Warden Ann is saving a patch of Scotland’s rainforest

Ann McKillop is the new voluntary warden at Ballachuan nature reserve, home to internationally rare lichens

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Conservationist Ann McKillop is on a mission to help save an ancient rainforest on Seil.

Ann, who has spent 30 years working as a ranger and park manager, is the new voluntary warden at the island’s magical Ballachuan Hazelwoods where mosses carpet the floor and tree-hugging lichens live – including some so rare they can only be found in a few other places in the world.

Owned and managed by The Scottish Wildlife Trust, the reserve on Seil’s eastern coast is like ‘a secret world’, says Ann, who is happy to share it.

Ann McKillop, new voluntary warden at the Hazel Wood, Ballachuan – home to many wildlife species including the threatened species of Marsh Fritillary butterfly
Lichen at the Hazelwoods, Ballachuan
Ann McKillop at Ballachuan Hazel Wood, historical evidence suggests the hazelwoods have been unchanged since the last Ice Age

‘It’s definitely a place for a contemplative walk, rather than running round,’ says Anne – in reality running round would be rather challenging because it can be wet and boggy underfoot.

Tasks ahead for Ann include repairing and replacing stiles, improving waymarking and creating a new route down to the shoreline.

As well as maintenance jobs, there is plenty of monitoring to do – of wildlife and numbers of visiting humans  – who tend to come in their ones, twos or threes rather than hoardes.

Winged visitors include wood warblers, redwings – cuckoos are due any time now – and the reserve is taking part in an Argyll-wide survey looking for nesting nut hatches. There are resident buzzards and owls who live there, too, and there are pine martens.

‘The sounds change with the seasons. These woods have been here for thousands of years and are so full of character,’ says Ann, who moved to Cuan little less than two years ago – much to a lichenologist friend’s delight.

‘We have some incredibly rare lichens here. With more than 30 years working in conservation I’ve learned lots of Latin words and names for things but lichen names are horrendously difficult!

‘You can work out how old these lichens are but it’s complicated. Some will be hundreds of years old, others just 20 and it’s not all down to size,’ added Ann.

As well as the hazel trees and some very mature beech and oak, there are wet and dry grasslands, a habitat for pine martens, buzzards and migratory birds stopping off.

It is not just wildlife who have made homes here, there is also a long human history to the site, with ruins of an settlement and other signs of structures that suggest religious connections in bygone times.

Rain is a blessing on this patch of Celtic rainforest, at one point it would have connected with other patches elsewhere on Seil, neighbouring Luing and out to Loch Creran – it is a precious habitat.

As little as 30,000 hectares of Scotland’s rainforest remains now, making just two per cent of the country’s woodland cover.

‘These patches of rainforest all need protecting. The patches we have here on Seil, Luing and down to Loch Creran are all disconnected now but in the past they were all one big wild wood,’ said Ann.

Caption: Ann McKillop is the new voluntary warden at Ballachuan nature reserve, home to internationally rare lichens