The first seedlings of rare willows have been successfully grown as part of a conservation project by the National Trust for Scotland on its Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire.
Working at the UK’s largest nature reserve, the charity’s expert conservationists started on a project this summer intended to protect and bolster the population of downy and whortle-leaved willow on the 29,000 hectare estate.
Thanks to the support of the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Trust ecologist Shaila Rao and her colleagues began the critical work this summer to save the species which are only just hanging on in Scotland.
Shaila Rao explained: ‘Our aim with this project is to give these remnant rare willow populations a boost so they have the ability to reproduce, regenerate and expand by themselves in the future.
‘In early summer this year, we visited all the downy and whortle-leaved willow sites, collecting cuttings and seeds from each population. Trees for Life are now growing on the cuttings for us in their nursery at Dundreggan, Glen Moriston, and will create a bank of trees for each willow species from which seed can be collected in the future. This seed will be used for growing on seedlings to plant at Mar Lodge Estate in a few years.’
Seeds collected this summer have already germinated and will be ready for planting in autumn 2020.
Shaila continued: ‘We’ll plant 500 of the grown-on willow seedlings of each species into two sites where they currently occur on the estate to reinforce existing populations. We’ll then keep a close eye to see how this is working and to establish if the population is regenerating naturally. Hopefully in the next few years we will see these rare willows begin to flourish once again.
‘It may be a long way off, but these steps are the first in recreating the precious montane woodland habitat which has almost been lost from Scotland. Expanding this will improve the area’s biodiversity, attracting a wider range of insects and birds, including some species more commonly seen in Scandinavia like the bluethroat, Lapland bunting, brambling and willow tit.’
Mar Lodge Estate supports a number of different willow species – creeping, eared, downy, dark-leaved, tea-leaved, goat, grey, dwarf and whortle-leaved willow.
The estate has been in the protection of conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland since 1995. The largest nature reserve in the UK, it is home to an incredible range of habitats, including 15 Munros, heathered moors, Caledonian pine forest and the Quoich wetlands. It is home to a huge array of wildlife like otters, ptarmigan, black grouse and red deer.