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Conservation

Conservation projects 

A Lamb looking at the camera

Farming in partnership with our natural environment, we strive to protect the existing wildlife habitats at Spital Tower, increase biodiversity, and enhance the landscape. We are constantly carrying out work to ensure the best possible habitats exist throughout the farm, and work to connect all of them together, to create a spider’s web of habitats to enable wildlife to move freely across the whole farm.

We believe in baseline recording, whereby we measure what species are present at Spital Tower, allowing us the knowledge to properly assess what work we need to carry out.

In 2010 a Base Line survey was completed by An Torc Land Use (the Badenoch Survey). The survey demonstrated a healthy diversity in species of flora and fauna, many of which are UKBAP/ LBAP Species of Special Conservation Concern. Examples include lapwing, snipe, woodcock, roe deer, brown hare.

This set in motion a drive to increase native tree cover, encourage natural regeneration of existing native woodlands, protect enhance and create wader and other bird habitats on the farm, and other initiatives.

Good progress has been made and in 2023 recognition was achieved with accreditation by Wildlife Estates Scotland at Silver level. We are committed under the scheme to make as much room for nature and wildlife on our farm as possible, and use nature friendly land management methods.

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Burnhead Wood

Burnhead Wood is a new plantation of 11,000 native broadleaves. The idea behind this plantation, funded by Forestry Scotland, came about from observing birch, willow and oak trees growing among the expanding gorse bushes on the hill above the Towerburn glen. Here we saw that underneath the canopies of the trees, gorse did not grow, and instead grassy dens existed where cattle would shelter and wildlfowers grew in abundance.

The gorse was becoming a real threat to the preservation of the hill ground, as it crept in all directions. It was becoming a hassle for shepherding, as sheep would disappear out of reach during gatherings, and come back covered in gorse needles, a pain at shearing time. So, with the intent of accelerating the natural process we were already observing, and with funding from Forestry Scotland, we cut 2m wide tracks throughout the gorse, planting densely with native broadleaves in these tracks, in the theory that once the trees were above the height of the gorse, their spreading canopy would kill off the gorse. The gorse would also act as a nurse from wind, deer and hare for self-seeded saplings, that once taller than the gorse, would in turn reduce the gorse cover.
This project is multi-purposed. By fencing off the largest area of gorse, we were also fencing off the open watercourse of Towerburn, and by planting around it we were creating a new riparian woodland, which also expanded a small stand of ancient riparian woodland further down the burn, at the farm stead, thereby also preserving and enhancing an endangered clump of ancient woodland.

Towershaw

This project aims to restore and conserve Towershaw, a semi ancient woodland,  Towershaw encompasses ancient woodland, and newer mixed conifer and hardwood plantations, as well as a semi-designed landscape of tiered paths. It originates in medieval Royal specifications for forest farmsteads.

History of oak plantations, Forest steads and Tower Houses.

Spital Tower is part of the area known as Jed Forest, once a Royal Hunting Forest.
There were certain rules that the occupiers of the forest farmsteads such as Spital Tower had to adhere to when constructing their steadings. In the Royal Hunting Forest of Ettrick, one valley up from Spital Tower, families were obliged in the early 1500’s to construct “a sufficient mansion-house of stone and lime, with a hall, chamber, barn, cattle-shed, stable, dove-cot, garden and orchards, beehives, hedges and plantations of OAK, and all other necessary trees, and a bridge for the passage of the kings leiges”

Tower Shaw.

The woodland known today as Towershaw, or Tower Shaw, takes its name from an old Tower house that the farm once revolved around. It was the centre of life for the property, being where the farmer lived, kept his livestock, and could hide them away from any roaming thieves if necessary (or hide livestock he himself had stolen). Tower Shaw lies adjacent the site of the old Tower house.

At the northern edge of the wood can be found The Towershaw Oak, over 400 years old, as well as many other native trees. Also dotted with ancient oak trees and other native species is the Towerburn, meaning the Tower’s stream, which runs just to the east of the woodland.
Towershaw has changed character over the years, being expanded in the 1800’s into a commercial fir and pine plantation. When T.G.L. arrived in 1913 (see History), it was a mixed woodland of ancient trees, young native broadleaves and a maturing stand of commercial woodland, stretching between the new mansion and the old farmstead.

Over the last century, the commercial aspect of the woodland has disappeared, being replanted and underplanted with broadleafs for amenity purposes by T.G.L, his son J.G.G.L and Alan Bailey, the current owner.

Some specimen firs remain, as well as other ornamental species planted for pleasure, but the woodland is now returning to a predominantly native woodland, much like that known to the Turnbull’s in their medieval tower. Mature oaks and ash planted over the last two and half centuries form the top canopy, along with their veteran ancestor, the Towershaw Oak.

The Forest Floor in parts is rich in flora highly indicative of ancient or semi ancient woodland, says ecologist Jeff Waddell
These native species coexist with native bluebells introduced in carpet planting in the early 1900s.

Our project in this wood aims to encourage the regeneration of the ancient woodland, both for conservation purposes and to preserve the amenity value of the woodland.

Underplanting is part of this, as well as conscious thinning of non-native species. Plenty deadwood is left for insects and wildlife, and light is let into the forest floor, allowing growth of wildflowers and the regeneration of the understory of hazel, thorn, wild cherry and rowan.

A Lamb looking at the camera

Biomass Heating

Our first energy conservation project has been the adoption of Biomass Heating in a micro-district heating scheme serving the Estate and Camp site Offices, garages and workshops, the Tack Room of the Stables, and the Farm house.

This system provides several benefits beyond the clear benefit of replacing fossil fuel heating oil with renewable biomass from our own woods. It provides an incentive to thin our commercial woodlands, as being able to use the product adds justification to an operation that otherwise produces unmarketably small quantities of timber. Another benefit is that the money paid out in thinning the woods supports local chainsaw gangs, thus helping local rural employment, an outcome preferable to paying money out to big oil.

The system is centred on a Vitoligno 100 kw log boiler, fuelled by 1000mm long logs which are below 20% moisture content. Except in very cold conditions, the boiler is fired once a day normally except during summer in a task that takes only 15-20 minutes for one person.