Rare species

The focus of our Dune Restoration Project 

The Findhorn Hinterland Trust’s new Dune Restoration Project will be a central and important element of our work for the next few years, and its core purpose is to ensure that there is good habitat on the land that we manage for the rare species that live in the UK’s shifting sand ecosystems. Here, that habitat has been decreasing due to the expansion of gorse scrub and the spread of invasive non-native lodgepole pines, and, without action to address those issues now, it is highly likely that the species which make their home in it will disappear completely. However, by clearing key areas of gorse and young trees we will ensure that there continues to be a good habitat here for these unique and special species.

Whilst there is a considerable range of species that live in coastal sand dunes, we have highlighted 17 species that are of particular note and/or rarity.  They include 4 species of fly, 4 different moths, 2 hoppers, 3 lichens and 3 species of fungi, 2 of which are lichenicolous (meaning that they are found on, and feed from, lichens). These are the ‘star species’ of the dune restoration project and I will briefly describe some of them here.

In 2019, during a survey on the Hinterland for Diptera or two-winged flies, a species that is on the Scottish Biodiversity List – the pied-winged robber fly (Pamponerus germanicus) – was found. The fly preys on beetles & parasitic wasps, and is restricted to 3 small coastal areas in Scotland, of which our land is one. The significance of this discovery is shown by the fact that a photograph I took of the fly featured on the cover of the Dipterist’s Digest journal, the specialist publication for two-winged flies. During the same survey in 2019, the identification of another fly (Metopia tshernovae) was the first confirmed record for this species (which is restricted to coastal sites) in the UK.

Amongst the 4 moth species, one (Scythris empetrella) has only been found at 2 sites in Scotland, of which the Findhorn dunes is the most important, and another (Caryocolum blandelloides) is restricted in the UK to the sand dunes of the western Moray Firth.

As I reported in our last newsletter, the survey for true bugs that we commissioned in 2023 identified 2 species of particular note. Those are a leafhopper (Gravesteiniella boldi) which occurs in coastal sandhills with marram grass and is very rarely recorded (this was the first record for Scotland), and a planthopper (Muirodelphax aubei), which has only been recorded at one other site in Scotland.

Dog lichen (Peltigera malacea) beside moss on the Findhorn Hinterland.

Of the 4 significant lichens the most important is matt felt lichen (Peltigera malacea), which is Nationally Rare and classified as Endangered in the Red Data Book of threatened species. It’s quite common on sand and near moss here, and is also the host for one of the lichenicolous fungi species (Dacampia peltigericola) on our list. Another of those lichenicolous fungi is Polycoccum trypethelioides, which grows on a lichen (Stereocaulon condensatum) that is a pioneer species and is often the first lichen to appear on bare sand.

Lichen (Stereocaulon condensatum) with a lichenicolous fungus (Polycoccum trypethelioides) on it.

The sandy earthtongue fungus (Sabuloglossum arenarium) is a sand and dune heath specialist species that has only been confirmed at 2 sites in the UK, of which Findhorn is one.

All of these species, plus other more abundant ones such as the small heath butterfly, common lizard, small phoenix moth, brown hare and the linnet, will benefit from this vital dune restoration work that we will be carrying out in the coming years.

Alan Watson Featherstone, 

FHT Trustee & Chair of the Land Management subgroup.

14th February 2024

Posted in News

Species on the Edge East Coast: Coastal Habitat Management 

Management Recommendations to benefit priority Lepidoptera.

Background:

The East Coast is home to some of Scotland’s most beautiful and vulnerable flora and fauna, by working together we can help to protect these fragile species. Many of our East Coast sites are a mix of sandy soil, dunes and associated open vegetation which creates an ideal habitat for a number of threatened species of butterfly and moth.  These specialist species all require open sandy habitats with a short sward.  However, it is clear that these species and their niche habitats are rapidly disappearing as scrub such as gorse, birch and pine regeneration are steadily invading many of our dune systems, to their detriment.

A few examples of the rare lepidoptera found along our East Coast and thrive on dune systems include:

  • Small Blue (Cupido minimus) – IUCN Red Listed as Near Threatened. The UK’s smallest butterfly and a key target species of our Species on the Edge programme. Small Blue is now restricted to around 80 sites in Scotland, almost exclusively along the East Coast, with the vast majority being around the Moray Firth. The establishment of its sole larval foodplant, Kidney Vetch, in open areas along these coastal sites is key to its survival and hopeful colonisation of new areas. 

Small Blue © T.Munro

  • Grayling (Hipparchia semele) – IUCN Red Listed as Vulnerable. This large and well camouflaged butterfly is associated with Scotland’s coasts but is known to be rapidly declining hence its current conservation status. It requires fine leaved grasses growing in a dry, sandy soil with areas of bare ground or sand.

Grayling © Iain Leach

  • Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) – IUCN Red Listed as Vulnerable. A very scarce butterfly in Scotland mainly known from in and around the Moray Firth with a few inland sites in the Cairngorms and south-west Scotland. This small, far from dingy, butterfly relies on Birds-foot Trefoil growing in an open bare sward. 

Dingy Skipper © Tracy Munro

  • Portland Moth (Actebia praecox) Nationally Scarce. This beautiful, greenish-brown, distinctive moth is primarily a dune specialist.  Its striking orange, black and white stripey caterpillar feeds at night, hiding by day beneath the sand. Believed to have widely declined it is currently only known from a handful of sites in Scotland mostly around the Moray Firth. The caterpillars are known to feed on Creeping Willow.

Portland Moth © Roy Leverton

  • Black Isle Groundling (Caryocoloum blandelloides) – not formally assessed but qualifies under IUCN guidance as Red Listed Near Threatened. This small micro-moth is only known in the UK from half a dozen sand dune systems in the Moray Firth.  The caterpillars feed on Common Mouse-ear, but there seems to be a need for sparse vegetation on sandy unstable substrate.

  • Lunar Yellow Underwing (Noctua orbona) – priority species. This moth has widely declined in Scotland and recently there has only been very occasional  sightings at a couple of locations along the East Coast. It requires open sandy heath with tussocky grasses, the caterpillar is thought to feed on fine grasses.

Lunar Yellow Underwing © Nigel Voaden

Why Habitat Management:

In an ideal world we would have naturally dynamic dune systems, which enable a healthy balance between early successional habitats where bare sand and new young plants dominate and those of older habitats where scrub starts to dominate. Both of these stages are valuable on their own right and will support different species of wildlife. The problem on the East Coast is that these older more stabilised dune systems are beginning to dominate the landscape.

While scrub is a natural part of many dune systems the loss of traditional dune disturbance and longer growing seasons have led to increased scrub dominance. This is particularly worrying when it begins to impact on many of our rare and threatened butterflies and moths who rely on not only specific caterpillar food plants but also very niche micro-climates. Scrub also speeds up succession and there reaches a point where dune restoration will become very difficult in part due to the seed bank build up and the stabilisation effect of the scrub. 

Scrub Clearance:

  • Volunteers – this is something that Butterfly Conservation regularly makes use of for habitat work, running our popular Work Parties volunteers will work to either, clear areas using hand tools, particularly Treepoppers that uproot the gorse out of the ground, or assist in keeping cleared areas open. This method is not suitable for tackling large areas of heavy scrub.
  • Tractor and Flail – Flailing using a tractor mounted flail effectively shreds the material and leaves it on site. A flail can be quicker and cheaper than cutting and removing by hand, but the cut material acts as an organic mulch, rotting down and enriching the soil to the detriment of the native fauna. The act of flailing also stimulates regrowth of the cut stump, so the process needs to be regularly repeated. When using a flail, it is best to have the contractor remove as much of the debris as possible.
  • Root Pulling – this is usually carried out by an experienced JCB operator, working under Butterfly Conservations direction. This is a great way to take the dunes back to bare soil but can be expensive. It can look very messy initially but long term it shows the most promise as the whole plant is removed, roots and all. The scrub can then be buried in a pit if there is too much of it to remove or burn.
  • Burning Debris – most volunteers enjoy a good bonfire, especially as these work parties often take place over the winter months. It is important to have as few burn areas as possible as the debris will rot down into the earth and improve the nutrient levels. It is important to have signage in place and engage with the public to reassure them that the work is being carried out in a careful manner and is required to restore/improve the biodiversity of the area. 
  • Herbicides – If scrub is to be cut rather than removed by the roots then we would recommend treatment by herbicides. If scrub is well established it is extremely hard to prevent re-growth without the use of chemicals. Several members of Butterfly Conservation  staff and key volunteers are trained and hold the relevant qualifications  required to carry this out.
  • Bare Areas – We also advise that the bare areas created are reseeded with suitable wildflower seeds or plug plants in order to encourage the establishment of suitable vegetation.  This provides opportunities to involve the local community with this activity e.g. growing and planting out plug plants of Kidney Vetch to benefit Small Blue. We can also provide advice on planting mixes and the sourcing of seeds.
  • Timings – we recommend that all habitat work of this nature is completed out with the bird breeding season, so from October – March. 

Gorse and other scrub has its own wildlife benefits as well as providing shelter which can be very important for butterflies and moths, especially in open habitats.  Therefore, we like to see some scrub retained on site.

Butterfly Conservation has worked with several landowners on coastal habitat work to date including MoD, SWT, golf courses as well as several private landowners. Alongside Balnagown Estate, we recently made it through to the finals of Scottish Land & Estate Helping It Happen Awards in Edinburgh, for our work to restore habitat for Small Blue and Dingy Skipper. In addition, with landowners’ permission we are happy to be involved in monitoring the effects of the management on the vegetation as well as the priority species. Butterfly Conservation aims to help support landowners and land managers who wish to work at a landscape scale to restore and improve habitat for our priority lepidoptera species. Thus, creating bigger, better and more joined up areas for species to move around in.

 We are often able to undertake further surveys to establish a fuller list of lepidoptera from the site and encourage local communities to become involved often by hosting moth trapping events and led butterfly walks. 

Getting involved in conservation habitat work is a great way to keep fit, meet like minded people and learn more about the special species which live alongside us.

Report collated and compiled by Tracy Munro, 

Butterfly Conservation Scotland Species on the Edge East Coast Project Officer. 

January 2024.

 

Posted in News

Chair’s Report – Winter/Spring 2024

There have been times of strong winds, snow and ice on the land but now comes the start of some milder and longer days and a hint of warmer weather – spring full of the magic of bird song and new life is beginning to percolate through the air and our minds.

It seems an age since we were celebrating another Christmas tree event involving our traditional  social gathering up at the Woodland Shelter where so many come to collect or go out and cut their Lodgepole Pine Christmas trees from the land.  So many non-native trees are out there growing on the rare Dune Heath habitat but we realise we may not be able to carry on for the next few years offering this as it gets harder and harder to find trees worthy of taking home.  We will keep you posted about this and intend to have a social time even though there may not be trees available next winter.  

Another event that is starting to become a tradition and that also took place a long time ago was the Hub being used by the community as Santa’s Grotto in the woods.  It was a great event for kids and adults alike that helped brighten up the darkest time of the year. Thank you Laura Passeti and team for organising this.

Winter is also usually our busiest time for our green burial team’s involvement in interments on our green burial site in Wilkies Wood.  In actual fact it has been less busy this year although there was the well attended procession and burial of community member Dee Sunshine in November and more recently the burial of George Ripley.  George was one of the well known characters of the Park Ecovillage Findhorn who gave much to the place making the impossible possible over the almost fifty years of his time here including being the main architect involved in the building of the much loved and admired Universal Hall which started in the mid 1970’s.  He had a fine send off at the grave side and then a celebration of his life in the Hall led by Juanna Legard as a non denominational celebrant and part of the FHT burial team.


On Saturday 10th of February we had the last of four special work parties which included being hosts for asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East presently living in Elgin.  This was a fantastic success bringing together these guests with many from our local community and with this work force of sometimes up to fifty people carrying out some transformative work on the land north of Wilkies Wood bringing back rare Dune Heath habitat which had been threatened by invasive Lodgepole Pines and gorse.  This was a team effort with some funding to help with transport coming from the new local charity Moray Supports Migrants and Refugees, the Findhorn Foundation providing their bus to get the people here, the Action Earth Fund helping provide a small grant  for new gloves and tools and so many offering their time, energy and goodwill.

Plans are still afoot to get involved in our biggest work on the land yet under the banner of our Dune Restoration Project.  Sean Reed our local professional Ecologist has written a more comprehensive update elsewhere in this newsletter  and I am sure will be mentioning all the twists and turns involved in getting this off the ground, our excellent contacts with similar projects with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Butterfly Conservation including our visit to the RSPB Old Bar project back in November, the productive meetings with Findhorn Dunes Trust trustees and the Park Ecovillage Findhorn Sunshine Room Presentations which has just happened.  How we deliver the work and how we go about it might have changed but all seems to be on track thanks to Sean’s meticulous planning with a smaller pilot project to be delivered next winter and subsequent work to be carried out over the next three to five years.  A huge thanks to all that contributed to the Go Fund Me appeal that ran over Christmas and is still open – it brought in important seed money for the project of over £2000.  There will be further information presented about the project when Sean, Alan Watson Featherstone, Heather Paul and I give a short project introduction after the showing of the When the Bough Breaks film showing 7.30pm on Saturday the 16th March in the Hall.  The film itself is a FHT fundraising event and is fascinating in that it presents the urgent case for rewilding with Alan’s work in Glen Affric prominently featured.  Please come along, bring your friends and in this way help support the great work we do.

Smaller but important happenings have also been taking place such as new member woodworker Steven coming most Fridays from his home in Muir of Ord to help a small team with woodworking projects.  At present an older FHT member has commissioned a couple of benches with backs to be located in prominent places on the high dune ridge firebreak above the Duneland Duneridge development to help old and young get out and enjoy walking and the fantastic local environment that we live next to.  We have been using through and through cut timber that came from storm Arwen a couple of years ago and enjoying the art of working creatively with the freeform shapes of these pieces of tree.  With Steven’s help we hope to offer a weekend workshop later in the year on bench making as part of our FHT educational offerings which are being planned right now and will include Ranger Roy offering several Sharing Nature with Children days, Kajedo our Land Manager offering a week long retreat and hopefully at least one day Sacred Ways of Nature workshop, possibly John Willoner, Martin Harker and I putting on a Beekeeping Weekend Workshop and Alan and Heather a day event on FHT Hinterland Biodiversity.  Do consider joining one of these events and letting your friends know about them so they might learn from and enjoy them too.

Other happenings of note include the much appreciated contribution of Louna Kornobis, our long term volunteer who has been with us from September and leaves at the end of February having been the first person to set up home in our Shepherds Hut on the land.  Her smiling face, open mind and helping hands will be much missed as she takes off to walk and explore Scotland a little more before returning to her native Switzerland to start studying for a university degree.  She takes with her new thoughts and skills which will no doubt help shape her future life and leaves the land here a little more cared for and nurtured in many little ways.  Blessings and thank you Louna!

A new initiative within the Park Ecovillage community has been to design and put on a Community Orientation Programme over a number of Saturday’s to introduce new community members to some of the background and practices of this settlement.  Included is the opportunity to take part in practical work projects together and as such they came and gave a couple of hours clearing brash in a new glade Kajedo has been opening up on the south eastern side of Wilkies Wood.  A lot of fun and good work was done by all and hopefully we will have more events like this in the future where people get to know and understand more about the land by being out there and interacting with it. A FHT camping retreat week ‘From the Edges’ is being developed and will be launched this summer to give participants deeper nature connection as well as connection to the larger Park Ecovillage Community – watch this space. 

I am sure I could mention quite a few other things going on or planned but I think that is enough for now.  From what I have just written you will see that the trust goes from strength to strength and continues to buzz with land and community based activity.  I will leave you by mentioning to look out for the May Day Celebrations on the 1st of May which will be happening before the next newsletter.

Blessings and enjoy the spring which will be with us fully soon,

Jonathan Caddy

FHT Chair 

February 13th 2024 

Posted in News

Dune Restoration Project Update

We had a very helpful meeting with the RSPB at their Culbin Sands nature reserve in November.  Site Manager Steph Elliot and Project Officer David Tompkins showed us the work they are doing to protect threatened sand dune habitats and species through removing scrub and small trees.  It is important to emphasise that trees do not occur naturally in sand dune habitats.  They have arrived from seeds blown-in from nearby forestry plantations and are able to get established due to the wind-sheltering effect of the plantations.  Once they do establish, they further reduce wind speeds, establishing a negative feedback loop which, if unchecked, results in the loss of extremely rare dune habitats and the threatened species they provide a home for – some of which are described in Alan Watson Featherstone’s article.  You can read more about the RSPB’s work in their article. Many thanks to Steph and David for their time and support!  

Group visit to Culbin.  L-R David Tompkins, Heather Paul, Steph Elliot, Jonathan Caddy, Kajedo Wander, Sean Reed, Alan Watson Featherstone, Carla Hornsby.  Photo by Alan Watson Featherstone

We have also had some very helpful meetings with our neighbouring charity, the Findhorn Dunes Trust, which owns the dunes to the north of the Hinterland area.  Being further away from the wind-sheltering effect of trees and houses, this area is in better ecological condition than the Hinterland area, which is mainly covered in gorse.  But trees are spreading rapidly on the open dunes and urgent action is needed.  

Both Trusts have been carrying-out scrub removal work for years, using hand tools and work parties.  The focus of current discussions is how we can step this up and make a real difference for our local biodiversity, before it’s too late.  We know that this is beyond the capacity of work parties and that contractors with specialist equipment will be required.  You can read more about the need for scrub removal, and the techniques used, in Tracy Munroe’s article (Butterfly Conservation).  

We were excited to be invited to apply for a substantial grant which would have paid for the contractor work.  Unfortunately, it is now looking like the grant is no longer available.  Still, nothing has been lost, as preparing for the grant helped us plan the project and we are now looking at other potential funding opportunities.  

FHT boundary, showing the extent of gorse cover

The focus is now on connecting the Hinterland’s few remaining sandy areas through opening-up corridors through the gorse and allowing the elemental force of the wind to regenerate the natural process of sand movement.  The Dune Managers Handbook (Dynamic Dunescapes 2021) tells us that healthy dune ecosystems have around 4% scrub (gorse).  Aerial photos show us that the dunes within the Hinterland area are covered with around 90% of gorse.  Reinvigorating the ecosystem here is an exciting prospect, especially during a period when so many other changes are happening with the adjoining Park Ecovillage.

Spiral

Sean Reed

Local Professional Ecologist

February 2024



        

 

Posted in News

Meet the Team – George Paul 

George is a Scot who lives in Forres with his wife Heather and has been a volunteer for over fifteen years, generously contributing to the land and people of the Findhorn peninsula through his work with the Findhorn Hinterland Trust founded in 2015 and its precursor the Findhorn Hinterland Group.  His cheerful and knowledgeable presence, often in the background, has helped the work of the charity in many ways to become what it is today.  This is a little about George’s story.

What inspired your love of nature?

My childhood experiences influenced me greatly – as a young child growing up in Elgin we always went for walks in the oak woods and down on the coast.  My parents and grandparents were great gardeners.  On my mother’s side the family came from Cumbria and we used to walk on the fells.  From an early age I was exposed to the joys and wonders of nature and if it starts then it seems to stick. From Elgin we moved to Boddam near Peterhead, then to Singapore, York, Aberdeen then back to Singapore – always with much time spent outside and a connection with the natural world.  As a child, if it was not raining, I was always outside.  Weather never worried me and as a teenager in Aberdeen I had a friend who was in the Scouts and we used to go off into the Cairngorms to do a lot of walking and camping in the hills during all times of the year.  That was a great influence and gave me great satisfaction.  

What sort of work were you involved in during your working life?

Principally I was a teacher of Geography and Environmental Studies but also spent two years running an Adult Literacy programme in a rural district of Botswana.  At other times I picked up the usual mixture of odd jobs such as being a builder’s labourer, helping on a sheep farm and working at Wastebusters recycling centre in Forres.

Why did  you decide to get involved in the work of the trust and how have you been able to contribute?

The hinterland is such a beautiful area.  There is a sort of vibe to it and it is of a manageable size so you feel that if you work on it there is a chance of getting real results. Also the variety of habitats and creatures on the land make it an inspiring place.  The other side of it was the people that were involved in the work – you felt that you were not alone but doing something good together.

I have been involved for fifteen or sixteen years from just after the storm blew down much of  the compartment of Wilkies Wood that we now call the fallen acres with part of it becoming the present Wilkies Wood  Green Burial ground.  I was involved in the clearing and replanting of much of that area and have some lovely photographs of the original desolation and then its recovery.  It was a lot of heavy work.  When we had cleared most of it away, what an inspiring show of absolutely amazing foxgloves sprung up!  My involvement gradually built on from that experience.  I took up the chainsaw training offered by the trust and was involved in the felling and replanting of trees in other areas as well as a lot of gorse clearing on what is now Findhorn Dunes Trust land.  Such work brought me into contact with Kajedo Wanderer who later became the part time Land Manager for the FHT.  Working with him, I came to greatly value his insights, knowledge and experience.

In the summer of 2011, I also helped with the construction of both the Woodland Shelter and the first compost loo from timber from the woods which was fascinating.  Other things I got involved in included the making of the ponds on the land, the hibernaculum for frogs and toads next to them and basically all the different projects that have taken place on the land.  There was also a lot of talking about what needed to happen and how best to go about it which led me to become one of the members of the Land Management subgroup which I really enjoy as it feels good to be involved with discussing the details.  It is satisfying to be involved in thinking things through and being partly in control of what is happening on the land  

What aspects have you found most satisfying with regards to the FHT work that you have been involved in?

That is hard to think about as everything is connected together but I would say the replanting of the trees.  For example the far eastern edge of Wilkies Wood was such a tangle due to windblow before we cleared and planted it.  Some areas we had to replant a couple of times and in others trees took first time.  It has come along really well and this has been satisfying to see.   The general thinning work in the woods has also been very pleasing as it has let light in transforming the woods from a dark, mossy, impenetrable space to the improved light filled spaces it holds now.  Rescuing some of the heath areas where we have cut back the gorse knowing that if we left it the rare habitat would have been swamped and lost has also inspired me.  My wife Heather was also involved and saw things differently as she developed this interest and joy in studying and getting to know the lichens of the land.  I take delight in her enthusiasm and can see the enormous importance of the small flora and fauna in the whole network of life as opposed to only concentrating on the big and dramatic which is what most humans get so focussed on.  I have also appreciated Alan Watson Featherstone’s ability to look at the tiniest insects and mites that live on top of these.  It makes you think how nature is so complicated and wonderful.  My eyes have been opened wide to such magic.      

What would be a high dream for the FHT if anything was possible?

I would like to see the land secured for the purposes that we have set it up – conservation, teaching about the environment, building local community and to provide recreational resources – and if possible an expansion of the area we have influence over.  I would also like to see the informed engagement of more and more people – that would be a major success for me.  The preservation of the flora and fauna and the rewilding of the landscape is obviously also important as well as the people’s side of it where people really value and understand the amazing area on their doorsteps.  Getting the next generation inspired is also extremely important and it is good to see the regular meetings of the Fledglings every Friday out in the woods as getting young children involved early is essential.  The youth groups that have taken part in various activities have also been important as these activities stick with them as they grow and hopefully in this way the next generation will be inspired.  It counters the almost total engagement nowadays with the digital world – it is uplifting to see when the light shines and they suddenly realise that this world around them  is beautiful, wonderful and fantastic.  Providing opportunities for those  eureka moments gives me so much hope. 

Interviewed by Jonathan Caddy

February 2024

 

Posted in News

News From The Land – February 2024

‘Value the marginal’  – An appreciation of the ‘edges.’

As I write this, it’s still just the middle of Feb, so theoretically still winter. 

Winter here has been mostly wet & windy with just a week when snow covered everything with a beautiful glistening white blanket.

The winter is usually the time when we get to love the woodland with our chainsaws. Restructuring the tree-plantation we had inherited, dealing with storm damage and working on the edges of Wilkies Woods. (Besides cutting Christmas trees, of course).

But by the time you get to read this spring will be here.

Already the yellow tassels on the hazel trees are bravely promising a warmer, brighter season to come. The margins between winter and spring…

But let me share a bit about our work on the ‘edges‘, the ‘margins’ of our wee woodland…

We have spent quite a bit of time with that again this winter. Lodgepole pines blown down years ago but with a few roots still in the ground have sent up branches looking like medium size trees.

And every year a few more of these trees at the edge of the woods get blown down. The resulting impenetrable tangle – with brambles doing their bit – are useful refuges and hiding places for wildlife. But long term they are not really healthy edges.

‘Edges’ and the margins of the forest are potentially the places of greatest vitality of a woodland, or a garden, compared to the darker centre of the woods.

In a tree plantation, like the one we inherited, trees were uniformly planted and fenced in. They grew up and after 50 or 60 years their ‘edges’ are like a tall wall in the landscape. There is no transition to whatever surrounds the forest. And we can see the same thing all over the country – strong winds hit that wall and the trees come down like dominoes.

In a natural environment the baby trees would come up where they can get lots of light & space – at the edges. And trees would settle there which would not have a chance to compete with the tall trees which make up the bulk of the woods.  And these lower growing trees would provide a ‘slope’ which guides the wind over the forest.

So we have cleared some stretches of these tumble down, windblown edges and we have planted lower growing trees – mostly rowans, hazels, wild cherries, geans, aspen, hawthorn and blackthorn. Birches usually volunteer themselves here en masse. On older edges like this you can see a dense tangle of wild raspberries, blackberries, maybe honeysuckle and many other things which provide a haven for wildlife.

We here are limited in how far we can allow the forest to expand (mostly we have to stay within existing boundaries) and as we want to cultivate a mixed woodland (mixture of ages and species) we plant the trees which bring the desired diversity. (A mixed woodland is much more resilient against storm, fire, pests and diseases than a monoculture).

But what really fascinates me about ‘edges’ or ‘the marginal’ is how it relates to our own human nature. Of course we all deserve to have a safe place to come home to (the middle of the forest). But isn’t it true that when we take risks, when we dare to step into the unknown, when we deal with ‘edgy’ stuff – that these are the moments when we feel most alive?

We only ever grow at our ‘edges’, right?

When I walk on a narrow path in the mountains with the land dropping off steeply on one side and rising steeply on the other – that is no time to be half asleep – I need to be wide awake! Because I take a risk and walk somewhere where the lack of mindfulness would be rather dangerous.

‘Edges’ of course also relate to ‘boundaries’. Permaculture suggests to ‘maximize your edges’ – avoid hard, straight lines but make your edges/boundaries soft, curvy, and penetrable.

And take our societies – How much more vibrant and alive our cultures would be if we found ways to truly integrate the marginalized parts of our societies. The travellers, the migrants and immigrants, people who are a bit different than mainstream society. Integrating them without robbing them of their uniqueness, their identity, of course. 

Fittingly another permaculture principle says: “Integrate, don’t segregate.’

And even more personal, isn’t this the personal work we are all called to do? To recognise that everything in nature has its valuable role to play and to integrate those wild and woosely bits. On our land and within ourselves.

To live a ‘holy life’ we have to do what we can to become whole. 

Integrated.

And it usually starts with the ‘edgy’ stuff.

There has been other work going on on the land this winter – mostly to do with the ‘Duneland restoration project’ which you can read about elsewhere in this Newsletter.

I have loved the more introspective time winter offers to us.

But I am beginning to look forward to warmer, brighter days…

Wishing you that – warmth and light…

Many blessings,

Kajedo Wanderer

FHT Land Manager

Posted in News

Outdoor Art Therapy in the Hinterland

As some of you will know, some 20 years ago my art therapy practice began to morph into a more ‘open door’ style, moving seamlessly or rhythmically across the threshold between  the studio interior, garden and local woods, dunes and beach, and then moved to taking place almost entirely outdoors, inviting the participation and guidance of local wildlife. Typically, sessions begin with walking, attuning to the body and land, then letting the heart or the feet, the call of a bird or the angle of a leaf guide us. The path reveals itself…. and we often end up here in the Hinterland.

The Hinterland has been a wonderfully rich area for wandering, to find hidden secret places and wide, open space the fraught heart often craves. It holds us within its choir of many voices and their resonances with our deepest emotional and spiritual experiences. I would like to thank everyone who tends and works with the Hinterland’s wildlife, from large animals to microscopic fungi.

Art therapy engages with the complexly orchestrated phenomena that are activated when we create with our bodies and imaginations; when breath, body state, gesture and the myriad presences of other life forms sharing and co-creating the moment with us, mingle alchemically with our most secret dreams and stir archaic, ancestral memories …  All these, and more, weave in a dance that brings what we call insight, integration, recovery and healing. 

Found message

After 45 years, each session is still an entirely unique miracle to me. Nature participates ever more precisely and vividly and creatures seem to be attracted to humans deeply absorbed in creating (dreaming with hands). Being our natural, playful selves, our predatory reflexes are temporarily relaxed or diverted, even if dramatically painful experiences are running through us at the time. Our nature is to flow and change, whether lightning swift or invisibly slow, and not only does nature around us become more visible, it seems we become more visible, more approachable to our curious, intelligent and playful kin. In the Hinterland, spiders and mice often discover artworks amongst grasses and branches, and their responses almost always ‘speak’ clearly to the maker in a shared secret language. To those who say this is unscientific fantasy, wishful thinking and projections onto other beings, I say: Does the wren or mouse not project onto you, based on its own state and needs at the time? It may see and fear you and scurry away or approach, judging you as safe. Its projected fear or attraction to you is part of the entire flow of life in that moment. It co-creates the story of us both.

Findhorn Dunes Labyrinth © Mark Richards

So if you see me with another person in the Hinterland, moving, building structures and installations on the ground or standing silently gazing, we may be engaged in art therapy. In this paradigm everything that arrives in the animated field of intelligences is part of the therapy process, it has its role in the mirroring the client may need to ‘see’ more deeply into themselves. So there is no such thing as an interruption; we have no locked doors, no ‘quiet’ or ‘keep out’ notice hung up. A dog, deer or child bounding into ‘our’ space, or a chain-saw starting up nearby may both speak eloquently to us about how we are experiencing life, our sensitivities, aversions, what we welcome, fear or reject… our ‘allergies’ and compulsive defences and the imprints of the past we carry as defining stories. When the chain completely deafens, it may be an opportunity to be silent or an  invitation to sing along wildly with its harmonic tones, or help us to witness our grief at the world’s falling trees… We may not pause in our process to greet you or engage in conversation, as therapy is an inner reflective process, but your proximity may, unbeknownst to you, carry some symbolic significance that brings energetic, somatic shifts and insight.

Teardrop

Humour is often part of outdoor art therapy and the Hinterland is full of lively characters and tricksters who will interact with art works in their own way; mice, birds, spiders, deer, pine martens, badgers, owls… and all the plant people who will topple or improve on the maker’s creation. Rain will blend a delicate drawing into a sea of ripples out of which new creatures surface. A gust of wind seemingly sprung from nowhere on the stillest day, will whisk away a precious art work non-consensually, and then vanish, leaving the maker stunned into much needed silence or chasing their work as it tumbles across the ground, gathering matter as it travels. It is usually a delightful surprise when we witness how nature can transform an artwork into a more authentic expression of our feelings. More participants and ingredients are sometimes needed. It takes a village, as the saying goes.

So, dear Hinterland keepers, elders and young ones buried in the woodland, whose presence we always honour, you are all part of these healing sessions, you and the hundreds of thousands of beings, human and more-than-human, who share this place with us. Thank you.

Beverley A’Court

Art Therapist  HCPC registered 

British Assn. of Art Therapists BAAT

Russian Art Therapy Assn. RATA

February 2024

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RSPB Culbin Sands Nature Reserve Project

Lessons Learned Working on Another Part of the Greater Findhorn Dunes System

Introduction

In November 2023, staff from RSPB Scotland invited members of the Findhorn Hinterland Trust and the Findhorn Dunes Trust to the RSPB’s Culbin Sands Nature Reserve for a site visit. The aim of the visit was for the RSPB to share their experience of managing invasive dune scrub at Culbin Sands as part of the current LIFE 100% for Nature project. As the Findhorn Hinterland and Findhorn Dune Trusts are planning a dune restoration project for the Findhorn Dunes, this was a good opportunity to share appropriate knowledge gained at a neighbouring site. Culbin Sands is part of the wider dune complex that also encompasses the Findhorn Dunes, the issues and processes that affect the dunes at Culbin Sands are likely to be the same as those that affect the dunes at Findhorn. 

Aerial view of Culbin

Culbin Sands

Culbin Sands includes large areas of saltmarsh, sandflats and mudflats, sand dune and coastal vegetated shingle habitat. The reserve was acquired by the RSPB in 1977, with one of the main focuses of the reserve being to protect the sandflat and mudflat feeding areas of wintering waterbirds and waders such as Long-Tailed Duck, Curlew and Pink-Footed Goose. In addition to this, the reserve includes around 60 hectares of sand dune and coastal vegetated shingle habitat that is of national and regional importance. The coastal vegetated shingle bar is almost certainly the most intact example of this habitat type in Scotland and one of the most important sites of this type in the United Kingdom. 

Both the shingle and dune habitats are included in the designation of the Culbin Bar SAC (Special Area of Conservation). Unfortunately, the embryonic shifting dune habitat element of the SAC was classed as unfavourable and declining due to invasive scrub by site condition monitoring in 2010.  The coastal vegetated shingle habitat in the SAC was judged to be in favourable condition but it was noted that invasive scrub was having an increasing impact on the overall condition of the habitat. The cover of scrub on the dune and shingle habitat at Culbin Sands has been steadily increasing over the last 30-40 years. Historic aerial imagery shows that scrub on some of the dune has gone from sparse cover to thick, almost continuous cover within 20 years. 

The LIFE 100% for Nature Project

In an effort to reverse these declines in habitat condition, the dune and shingle habitat at Culbin Sands was included in the LIFE 100% for Nature Project. This project is working to reverse declines in habitat condition within 11 SAC’s under RSPB management across Scotland, with other sites including Tiree, Insh Marshes and Nigg and Udale Bays. At Culbin Sands the project is aiming to remove all invasive scrub from dune habitats and to reduce the cover of scrub on the shingle habitats that are under RSPB management. The Project’s main approach to achieving these aims has been to build up a team of more than 20 local volunteers who take part in frequent work parties that are managed by the LIFE Project Officer, David Tompkins. This approach delivers high quality habitat management over several years that is sensitive and adaptable by design. The alternative would be to employ contractors with machinery to do the work at scale in a shorter time frame, this was not feasible as the saltmarsh surrounding the dune habitat at Culbin is fragile and vulnerable to damage from vehicle access. 

Group photo during Findhorn Hinterland Trust visit with RSPB to Culbin

Benefits

The main purpose of removing invasive scrub from the dunes at Culbin is to bring back dynamism to the dunes by allowing natural processes to act on the dune system as they have done since the dunes came into existence. Prior to the LIFE 100% for Nature Project, some areas of the dune had a continuous cover of birch and pine scrub, this restricted sand movement through the dune which appeared to limit the growth of new embryo dunes. A reduction in the formation of embryo dunes renders dune systems more vulnerable to blow out and erosion events during winter storms. Since removing almost all of the mature scrub from the dune habitat under RSPB management at Culbin, we have seen evidence of increased sand movement along the length of the dune. 

Small Blue Butterfly Cupido minimus

Allowing natural processes to take hold has appeared to benefit a range of dune species. For example, the increased sand movement keeps the dune sward open which benefits key dune species like Mouth-ear Hawkweed Pilosella officinarum and the Sand Bear Spider Arctosa perita. Reducing scrub cover has improved the outlook for an important colony of Small Blue Butterfly Cupido minimus at the western end of the shingle bar at Culbin. This work has prevented the food plant of the butterfly, Kidney vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, from being shaded out by encroaching pine scrub. 

West dune tip before

West dune tip after

Sand bear spider Arctosa perita in burrow Culbin bar

Lessons learnt and shared

Lessons have certainly been learnt from efforts to manage dune scrub as part of the LIFE 100% for Nature Project, these lessons are likely to apply to any restoration projects on the Findhorn Dunes. One key positive lesson is that investing time and resources into a local network of volunteers gives you an adaptable and capable workforce that is well equipped to manage dune scrub. On a more practical note, several lessons have been learnt. First, it is important not to underestimate the time it takes to dispose of brash resulting from scrub clearance, scrub that may take a day to clear with a large group may then take five days to dispose of by burning. This is pertinent for all sites where access prevents the off-site removal of brash. The second, possibly even more important lesson, is that the regeneration capacity of scrub (particularly Broom and Birch) should not be underestimated. 

Kidney vetch shingle

Broom regeneration from seed is a particular challenge on the dune at Culbin Sands, with dense areas of Broom seedlings arising from cleared areas of mature broom scrub. These seedlings present a management problem as they are deep rooted, numerous and will readily regrow if they are cut before they reach reproductive age (typically three years old). Clearing mature Broom stands appears to create ideal conditions for seed germination, possibly due to soil disturbance and increased levels of light reaching the soil surface. Fortunately, there is a reasonable body of literature available on Broom ecology as it is a major invasive species in New Zealand, Australia and the United States, so land managers can arm themselves with information prior to managing Broom. (CABI have produced a good summary on the ecology of Broom, it can be accessed here: Cytisus scoparius (Scotch broom) | CABI Compendium (cabidigitallibrary.org))  Any dune restoration efforts that include the removal of Broom should be prepared to deal with a flush of Broom seedlings following management, especially in bare areas. It has been noted that Broom seedlings seem much less frequent amongst mature Heather Calluna vulgaris and Crowberry Empetrum nigrum vegetation at Culbin, possibly because the vegetation prevents an increase in light hitting the soil that would otherwise trigger germination. 

The future

Whilst challenges remain, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of Culbin Sands and the wider Culbin-Findhorn dune complex. There appears to be an increased awareness of the importance of sand dune habitats amongst the local community, with many people understanding that there is a need to prevent scrub from encroaching onto dune habitats. Dune habitats themselves seem to be showing resilience too. Dunes at the western end of the vegetated shingle bar are growing westward at the rate of up to 5 metres per year, having cleared young scrub from a large swathe of this dune it should in future be easier to hold the line and not allow any new scrub to develop in this area of ever-expanding dune.

David Tompkins 

RSPB Life Project Officer

January 2024

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The Bough Breaks

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News from the Land – Autumn ‘23

‘Be still, and listen…’  (Eileen Caddy)

While the rest of the world is warming up at an alarming rate, here in the North of Scotland we’ve had a cool summer and an unusually wet and windy autumn. And now the autumn colours paint the landscapes in various shades of glorious yellow, golden and red – for a short time, before the bare months of winter will be upon us soon enough.

These autumnal changes are nature’s invitation to go inwards… To take stock of the seasons past, and build the potential for next year’s growth.

It is a time of the year which especially invites us to ‘be still and listen’…

I was delighted when I learned about permaculture years ago. So many of the guiding permaculture principles seem to echo the principles of human spiritual growth. And permaculture teaches us to pause and listen, to ‘observe, observe, observe’ – before changing anything in our natural environment.

So – I consider the moments when i pause on the land, sit still and do my best to listen, look, feel… invite Nature to teach me about the needs of any given location, I consider these moments an essential part of my work as land manager / care-taker of the land here at Findhorn.  And of course the ‘observations’ can take many forms:  To learn how to be truly still and to be willing to listen as individuals is a great start.

But we as the FHT have invested in other forms of ‘listening/observing’ as well: For example : We have spent around  £1k a year on surveys over the last 8 years.  The first one was the lichen survey in 2008 which was organised by the Findhorn Dunes Trust, but since then FHT has done mushroom, moss, moth, spider & bug surveys and more…  And each time we are amazed at what can be found when looking through the eyes of those who know how to look.  Of course the sheer numbers of what we have on the land are often staggering. But thanks to our Alan Watson’s photographic skills (and determination) we also get to appreciate the multifaceted beauty of the many things we don’t get to see with our untrained (and unequipped) eyes.

Talking about biodiversity becomes meaningful when we begin to understand just how many different species are sharing this little piece of land with us.  And understanding those species better helps us to find ways to safeguard and improve their existing habitats.  And as ‘inner nature’ and ‘outer nature’ are but reflections of each other –

Here is the invitation: Let’s take the changing colour scheme of the autumn as an invitation to ‘go out and tune in’. To try and be still and listen.

(I am well aware that learning to truly become still, and to really listen requires a fair bit of training/practice. But we all have to start somewhere – so;

Let’s remind ourselves today to look, listen, smell, feel… open all our senses to the gifts and  lessons Nature around us is offering us all the time.

I have made it a habit to carry a little hand-lens and a wee pair of binoculars with me during work and on my walks – to help me see better.

And sometimes I just close my eyes and try to look with my heart…

Be still… and listen…

Be still… and know…

Kajedo Wanderer,

FHT Land Manager 

Autumn 2023

 

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Findhorn Hinterland Trust, Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) SC045806
228 Pineridge, Findhorn, Forres, Moray IV36 3TB