Carsphairn Archive

Forest Ranger

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Mr Ian Watret joined the Forestry Commission in 1947 and came to Muirdrochwood in 1952. Then only 200 acres were planted in this area, all by the Forestry Commission, although there were some small plantings on various farms and estates.

When he first came, he was a forest trapper which later changed to stalker and then to his current title - Ranger. His job could be described as twofold - firstly controlling the wildlife and secondly, taking groups around the different aspects of the forestry.

The deer in Galloway are the biggest, best and healthiest in Scotland because they have been reduced to between 1500 and 2000. They have adapted well from open hill into the forest but it was found necessary to cull them because of the potential damage to trees. In the new plantations, the roe deer nibble the shoots and take the main leaders off, which allows the saplings to split into double headed trees. Just two or three bites will allow disease into the trees as the red deer peel and eat the bark.

Red deer are culled by the Forestry Commission rangers. The roe deer does, kids and some of the bucks are also shot by the rangers but Danes, Dutch , Germans and French come to shoot the bucks in May and June. The venison goes into cold storage and is bought by a Perth game dealer and mostly exported to Germany.

There are foxes in the forest as there is plenty of cover for them. They kill off rabbits and voles and do not do any damage to the trees. However some are killed by the ranger as a neighbourly act towards the nearby farmers.

The mink that came into the area about ten years ago have largely disappeared. Some were trapped but Mr Watret wonders if the disappearance could have anything to do with acid rain.

Goats are a nuisance as they get among the trees and strip the bark, but in general, they stay above the tree line. They are a tourist attraction and although the goat population is not controlled now, many years ago numbers had to be reduced which caused many problems for the Commission as people objected.

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When Mr Watret first came, there were a lot of black and red grouse which have almost disappeared. This decrease appears to be general throughout Scotland. The red grouse that formerly inhabited the heather covered areas have moved off and have possibly been the victims of tick worm fever.

The numbers of golden eagles in this area have hardly changed for forty years. They eat a lot of deer calves and goats and the rangers leave out carcasses for them.

Mr Watret has a vivid memory of watching a fox chasing a hare when suddenly an eagle swooped down and caught the hare. The fox circled the eagle and each time it came near , the bird lunged at it. This went on for a few minutes until the fox left empty-handed, leaving the unfortunate hare to the eagle.

There are a lot of peregrine falcons, birds highly prized by the falconer. Quite a few nests are robbed of eggs and young chicks for this reason. The numbers of peregrine falcons have increased since the chemical 'Delldren' was removed from sheep dip. This caused a form of brain damage and the birds ate their own eggs. Hen harriers nest in the clear fell areas feeding off the many voles there.

Buzzards and kestrels are increasing but the merlin is only rarely sighted. Barn owls are becoming scarce as there are not so many old houses and barns available for them to nest in, but short-eared owls are increasing. If the vole population explodes, then owls prosper.

Owls can lay eggs whilst incubating others. Therefore chicks hatch out at different times. In a nest, one could find a fully grown young bird and chicks of various sizes, down to newly hatched ones. Barn owls suffer in bad weather. This year (1991) in February, when it was particularly cold, several were found dead locally, all with their claws in a tightly closed position - a sign of hunger.

The most common bird in the forestry is the crossbill. They nest as early as Christmas or the New Year and continue as long as the food supply is there. They are parrot-like but smaller, the male being a reddy colour and the female a greeny colour. Goldcrest, siskins and chaffinches are all common. Summer birds such as the shrike and the ring-ousel are occasionally seen . The ring-ousel nests on the top edge of the forestry above the treeline.

Overall, the bird population has increased since afforestation of this area and there is a large variety of species. Many nest around the periphery of the forest but in the forest there are still open spaces which are good nesting areas for birds. The rarest birds here are the golden eagles and the great northern diver, which very occasionally nests here. Other birds sometimes seen are the red-backed shrike and the nightjar - another summer bird.

The Forestry Commission is actively encouraging wildlife in this area. Deer will always be here but the numbers will have to be controlled constantly. Nesting boxes are being put up for the birds, particularly for barn and tawny owls. Badgers and otters are protected by the rangers.

The Forestry Commission has been involved with other agencies in attempts to deal with the problem of acid rain in local lochs. This has been successful so far and the work is going to be extended to other lochs. Rocky faces are either being left or cut away to allow nesting areas for peregrine falcon and ravens. Areas known as 'deer lawns' are being left in new plantations.

This is an extract from a conversation with Mr Watret who must glean much satisfaction from the wildlife in the area and the commitment that the Forestry Commission is giving towards it. Reproduced in Carsphairn Heritage Group Newsletter no 14 dated April 1991.