SRUC Ecological Principles and Applications students visit Bowhill on October 2nd 2023.


Getting to know Bowhill

An important part of the Ranger remit is to provide educational opportunities on the estate and Andy did not waste an opportunity in welcoming SRUC Edinburgh students to Bowhill. Having only graduated from SRUC himself in 2022, it was extremely rewarding to be able to work alongside former tutors and peers, providing contextual learning for the third year Wildlife and Conservation Management (WCM) students.

The group, as part of their Ecological Principles and Applications module, are required to demonstrate an understanding of population dynamics, including how natural and human (anthropogenic) factors can affect how species are spatially distributed. The primary focus of the visit was to look at how land use, connectivity, and diversity of habitats and species (heterogeneity), supports healthy populations of Pine marten (Martes martes) and Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) at Bowhill.

Habitat heterogeneity and connectivity provide resilience against random environmental and demographic events (stochasticity), facilitating genetic diversity with several distinct Red Squirrel territories interconnected to the North-East of the estate. Interestingly, there is a clear boundary between the Red Squirrel and Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) populations at Bowhill and current research is showing that Pine marten can play a key role in controlling the spread of non-native Grey squirrel.

Student conversation

Questions from students focused on the Bowhill woodlands, specifically age structure, species mix and management practices.  This led to some interesting conversations around Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF), which relies on natural regeneration to create diverse woodland structure; utilising natural soil seedbanks to allow growth of native broadleaves on fallow ground before supplementary planting is undertaken, and how harvesting of coniferous stands are programmed to maintain a structured and connected habitat mosaic.

The WCM students were also given some practical species field monitoring tips, finding lots of Red squirrel feeding signs and also identifying several Badger setts and a latrine. This led to an interesting discussion of the ethics of monitoring, with biosecurity and managing disturbance playing a crucial role in protecting fragile species and habitats.

It was extremely useful for the students to see sustainable practice in action and we are looking forward to providing continued support to SRUC at Bowhill.