A year in the (plant) life

It’s been a very reflective past couple of weeks for me, as I’ve now been part of the Loch Leven NNR team for a whole year! Time feels very wibbly wobbly (or Jeremy Bearimy, depending on your fandom preference) when considering this. On the one hand, it feels like yesterday. And carrying out annual tasks for the second time round brings on a peculiar déjà vu type feeling. Not just the sense of having done these things before (because duh, I have) but the unncanny feeling of doing exactly the same thing incredibly recently, and certainly not a whole year ago. On the other hand, so very much has happened between now and then – both professionally and personally – that I sometimes marvel at the fact it’s only been a year! It’s been nice to slow down a bit, and take the time to look back over everything we’ve done and everything I’ve learned. And, in quite a relevant fashion, a bit of a theme has popped up. Plants!

Common Hogweed being enjoyed by lots of pollinating insects

My first blog focused on my first couple of weeks at Loch Leven NNR. Some things clearly never change, because even then I was already complaining about nettle stings and balsam bashing… I also talked about my first day spent with our weekly volunteers group conducting our record-breaking lesser butterfly orchid survey. Our recent annual repeat of this survey – almost exactly to the day – was definitely a reason for all kinds of feelings to get kicked up. It was my very first day spent with our volunteers at Loch Leven NNR, my first time exploring Carsehall Bog and my first time ever seeing this beautiful little flower. Little did I know that within the space of one afternoon, I’d have seen hundreds, or what wonderful wildlife experiences I’d have over the next year.

I marked my first month at Loch Leven NNR with a blog that highlighted the busy nature of this reserve, as well as a second new botanical for me in the form of Holy-grass. Things are definitely still busy here, and the theme of botanical learning continues in the form of a guided botany walk that took place on Tuesday thanks to the expertise of Stirling NNR’s reserve officer, Steven Longster. Steve has such a wonderful way of making you look twice at even the most common of species with a new found interest, and it was a delight to spend a couple of hours walking the Findatie loop in a whole new light. From historical tales of common garden species, to the evolution of wetland specialists, to funny foraging anecdotes and too many latin names to count, it was a pleasure to be reminded of just how much there is to learn when you go looking. I found this to be especially true for the everyday species that it’s incredibly easy to start to overlook. Even nettles.

We’re also repeating the management side of things at Findatie just now, commencing our second year of bracken bruising. Bracken is a great native species to have, but like anything that starts to dominate an area, it’s important to prevent a total monoculture forming. Last year we borrowed a bracken bruiser from St Cyrus NNR to test how effective this method might be. And suffice to say, it does the job well! So this year, now with a bruiser of our own, we’ve returned to the same area for round two. We’ve noticed a subtle difference already – the vegetation isn’t quite as tall nor as dense, with grasses growing throughout and above the bracken. Over time we will hopefully see a complete transition from bracken to grassland, at which point we can consider further management to wildflower meadows. It won’t be long before we’re into our meadow mowing phase too, which conjures up memories of blissfully hot days and a seriously tempting desire to ignore the algae warnings for a much needed cool-down swim.

It’s funny how interests can change over time, and how they can change the more or less you know about something. I was drawn to Loch Leven primarily because of the bird life, and while I still very much enjoy a WeBS day or lunch spent in our wildlife hides, I’m also noticing myself being drawn to other things – namely, plants. Plants are the perfect subject because they’re everywhere, and they don’t move! It’s much easier to study something that doesn’t move. I’ve also gained a big appreciation for how they completely transform the landscape season to season. Coming to this reserve in all it’s lush summer glory, seeing the transition into golds and reds during autumn, the beautiful bleakness of winter, the first rush of colour in spring, and back to summer again. Loch Leven feels like a completely different place in July as it does to January, and it’s all down to the plants.

This past year has truly been a whirlwind and there is still so much more to learn. I have had the lucky chance to visit other reserves and get a taste for their different management needs, I have seen the beloved Phoenix Hide rise from the ashes and said farewell to our reserve manager. I have seen our seasonals come and go (and come back again), interacted with more visitors than I can count and counted more birds than ever. The list of experience grows ever longer, and the more I know the more I become acutely aware of just how much I don’t! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

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2 Responses to A year in the (plant) life

  1. Anne says:

    A wonderfully positive read.

  2. Brilliant! Thank you, Bethia 🌍😊

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