A trip back in time and a look to the future

Stephen Owen at the information board which explains the work that has been done in the orchard.
Stephen Owen at the information board which explains the work that has been done in the orchard.

The Times & Speaker has joined Baron’s Haugh RSPB nature reserve warden Stephen Owen on a trip back in time.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership (CAVLP), Stephen has led a group of volunteers in reintroducing and reclaiming elements of the historic Dalzell Estate.

First stop was the orchard where it is hoped people will be able to pick fruit in the coming years, provided the deer don’t get to them first.

Stephen said: “The orchard had become really overgrown with brambles and brash, so it was a real mess.

“A few years ago we started clearing it out and removing the dead trees, then we had an orchard consultant in to have a look at it and were given some ideas about what we could plant.

“Muirhouse and St Brendan’s primary schools were involved in the project to plant some fruit trees and wildflowers, and there are now apples, plums and damsons to compliment the old pear trees that were here.

“These are old traditional varieties that may have been grown in the Clyde Valley. They have all survived the roe deer so far and in a few years hopefully there will be an abundance of fruit.”

Chestnut Walk is also being replanted as disease wiped out a number of the mature trees, although some of the old logs still provide valuable habitat.

Stephen said: “The chestnut trees were hit by disease so we had to cut a lot of them down. Those that weren’t in danger of falling onto the path, and on to people, we tried to leave as much as possible as even rotten wood is home to all manner of creatures.

“It is still a very nice path to walk long and in a few seasons should return to its former glory.”

Curling used to be popular on the Dalziel Estate and with the right weather conditions it may be possible again one day.

Stephen said: “In the late 19th century the Hamilton family used to come down to the bottom of the estate to play curling. Having done some excavations we think they dammed the burn and used a sluice gate to force the water into a field.

“It was interesting to find that and, having put in a trench, we don’t believe they added anything to the natural clay so we are hoping the plot fills up over the year.

“We have done it to restore a historical feature, but it will also provide a valuable habitat and, who knows, maybe one day it will be cold enough for it to freeze over and play curling on.”

The rolling landscapes of the parkland area are also being recreated and the view from Dalzell House down to the River Clyde looks much as it did hundreds of years ago.

Stephen said: “The idea was the parkland was going to be grazed by cattle, but was also a beautiful rolling landscapes dotted by trees, and avenues were planted down to the river.

“The big trees have been here for hundreds of years, but they were beginning to die off so we did a big project and mapped what was there and then planned the replanting.

“We particularly tried to restore some of the ancient avenues of trees and there are still cows in the fields so it is looked after much as it would have been in the past.

“It is quite an important habitat, home to jays and woodpeckers, and due to the cows’ natural fertilizer has an abundance of wild flowers so it is a very rare combination.

“Of course it is going to take a long time for the new saplings to mature, but they will here a long time after we are gone and will stand proud over the Dalzell Estate for hundreds of years.”