John Muir Award: Conservation in Action

This week we will talk about the practical work carried out to meet the third and most important challenge; Conserve.

Image: Richard Hassall and Colette Blyth

By Richard Hassall and Colette Blyth

The previous article in this series, “John Muir Award: Doing Your Bit for Conservation,” looked at what constitutes a John Muir Award and the challenges involved in completing one. This week we will talk about the practical work carried out to meet the third and most important challenge; Conserve.

The Pond

The main aim of our project was to restore a pond habitat beneath a disused bird hide. The original plan was to completely remove the reed bed in front of the bird hide, using a silt pump; a less intrusive method compared to dredging. However, after  investigation we realised that the reed bed was far more established than we’d originally thought; it had actually formed solid ground – so back to the drawing board we went. Through seeking advice, brainstorming and researching, we decided that the best option would be to create a pond within the reed bed. The end result would be a mosaic habitat; an ecosystem made up of various sub ecosystems.  Our idea would establish a small shallow pond within a reed bed, through which water would flow into the surrounding man-made pond, all part of a larger woodland area; an ideal habitat for a diverse selection of wildlife, from insects to otters and many more.

Our first productive task was to strim the selected area of reed bed to clear a space where we would begin digging out the new pond. The inlet channel was dug at a right angle to the water flow of the surrounding pond to prevent silt build up. The practical work at various points throughout the project was carried out with the help of a volunteer group from the Scottish Association of Mental Health.

John Muir Award: Conservation in ActionThe Surrounding Area

As well as creating a new pond it was also necessary to work on some of the surrounding area; the woodland behind the bird hide had become overgrown with Rhododendron ponticum. We gradually removed and burnt a large quantity of the invasive plant over a period of a few months to reveal a nice stand of willow at the water’s edge. The slip and trip hazards on the path and bridge leading to the bird hide were resurfaced and repaired to allow safe access. As an added benefit an artificial otter holt was also constructed in a secluded area in view of the bird hide, the wood sourced from a fallen oak tree nearby. An otter  sighting would be the ultimate symbol of success – we remain hopeful!

Some Other Things to Think About

Risk assessments were created in order to carry out the work involved, to ensure the safety of everyone participating; the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency was contacted to ensure all legal obligations were met. We had to obtain a permit to complete the project as the waterway in question is a well-known salmon run.


In writing these articles, we have achieved an important part of the John Muir Award; meeting the fourth challenge by sharing. The next and final article will delve deeper into the pond ecosystem and will show the pond one year after all of the conservation work was completed.


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