, I realised a lot of what I have learned at university was being used and talked about in the organisation, and it was rewarding to see the relevance of what I had learned. Seeing the application of the things I have learned on my course to real life situations helped me understand the relevance of my studies, and gave me motivation.

Happy group of volunteers that have made my time at Loch Leven very enjoyable.

Happy group of volunteers that have made my time at Loch Leven very enjoyable.

Sophie will be going back home after her studies and we wish her all the best for her future career whatever it may bring. I think I speak for all the team when I say thanks Sophie.

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