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Achvarasdal Residential Home Pictures

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Thursday, 25th November at 7.30 p.m.: AGM of AWMG.
Meet in the Committee Room of Reay village hall. The business of the meeting should not take very long, but it is an opportunity for anybody to raise any issues about the management of the woodlands. Afterwards there will be a quiz. All will be divided into teams, dependant on numbers, who will then compete to answer puzzles based on general knowledge of the Achvarasdal locality.

Friday, 26th November:
Adventure night time experience for young children. 
This is a reminder of a Highland Council Ranger event to be held in the woods. Ring the North Caithness Ranger on 01847 821531 for further details, or look out for posters nearer to the time.

Achvarasdal Woodland Walk
50 Photos



Past Activities and Events

This small enclosure of nearly 13 Hectares, is the most accessible naturalised woodland in this area. It appears to be hardly known by those speeding by on the busy but unclassified road from Thurso to Reay. Yet it stands out as the only mixed trees in the area: about one kilometre from the junction with the A836 on the outskirts of Reay. It is tested by salt laden winds from the north west and fierce gales from the south east, yet within is another world. Its secret lies in the ages it has been protected from fire and grazing stock. The first Ordnance Survey of 1874 showed avenues and an established wood. A recent tree survey shows evidence of careful planting and later natural regeneration. For most of the last fifty years little has been done beyond maintaining the boundaries. Examples can be found of all stages of death, decay, re-growth and seedlings of many ages and species. It is a sanctuary for an impressive variety of wildlife.

Formation of the Achvarasdal Woodlands Management Committee
The land and house was gifted to the Church of Scotland in 1949 as a home for the old folk. Before that it was used as a hunting lodge. The Highland Regional Council became involved with helping the Kirk manage the property in return for public access in the 1980s. They opened some paths, planted some trees after the severe gale in 1989 and cleared some areas of old commercial forest. The outstanding success of the work was the establishment of some Sessile Oaks which are thriving. The arrangement was formalised by granting a lease to the local authority, which would also involve local people in a management group. The succeeding Highland Councilís relative poverty prevented it, until recently, doing any further work.

The Achvarasdal Woodland Management Group was formed in 1999 from the local community. It part elects annually a committee to act in an advisory capacity and as a fund raiser for land leased by the Church of Scotland to the Highland Council for public access. The rest of the committee is made up from Church representatives, with Highland and Community Councillors. It is also a recognised charity. The committee was thrown into the deep end to raise funds, then manage contractors for road surfacing and path building. Voluntary work so far has mainly involved weeding out the over generous bounty of Sitka Spruce and other alien seedlings as well as an annual task of clearing growth around the Broch and along the paths.

Aims Of The Committee
With so many different interests, it would not be easy to formulate a long term management plan. We have started formulating a management guide, based on agreed principles. In the short term we are concerned with new interpretative signs, stopping the wood encroaching on the Broch area, dealing with dangerous trees and tidying up the paths.

Advice from SNH and NHFT together with indications from the past have convinced most of us that there is no call for large scale replanting schemes. We will be content if we can gradually improve the mix of ages and species: with more emphasis on native trees. We would also like to encourage its educational use.
We have made a start at describing its wildlife, dependant on the Ranger Service and local amateur enthusiasts. Not surprisingly this is best on ornithology, but sadly lacking on entomology. Our main hope is that we can encourage local schools and colleges to set up wildlife studies.

The Woodland Trail and Features.

Except for extreme weather conditions, the paths are made for easy walking (or running) in light shoes. Combining the 2 Km. of paths and drives, provides a variety of scenery and walking times. The Highland Council and Highland Access Project have plans for a new welcome signs, interpretation panel and waymarkers. On the site of a recently demolished bungalow, we intend to make a meeting area with a bench and a board for current information.

This is an old naturalised woodland, with a count of 35 tree species of which 19 are native to Britain. It was shown on the first Ordnance Survey map of 1874, just after Achvarasdal House was built as a shooting lodge, for Sir Robert Sinclair of Murkle. Since the Church of Scotland received the property in 1949, there have been few attempts at new plantations. The trees have mainly regenerated in the natural way by seeds and re-growth of wind-falls, and fertilised by the cycles of death and decay. It is home for a diversity of wildlife, which depends on the trees and in many cases helps to sustain them. There are a variety of areas of differing tree types and ages, with different soils. Each has its complementary under-storey of flowers, grasses, ferns, mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi. These have their peculiar adherents of insects and invertebrates; in their turn providing snacks for diverse roosting and nesting birds and other animals.

Ancient Monuments
There is a Broch, with nearby two curious prostrate stones surviving from pre-historic times. Both would merit attention from keen archaeologists to explain puzzling features. Little evidence remains of more recent human activities, apart from the well crafted estate walls and buildings. An attempt at iron ore mining was made to the east of the policies in the early 1870s. A nearby windmill, shown on the 1874 map, was perhaps intended for pumping.

Chairman: Mrs Andrea Smith; Tel. 01847892590
Secretary: Tony Bradford; 01847811298
Members: Mrs Alison Cook; Mrs Carol Simpson (Church of Scotland)
Cllr Alexander Mackay (Highland Council)
Cllr George McDougall (Community Council)
Geoff Bates; Mrs Irene Hamilton; Iain Hamilton; Eric Maughan; Rod Foster

All the elected members are liable to change on an annual basis. The West Caithness Ranger Service (tel. 01847 821531) would accept any wildlife or historical records (and pass them on); or answer enquiries.