Not a member?
Register and login now.

Issue 40 - The wild,wild wood

Scotland Magazine Issue 40
August 2008


This article is 10 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

Copyright Scotland Magazine © 1999-2018. All rights reserved. To use or reproduce part or all of this article please contact us for details of how you can do so legally.

The wild,wild wood

Jessie Anderson visits Mabie Forest in Dumfries,a haven for wildlife and visitors alike.

With the number of butterflies and moths in serious decline in many parts of Britain, any efforts to reverse this trend must be welcome. So the opening of a new nature reserve at Mabie Forest near Dumfries in south-west Scotland was particularly good news.

For this 100 hectare reserve within the forest is providing ideal diverse habitats for a variety of Scotland’s rarest wildlife. Working in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and other organisations, Forestry Commission Scotland is now providing a safe haven for more than 20 species of butterfly and, it is estimated, around 500 species of moth, including three of the United Kingdom’s most threatened – the Pearl- Bordered Fritillary, the unfortunately named Dingy Skipper and the beautiful, day-flying Forester Moth.

Being at both the northerly and southerly edges for a wide variety of species, Mabie is one of the richest sites for butterflies in Scotland. It is also home to dragonflies, damselflies, owls, bats, woodpeckers, night jars and red squirrels, and the Forestry Commission, through careful monitoring and planning, is committed to ensuring a sustainable future for all its wildlife.

Mabie Forest, spreading over about 1000 hectares, is primarily a working forest but, as Community and Education Ranger, Robin Fuller observes, nature conservation and recreation both have a high priority here Butterflies need a mixture of sunny glades and shady areas and continuous management is needed to provide these.

Bracken gives welcome shade but, if left uncontrolled, would blanket out vital light.

So it is regularly beaten down; but some of the dead stalks are left in place to provide an ideal site for the pupating stage of the butterflies’ life cycle.

With an absence of chemical spraying throughout the reserve, wild flowers such as bird’s foot trefoil, dog violets – a favourite of the Fritillary, and honeysuckle beloved by moths, are all important sources of nectar.

The bird’s foot trefoil, which also provides caterpillar food for the Dingy Skipper, flourishes along the roadsides and mountain bike trails throughout the reserve, providing valuable ‘corridors’ linking the various colonies of butterflies and moths, enabling them to consolidate and spread.

The Forestry Commission has shown a commendable ability to turn an apparent disaster into something positive. Some years ago a great storm took down a vast area of conifers but, instead of replanting them, the Commission decided to allow the natural regeneration of the native woodland. The area is now well on its way to becoming an oak woodland.

Management of such a diverse reserve involves a constant balancing act to provide the best possible habitat for all its species. For example, Mabie is very proud of its native red squirrels which flourish among the conifers. But, conversely, oak woodland attracts grey squirrels. Happily, so far, none of these intruders have found their way into the forest. An area of birch trees has recently been cleared to provide an open area for night jars to nest in the heather and also to hunt for moths. (But with 500 species of moth, there should be enough to go round).

“We want to share the forest with the public and to raise their awareness of what it has to offer,” says Robin. Some form of information and interpretation was needed but it was decided that large printed information boards would sit unhappily in such a setting. Instead, impressive chainsaw wooden sculptures of butterflies and other woodland creatures, with low-key information panels, are being sited throughout the forest to attract visitors to areas where they are likely to see the relevant wild life.

Mabie Forest is just off the A710, four miles from Dumfries. It is open throughout the year, but the best time to see the butterflies is from June to September. Butterflies don’t like rain so, if possible, visit on a sunny day when you should see a number of different varieties. If you’re really lucky, down at Lochaber Loch, the site of a colony of dayflying Forester Moths, you may see one of these unusually colourful moths with the shining metallic blue wings, gathering nectar from thistle heads.