Fire Pits and Fantastic Beasts – Muir of Dinnet NNR

Phew. It’s been yet another incredibly busy week on the reserve. People are still flocking to us in droves, post-lockdown, and that’s great to see in some respects ….it will help the local economy and shows that many people value nature and want to be in the countryside. But, as always, there are a minority who spoil it for everyone ..and, with there being so many people out there, that minority is a larger number than normal. We are still seeing lots of issues with irresponsible camping, litter and human waste. No-one should have to be clearing up what we are and a massive debt of gratitude goes to all the staff, CNP rangers, volunteers and even visitors who do. Quite simply, no-one should visit the countryside unless they are prepared to leave no trace of their visit, and this means taking everything away (even if it’s unpleasant, like bagged dog poo) or putting in a bit of effort to bury human waste. I will admit, I have found the past few weeks some of the hardest in the 20 years I’ve worked in the countryside. Like many people, I do what I do because I care about it…after my family, the natural world is probably the other big love of my life and the disrespect and laziness that damages it both angers and saddens me.

Another big issue we’ve had is with fires. It seems that most people who camp want a fire, even if it means scorching a bit of the NNR and they all seem to want their own fire – even if it means scorching another bit of ground only feet away from another fire pit. Often, live branches are cut for these fires (which is vandalism, pure and simple, and a bit of a waste of time, because green wood doesn’t burn well) and even collecting dead wood destroys habitat for invertebrates.

Fire pit with cut branches

Often, rubbish is left in fire pits too, even stuff that any child would know will not burn. The damage and litter associated with these is unsightly at best and downright dangerous at worst – one fire can destroy huge swathes of our beautiful countryside.

Fire pit and litter

We have made a start on clearing up the fire pits round the loch but this will take some time, because there are over 30 and we have to litter pick them, remove the rocks, dig out the ash and turf them over. But every weekend there are more.

Fire pit…

…and after we’re cleared it up

Anyone planning on coming to the reserve and cooking anything should use a stove.

Away from the visitors, we have managed to get started on some other work on the reserve. It’s easy to forget we’ve only been back on-site for 3 weeks and even, with the best will in the world, can’t catch up with the 3 months of lockdown right away! But we’ve made a start, pulling Himalayan balsam from the stream banks before it flowers. While horribly invasive, at least it’s not giant hogweed.

Balsam left up tree to die

The reserve is starting to go purple too. The bell heather is in flower and it won’t be long until the ling is out, too.

Bell heather

On damp mornings, bluebells nod their heads in the grassy edges of the paths, weighed down with raindrops beading on their delicate blue flowers.

Bluebell

The long makes (you sneeze!) and the wildlife hard to spot. A russet patch in the grass gradually resolved itself into a lovely roe doe. Unusually, when she spotted us, she didn’t run right away and I wonder if he had a a youngster concealed somewhere in the grass nearby.

Roe doe

Being watched

Sometimes, the wildlife comes to us. An alarming-looking visitor appeared in the visitor centre on Sunday, when this female sabre wasp got herself stuck in the office. One of our largest insects, she uses that vicious-looking back end to bore into rotten wood and lay her eggs in the larvae that live there. It all gets a bit gross after that but if you want to read more, this will tell you all about it. Just maybe not while you’re having lunch…

https://www.buglife.org.uk/bugs/bug-directory/the-sabre-wasp/

Female sabre wasp

And this lizard was quite contentedly basking on one of our ‘Car Park Full’ signs round the back.

Lizard

But, in some ways, the most exiting find of the week was a dead animal. No, we’re not total wierdos, finding a dead animal isn’t nice but it can tell you that a certain species is present in an area. This dead water vole in the Vat was out first record of them in the Vat Burn catchment…we have more water voles and they seem to be spreading!

Our other exciting find wasn’t our ‘find’ at all. We spotted some visitors crouched over something in the grass and they waved us over to see this ‘funny-looking beetle that looked like a bee’. The appropriately-named bee beetle does what it says on the tin. It’s a beetle that looks like a bee and, like most mimics, is pretending to be something it isn’t. At first glance it does indeed look like a bee….so you might assume, you’d get stung, right? But  you won’t, they’re only pretending, so hopefully anything that might eat them will leave them alone. They’re always a treat to see and I don’t even see one every year. We’re most likely to see in late summer, usually on later flowers like devil’s bit scabious.

And we’ll leave you with another first for the year. We spotted our first Scotch Argus butterflies of 2020 on Thursday…just 4, but, by next week, they will be everywhere. Keep and eye out for them if you are out and about this weekend but please remember – we are very busy just now and you may not get parked if you do come and visit, especially between 11am-4pm… so have a Plan B just in case.

Scotch argus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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