Carrifran valley (image by David Geddes)

High Planting Camps

2018 High Camp success, and a date for your Diary: Sat & Sun 6th-7th April 2019

The Carrifran Planting Camping in April 2018 was extremely successful. Tree delivery to Firth Hope by quadbike was a bit of an epic, but was achieved in spite of the late snow, and during the weekend all the trees were planted with some time to spare, which was used in much needed clearing of old tree guards.

For the first time, the planters used a Carrifran base camp in a lovely site near the junction of the Firthhope Burn with Games Gill, at a height of almost 400 metres and about 2.5km from the Carrifran car park. The camp was established by our Site Officer Andy Wilson and volunteers in the previous weeks (and cleared up promptly afterwards). It has space for individual tents around a newly purchased ex-army arctic bell tent with provision for a small stove, so that the campers were able to have a social time in reasonable comfort on the Saturday evening.

This arrangement offers campers a chance to spend the Saturday night in a remote and beautiful site in the heart of the Moffat Hills, while avoiding the need to haul camping gear up to the planting site at 600-750 metres. Campers hike up from the base on Saturday after pitching tents, and also early on the Sunday morning, but carrying only a planting tool and things for the day.

The new setup was welcomed by this year’s campers, and we expect to use it routinely for future camps. It will be convenient for planting both high up at Carrifran and also in the highest part of the Gameshope valley at the south end of the adjoining BFT property of Talla & Gameshope.

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Carrifran planting camp site - April 2018

Over the past decade Borders Forest Trust has organised more than a dozen planting camps in the highest parts of Carrifran in the Moffat Hills, just below the summit of White Coomb, the fourth highest hill in the Southern Uplands.  Dedicated volunteers have carried their camping gear to over 600m and have planted a total of about 25,000 junipers, willows and even holly and aspen in the hanging valley of Firth Hope above the waterfall at Carrifran, and along the Little Firthhope Burn.  We’ve also tried to stem erosion in an area of hagged peat.

Although growth at this height is slow and there are inevitably some losses, this remarkable volunteer effort has led to establishment of the only significant stands of montane scrub in the central Southern Uplands, while the removal of sheep and feral goats has allowed the development of a form of alpine meadow, with impressive displays of orchids, globeflower and other mountain flowers. This year we will be concentrating on planting more willows, and especially the scarce Downy Willow Salix lapponum (see image below).

Downy willow scrub looking north

People sometimes ask: Why bother to plant so high up, where the odds seem stacked against the trees and shrubs?  Montane scrub has disappeared so thoroughly from Britain that most of us don’t even notice that it’s missing – until we go to Scandinavia or somewhere else that has retained it.  There we see it as the natural habitat, with its own specially adapted plants and animals, between the upper fringe of treeline woodland and the montane heath of the summits.  Sadly, muirburn and heavy grazing have almost eliminated it from Britain.

In the last two years Borders Forest Trust has also run two well-attended planting camps and other events on our new land at Talla & Gameshope, which extends for 6km northwards from the northern boundary of Carrifran.  We are now excited by the opportunity to restore treeline woodland and scrub in suitable places across the two sites, making rich habitat connections between Moffatdale in the Solway catchment and the river Tweed flowing down to the North Sea.  This is a key part of BFT’s ambitious landscape-scale project “Reviving the Wild Heart of Southern Scotland.

As our regular campers well know, planting trees in Carrifran Wildwood is very different from community tree planting in lowland woods or meadows.  The planting sites are reached by serious hill walks, the weather can spring surprises and it is difficult to get the little trees comfortable in the rocky and often peaty soils at high altitudes.

The other side of the coin is the chance to work for a couple of days in a unique reinvigorated ecosystem that now begins to feel truly wild, with more than half a million trees and native tall herbs starting to clothe the denuded crags, slopes and burnsides, and with birds, mammals and a host of invertebrate animals making use of the new resources for feeding and breeding.  The scenery is stunning, the company is good and we are left with an extraordinary sense of achievement as we finish in the evening, after giving several thousand more trees a chance to reclaim parts of the beautiful hills of the Scottish Borderlands.  If you enjoy a challenge out of doors, this is a great opportunity for you.

If you have the time, please come for both days, camping by the burn on the Saturday night.  But if you can’t camp this year, please come for at least one of the days – you’d be equally welcome and we need all the help we can get.

On the camping weekends we meet on Saturday at 9.30am for a 10.00 start from the Carrifran Wildwood car park on the A708, c.7 miles north of Moffat at NT 160115.  The nearby Carrifran cottage is in postcode DG10 9LH, but please note that the cottage is private property.  Cars that won’t fit in our small car park can be put in the informal lay-by on the other side of the bridge over the Carrifran Burn.

We provide tools, training, and health and safety briefing.  You need good mountain clothing and food, and if you plan to camp you should bring overnight gear including your own small tent.  We have a larger mountain tent to make the evening a bit more social.

The next Carrifran High Camp is scheduled for Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th April 2019. Remember that you can come just for one of the days instead of camping, if that suits you better.

We do need to know how many people will be coming, so if you are interested, please contact us in advance:

Andy Wilson, BFT Site Officer, will lead the camp, with support from other BFT staff and experienced volunteers.

Contact Andy @ Borders Forest Trust or telephone Andy on 07789 532 995.

In case of difficulty please contact Philip Ashmole. Tel 01721 721321.