New volunteer Cameron from Callander spent 4 days helping Forth Rivers Trust with the brash bank project. Find out what he got up to here.
This was my first time volunteering with Callander’s Landscape. I had wanted to get involved last summer but there were no practical activities going on, because of a virus or something like that. It is fair to say that you can build up quite an amount of anticipation over the course of a year, so I was excited when I saw the email announcing the return of outdoor voluntary opportunities, and signed up pretty sharpish. A few weeks later I was wandering down to the Meadows area of Callander to meet the crew. The dream team on Monday was made up of Julie from Callander’s Landscape, Kyle and Niall from the Forth Rivers trust and Steve (a long time volunteer), then David joined us from Tuesday. Julie took us through a quick safety briefing, outlining the social distancing protocols and other relevant bits. We then got tooled up and began marching down the cycle track (which used to be a railway track) to the site at which we would be working.
The site was a wildflower meadow sat next to the river known as Garbh Uisge, which means rough water in Gaelic. Wildflower meadows are important areas for pollinators, as they provide a wide variety of food sources for bees and butterflies. The range of vibrant colours and cute insects floating about gives them a magical atmosphere on a sunny summer’s day. As part of the Meadows project, this area will be managed through annual cutting and livestock grazing. It is hoped that through more active management the diversity of plant species in this wet hay meadow will increase particularly among the flowering meadow species, which in turn should improve the habitat for both invertebrates and birds.
However, this meadow is under threat. It is being chipped away at a rough rate of 1 metre per year, losing land to the rough waters of Garbh Uisge as they erode the bank at a bend in the river. If this erosion continues, not only will we lose the meadow bit by bit but the watercourse will also change, which could lead to flood risks. None of these things are good things, so we did something to stop them happening. We created a Brash Bank.
The plan: to stuff a bunch of brash (branches that have fallen or been pruned from trees) in front of the riverbank to act as a shock-absorber for the river flow, reducing the energy of the water reaching the bank and limiting the damage done to it. Kyle had done this before, and had a plan:
1. Knock a bunch of posts into the riverbed, following the line of the bank
2. Stuff all the brash that we had collected in between the posts and the bank
3. Secure it all in place with wire over the top, to stop it floating whenever the water level rises
With our instructions clear, we got to work. We suited up in lifejackets and waders, and jumped in the water to start knocking in some posts. We were using slide hammers to put the posts in their place, which I had never used before. They look a bit like an industrial version of the Champions League trophy, with two handles on opposite sides, and weigh around 15kg. Lifting them up and bringing them down felt like violently celebrating victory in the final, which I enjoyed a lot. It was tiring work, but it was immensely rewarding to see the progress as we moved, post by post, along the bank.
We then went about collecting a bunch of brash, the central piece of the project. Niall had been busy pruning some willow trees, which gave us plenty of material to get started with. We used willow trees because they are hardy survivors. Cutting a branch from a tree leads to the growth of several more in its place. A bit like a friendly, green, non-monstruous hydra. This is known as coppicing, and has been exploited by lumberjacks for hundreds of years in the wood production industry.
Willow also has root nodules sitting just under the bark throughout the length of all its branches, so stands a chance of spreading roots into any bit of ground it finds itself in. As we were filling the gap between posts and riverbank with the brash, we took advantage of this ability. We inserted the cut ends of all the branches we used into the soil of the bank, in the hopes that the willow would establish and grow into a vibrant mosaic of green, able to shelter birds and bugs in the future. As well as alleviating the force of the water flow, the brash catches sediment present in the water.
Once the brash was in place, it was secured with wire to stop it from floating away whenever the water rises. There is a high chance of the water level rising in that area, and has come up almost 2 metres in the past. As a cherry on top, Steve planted a selection of tree saplings in clumps along the bank. The roots from these will further reinforce the soil at the water’s edge and prevent more erosion. These saplings were surrounded by tree guards, to protect them from the roe deer that call the meadows area their home. We caught sight of two young individuals while we were working away. There were also swifts (or maybe sand martins) flitting around in groups of 2 or 3, dancing over the water. At one point a heron majestically floated down to the water a ways downstream from us, to take shade under a tree. The prominence of wildlife at the site beautifully reinforced the value of the work we were doing to preserve the river bank and wildflower meadow.
It was great to be out and about meeting new people once again, after 14 months of minimal socialising. Swapping stories and working as a group on a shared project was massively refreshing. The abundance of hand sanitiser and personal tool sets were pertinent reminders that we’re not fully in the clear yet, but we are getting there. With more and more people getting vaccinated every day, the safe return of grassroots community efforts will be massively valuable to locals. Being part of the Brash Bank project felt like a beacon of hope that the worst of it is behind us.
Fingers firmly crossed!