Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Small Cow-wheat is Special

Small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) grows on at least 2 sites on Atholl Estates. This is pretty good going as it's only found in 18 sites in the whole of Britain, most of which are in Scotland. Now is the perfect time to see it as it's flowering, and relatively easy to distinguish from its common cousin - common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense). It likes to grow in areas that are somewhat damp and shady, and also steals some nutrients from other nearby plants - it is a hemi-parasite. Its seeds are dispersed by ants, in fact, ants assisted with some conservation work here to spread out the range of one patch of cow-wheat, by taking the seeds further than they had been put by humans.
Removing bracken from a small cow-wheat site
Small cow-wheat flower
The seeds of the small cow-wheat are dispersed by ants. Where this doesn't happen, the flower doesn't spread to new areas and simply becomes very concentrated in one small locality. This is happening here to some extent and so, in conjunction with the National Park, we are trying to help the flower's future success by dispersing some seeds, and also keeping back invasive plants such as bracken and horsetail.

One of our small cow-wheat sites is very easy to visit up Glen Tilt, and we hope to have some interpretation on site soon.

Small cow-wheat is one of the species involved with the Cairngorms Rare Plant project, which aims to deliver urgently needed action for four threatened plants of high conservation importance in the Cairngorms National Park.

We also got the priveleged but very sad close-up of a male pine marten today. It had been hit on the road near the House of Bruar but was still in very good condition. The canine teeth and claws are particularly impressive so close up. We have many pine martens living in the woods here, but being nocturnal and shy, they are rarely seen. We will use this one for educational purposes.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Open Day 2012

The 5th biennial Atholl Estates Open Day took place on the 30th of May last week and was, by all accounts, a great success. The estate opened its gates to over 600 school children from schools across Perth and Kinross so that they could come along and find out about the running of a modern Highland estate. Everyone from the Works Department, the Horse Trials, the Gamekeepers, Pony Trekking Center, Forestry Department, Farm, Castle Gardens, and more (including the Ranger Service!) were on hand to provide activities and insights into just what it is that they do. And to have a little fun along the way, of course!

Well prepared children arriving for the Open Day

Tight competition on the Works Department obstacle course

School children setting off on a tractor tour

It was great to see all the children laughing and smiling and enjoying their day out. Hopefully they will all have learned something about Atholl Estates too. A lot of children certainly seemed to enjoy our 'Scottish Outdoor Access Code Challenge' game - seeing who could throw the most 'rubbish' into the bin from 3 metres was very popular, as was putting out our 'fire' (painted on plywood) by knocking it over with wet tennis balls!

The staff seemed to have a good time too, so roll-on two years time for the next one!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Osprey Antics

It was a whole month ago now that we took the Blair Atholl Nature Club on an outing to the Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. That we're only telling you about it now just goes to show what a busy month this has been!

It was a great day out for everyone. We learned about the wildlife that lives on the reserve and lots of interesting things about the reserves star attractions, a pair of breeding Ospreys. Everyone's favorite part of the whole trip was building a life-size model of an Osprey nest. Appreciating all the effort that goes into building a nest roughly the size of a double bed really makes you appreciate the lengths these birds go to and the strength they posess.

Inside the osprey nest holding two replica osprey eggs

Many thanks to the Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger for organising and entertaining the Nature Club! It's