The second installment of the Crook of Baldoon story from RSPB Scotland's Jenny Tweedie. RSPB Scotland purchased a piece of land known as Crook of Baldoon six years ago and this is how we've been transforming it into a haven for wildlife ever since. Our work here could not have been achieved without the generous help of HSBC, the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Dumfries and Galloway Leader, Scottish Natural Heritage, and of course, the support of RSPB members. 

Crook of Baldoon: Part II

Can’t see the crook for the trees

Removing the willow from the Crook of Baldoon was always a high priority, but we wanted to harvest it as a crop, and do it in the most cost-effective way possible. And that took time. 

Due to various delays with both the contractors and the weather, and having to wait for a time when we’d cause the least disturbance to wildlife, if was autumn 2014 before we could get heavy machinery on site to do the work. Willow isn’t an easy crop to cut, and you need quite specialist kit, which is in limited supply in the UK.  But eventually it was all removed, chipped, and the harvest taken to a biomass plant in Cumbria owned by Iggesund, who had organised the harvesting for us.

Even once the main crop was gone, there was still the issue of what to do with the remaining stumps. Willow is notorious for re-sprouting, indeed that’s why it’s grown as a coppicing crop, and has been for hundreds of years. If we’d left it as it was, it would have come back, so the ground had to be mulched, and then sprayed to kill off the remaining growth.

But by July of last year, new contractors were able to get onto the site with massive earth moving kit, and they started work on a large lagoon and other wetland features, following a bespoke design that was put together by our colleagues in Scotland and at our UK headquarters.

The idea was to create tailor-made areas for birds that were breeding on the site, particularly farmland waders such as lapwings; birds that were passing through on epic migrations; and wintering birds, that choose to spend the colder months in Wigtown Bay, like dunlins, curlews, pink-footed and barnacle geese. The wetland areas were also designed to allow human visitors views of the birds without disturbing them, hopefully encouraging more people to visit the area, and find out just how special this sort of habitat is.

Now, as the winter rains fall, the lagoons and pools have begun to fill up with water.  Whooper swans have arrived from Iceland, golden plovers are filling the skies with their displays, and hen harriers can be seen hunting over the wetland. We’ve had hundreds of redwings passing through feeding on hawthorn berries and crab apples, barn owls and short eared owls have both been seen, otters are sometimes spotted and are likely to become more regular visitors, and even little egrets have been recorded using the pools. 

The Future

At the Crook of Baldoon, in only five short years, the site has been utterly transformed into a home for nature. Wildflowers are blooming once more on the saltmarsh in the spring, frogs are already moving into the new pools, lapwings are still nesting in the summer fields, and thousands upon thousands of migrating birds have been dropping in to spend the winter. We can only wait and see what else is going to pay us a visit as time moves on.

None of this could have been achieved without the support of RSPB members, or our funders, and we’re incredibly grateful for all the support we’ve had through the years. Both Dumfries and Galloway Leader and the National Lottery, through the Heritage Lottery Fund, contributed to our habitat work over our first three years at the Crook, and also part-funded our warden, Paul, along with Scottish Natural Heritage. The final elements of the work at the reserve were funded by HSBC, who kindly donated around £200k over two years.

But the work isn’t over. Next on the list are more facilities for visitors. At the moment, we just have a car park and signage, and Paul runs regular guided walks and other events, including a volunteer work party. This isn’t a reserve where we’re going to build a huge visitor centre, but we do hope to put in some more modest facilities, including viewing areas, hides and toilets.

At the moment, there’s still plenty to see and enjoy, and it’s actually a great time to come and visit. It’s pretty rare to get the opportunity to see a site like this that’s at the beginning of its, hopefully, long life as a nature reserve, and you’re very welcome to come along and experience it as it happens.   

For us, it’s incredibly exciting to be at this point, seeing the birds arrive to take advantage of all the hard work, and wondering just what the future is going to bring.    

For part I of this blog, click here.