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How volunteers care for Three Hagges

Volunteers have been helping to care for the woodmeadow for over 10 years. The group was founded by residents in surrounding villages joining forces to turn a 10ha arable field into the Three Hagges nature reserve that we know and love today.  

We meet every Tuesday morning, rain, shine, or snow, and we do a range of practical conservation tasks to keep the woodmeadow a pleasant place for visitors and a thriving habitat for wildlife.  

Tasks change from season to season but include: 

  • Growing flowers and trees from seed in our bespoke polytunnel 
  • Planting wildflower plug plants and trees
  • Collecting seed 
  • Maintaining paths, benches and interpretation boards within the woodmeadow 

This winter we are coppicing areas of Hazel and we will use the material to create dead hedges throughout the site. Last year we used the hazel to create a woven story-telling den which was great fun. 

There’s always a long list of jobs to do so we never run out of tasks! 

Get involved with protecting nature

We’re lucky to have a wonderful network of volunteers who help survey and record the different species here. Volunteers regularly do moth trapping, as well as bumblebee, bird, reptile and plant surveys. This helps to understand the biodiversity this special place supports. 

The woodmeadow is incredibly diverse – you may be lucky enough to come across a basking Grass Snake or see a Buzzard circling overhead as you explore Three Hagges and the pond is teeming with dragonflies and damselflies in the summer. 

We can even keep track of weather conditions and water levels on site too through our recently installed weather station. None of this monitoring would be possible without the expertise and dedication of our survey volunteers. 

The magic of Three Hagges Woodmeadow

The whole of Three Hagges Woodmeadow is incredibly special. There are surprises around every corner to enjoy, such as a bee hotel, Crombie Roundhouse (a traditional shelter made of materials found in the wood) and wildlife pond.  

I love how the site changes throughout the seasons. In spring, the meadows and woodland are coming alive, with early spring flowers. Looking closely in the woodlands you can spot Violets, Wood Anemone and Stitchwort.  

As summer moves closer, the wildflower meadows burst with colour and are truly breathtaking as a sea of purples and yellows take hold with species like Field Scabious, Common Knapweed and Bird’s-foot Trefoil. 

Volunteering at Three Hagges

Without the volunteers, Three Hagges Woodmeadow would simply not exist. Volunteers have worked tirelessly growing hundreds of wildflowers a year so that the meadow is bursting with colour, and cutting back vegetation from benches and interpretation boards so that the site can be enjoyed by visitors.  

I would be completely lost without my team of volunteers – I couldn’t enhance and maintain Three Hagges on my own.

The volunteers are the heart and soul of the woodmeadow and they turn up, whatever the weather, to work hard, laugh hard and go home tired and happy. 

Where we work

The Cairngorms is characterised by two rare habitat types – the pinewoods and the high mountaintop plateau (habitat consistently above 650m). These are the main areas we work on, alongside upland species rich meadows and grassland fungi sites. 

The Cairngorms is a beautiful and varied landscape, from rough river floodplains, giving way to woodlands, moorlands and mountains.  

Above 1000m the flora becomes very different from what we are familiar with in the rest of the UK, with mosses, liverworts, hardy sedges and grasses, and dwarf woody plants no higher than your ankles clinging to rocks. It is closer to arctic communities than our lowlands.

How volunteers safeguard rare plants

We are lucky to have an amazing team of volunteers who support our work on rare pinewood flower species, as well as helping to identify and conserve species from meadows to mountaintops. 

In the pinewoods…

We focused on translocation of the pinewood species Twinflower Linnaea borealis cuttings between sites as we know remaining patches are declining due to lack of cross-pollination. Volunteers helped collect the cuttings, grew them on in their gardens, and helped plant them out at the new sites. 

Our other pinewood species, One-flowered Wintergreen Moneses uniflora, is poorly understood, and most of our work has focused on learning about causes of their decline and what we can do about it. 

From meadows to mountains…

In partnership with the James Hutton Institute, intrepid mountain climbing volunteers collected soil samples for eDNA analysis from Munro’s across the Cairngorms. This helped us discover more about the fungi that lie beneath the surface, doubling the total recorded mountaintop fungi for Scotland in one survey. 

In the meadows, Pastures for Life helped establish a grazing trial of a new conservation grazing technique called mob grazing in Strathspey. Volunteers put in hundreds of hours surveying over 250 quadrats at our trial farms each year, so we can understand more about the impact of this technique on wild plants and fungi. 

Volunteer Story: Saving Twinflower

In June 2023, volunteers mobilised quickly for emergency watering of Twinflower cuttings. The weather in May was perfect and we started the first round of planting out, putting ~550 cuttings into the ground. 

Immediately following this, June was startlingly dry and hot. We were panicking that our hard work would be wasted, with every cutting perishing in the unusually dry conditions. Freshly planted cuttings are especially susceptible to drought, as their roots haven’t yet established.  

Volunteers spent the month of June collecting water from burns and hiking up hills and across rough terrain laden with bottles just to sprinkle it over our plots and repeat the process again a few days later. I am so grateful to those that helped, and comforted to know we gave our Twinflower cuttings the best chance we could. 

Opportunities to volunteer

Volunteers have always been key to this project and are involved in all sorts of activities with us here in the Cairngorms. They can be attending a training course one week, surveying meadows the following week, pulling out invasive Rhododendron, and even taking care of rare plants at home. 

You don’t have to be a botanist to get involved with Plantlife. We’ve had help from school children, students, mountain climbers, and all sorts of folks who know very little about plants or nature. 

All you need to volunteer with us is a passion to learn new things and a drive to get involved and help out. 

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