On Sunday, the inconvenience of losing an hour to the changing clock was instantly balanced out by the warming of the bright spring sun. The drive up the single track road in the heart of the Pentlands was reduced to a crawl as I dodged dogs, prams and anglers – all keen to make the most of what was shaping up to be a cracking day. Peter (Eadha Enterprises) and I met, had a quick blether with Barry the gamekeeper and made our way up to the White Cleugh burn. Arriving on the north side of the bealach – opposite the White Cleugh and on the less popular west side of the Pentland Hills – we quickly forgot about the hustle and bustle of Flotterstone and Glencorse below.
Before long, four figures approached from the east. It was our four Scout/Beaver leaders who had walked in around Black Hill from Balerno. Grabbing our pruning saws, fold up spades and empty feed bags, we headed towards the White Cleugh. It was disappointing to see that, despite having been fenced off in the past, the gate to the cleugh was down and the area had been heavily grazed. There had also been a fire – origins unknown – within the fenced area which had burnt some aspen suckers. Nevertheless, we found ourselves in a peaceful valley which turned out to be a wee botanical oasis – harbouring juniper, Scots pine, rowan and alpine strawberry – in the otherwise heavily managed Pentland hills.
Since summer 2018, our group of volunteer citizen scientists have been cataloguing aspen stands in West Lothian. While this has been a success, with more than half of our sites catalogued and the search ongoing, we have yet to identify a West Lothian native. Nevertheless, this native White Cleugh stand (the only one in the Pentlands) will provide native gentic material that we can use to repopulate some of West Lothian’s riparian areas. Please get in touch if you’d like to get involved with the West Lothian aspen search.
We left the cleugh with several bags filled with aspen root cutttings and moss (to keep the cuttings moist during transit). Back at Polbeth and West Calder Community garden we filled 14 old fish boxes with root cuttings and compost, watered them in and tucked into some well deserved coffee and biscuits. Over the next couple of months, each root cutting should produce several little shoots that we can propogate into new aspen trees. We hope to do this propogation stage with the Explorer Scouts, who were all too busy with exam prep to attend on Sunday. Our thanks go to Eadha Enterprises, the community garden and the leaders for their contributions to this exciting conservation project.