Tomintoul is bathed in bright spring sunshine when I arrive at the Glenlivet Estate office. It looks like it’s going to be a perfect day to spend outside on one of Crown Estate Scotland’s regular volunteer days, helping out on its 23,000-hectare estate.
Readers of this column may have noticed I spend a lot of time in Glenlivet – I find the network of paths and quiet hillsides provide a haven for both wildlife and hill runners looking to escape the crowds.
So, when I saw an article in the Northern Scot about the chance to volunteer, I decided it would be a great opportunity to give something back.
Alongside the altruistic element, the volunteer days also give the chance to learn new skills.
The rangers have chosen tasks that are relevant to recreational users of the estate and these have so far included bridge building, way-marking, path and bike track maintenance, and gate and stile replacement.
This is the second time I’ve volunteered, the first being a very satisfying day replacing a footbridge on one of the estate’s many way-marked walks, and I’m looking forward to some more satisfying physical labour!
Outside the estate office we are greeted by Graeme Finlay, a forest ranger for Crown Estate Scotland. He tells us there has been a good response to the call for volunteers.
“We’ve had lots of interest in the days, which is great, and people have got really involved in the work – we have a mountain biker who emails us updates on the condition of a puddle he helped to fill up on the bike trails. He’s pleased to report it’s still dry.”
Our task was tree planting at the newly rejuvenated gateway car park just outside Tomintoul. Flanked by the village’s circular path and next to the newly installed wildlife hide, the previous pine plantation surrounding the car park has been felled and the area is now being replanted with a variety of native species.
The job was to check through new trees that had already been planted and replace any saplings that hadn’t survived.
After a safety briefing from Graeme we loaded up our tree bags with saplings and made our way over the rough ground to where orange marker posts indicated trees that had failed to withstand the tough 2018 winter. The trees were a mixture of hazel, pine, alder and willow; the latter two in the boggier areas and the hazel and pine in the drier ground.
The ill-fated fortunes of some of the pines in the damper ground was clear to see as withered brown needles poked sadly out of their protective tubes.
Under Graeme’s instruction we learned our task: check inside the protective guard to see if the tree was alive using a combination of common sense and the tell-tale presence of buds and, if required, replace the tree with a new sapling before putting back the essential protection against hungry deer.
It was a surprisingly exposed site – the others enjoyed the cooling breeze but with a runners’ low body fat percentage I was glad of a windproof layer and some hard work to do. Time passed quickly as we moved between trees, bending, checking, clearing and planting.
I have a desk-bound job and a tendency to rush through the outdoors, running the trails and hills, so it was great to spend time outside close up to nature and also doing something that will improve the environment for locals and visitors, both in human and animal form.
One of the great things about taking part in volunteer days is learning new skills. I am a new gardener but by the end of the day I feel I might be graduating from beginner to novice tree planter.
I joked that our lawn may soon be replaced by a major plantation – something I’m not sure our neighbours would be too pleased about!
I’m looking forward to a summer of more volunteering – Graeme hinted that the next event might involve some footpath maintenance, but we’ll have to wait until closer to the time.
I would highly recommend getting involved in outdoor work parties. The landscape of Scotland is one of the great bonuses of living here and putting something back really gives a sense of achievement.
I’ve proudly shown off the bridge I helped build to friends and family, and will watch the progress of the Tomintoul saplings like a proud parent.
If you are interested in getting involved with work parties at Glenlivet Estate contact the estate office for more information – email email@example.com or phone 01479 870070.
Other organisations organising volunteering activities include the Mountains and the People, a project of the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland (www.themountainsandthepeople.org.uk) and the National Trust for Scotland (www.nts.org.uk/volunteering).
Locally organised work parties are also often promoted through local media.