Now in my fourth year of working on the Chayne, I am starting to come to terms with the nature of the ground itself. By comparison to arable England, the entire place is probably classed as moorland, but like the eskimos and their snow, there are many words in Scotland to describe land which lies in the upland spectrum. There is very little of what you might call “black” heather moorland on the Chayne, but there is enough heather to support red and black grouse. The land straddles an odd boundary between hill ground and moorland – not really being either but having easily identifiable elements of both.
The idea of “marginal hill” will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in the southern uplands – great expanses of wet ground, riddled with rushes, sphagnum and blow grass. The dry ground has ling and the wet ground has asphodel and cross leaved heath. It’s not a grouse moor by any stretch of the imagination, but in terms of its value for wildlife, it certainly has a great deal to offer. Depleted by over-grazing and neglected by the past thirty years of mis-spent farming subsidy, the embers of Galloway’s moorland habitat which once stretched from Girvan to the Nith are still viable where they haven’t been crushed under the weight of sitka spruce trees.
My current approach to the project is an attempt to divide my work up into two distinct categories – hill and farm. There is a reasonably clear line of dykes and fences between the two on the Chayne, and there’s no doubt that it’s easier to work on the “farm” than on the hill, where there is no access whatsoever other than on foot. The hill ground could do with a great deal of work, but it is more feasible (for now) for me to concentrate on the farmland. This is the land which will be soon be crisscrossed with hedges, paddocks of game cover and spinneys of birch and rowan. In theory, it will become a haven for grey partridges, hares and broods of young black grouse. In time, parts of the farmland are going to be written off and flooded to the advantage of wading birds like lapwing and redshank, but for now it is enough of a revelation to realise that I am essentially dealing with two projects. (N.B. waders will be a bit of theme for 2013)
I had never imagined when I became interested in grouse that I would be dealing with classic lowland plant species like guelder rose and elder, but in terms of management to suit the Chayne, both species have a part to play – I’m writing this because I have been planting both today. By pulling the farm into two pieces, I can treat the hill ground (along with the red grouse and golden plover) as part of a seperate project. Both halves will have to come back together again in due course once they have been brought up to speed, but it is fascinating to plan a future for the rushy inbye fields as a valuable habitat in themselves. For example, I was always rather disappointed that those rushy fields were no use to red grouse, but a bit of work and planning could make them ideal for snipe and curlew. Diversity is the key.
Mentally splitting the farm is a bit of a theoretical shift for me, and it opens up a world of new opportunities. The Chayne will never be a grouse moor and it will never be a partridge manor. However, if it’s looked after carefully enough, it could include elements of both to make something healthy, diverse and unique. Of course, the thrust of the project will always be the conservation of black grouse, but it is only just dawning on me what the scope of my activities can include. After all, the very nature of black grouse requires a strong element of co-operation between farmland and moorland – all I am doing is dividing those two and dealing with them seperately.