It was lovely today. It happened in that way that Scotland has, of throwing up beautiful days at random, sprinkled between the cold, the windy and the wet ones. A gleaming day, at times a hot day, with just a glimpse of autumn – a tree here or there tinged with paprika or ginger.  I walked down the drive in the morning to look at the beaver pools in the little hidden den just below the causeway that the drive runs along. This is an area I was hardly aware of before we had beavers. But now there are so many dams there – maybe six or seven, and a flight of deep pools which today were glassy still and reflecting the tall trees.  It has become a magic glade.

Beaver pool in the magic glade

Bamff has such a strange mixture of trees and plants. Each generation of people has had its own idea of what should be growing here.  Once, presumably, it was mainly patchy forest and wet-wood – pine forest on the hill and in the low-ground willow, alder, birch, rowan and hazel; ash too and elm I presume. Probably oak as well and pine in drier parts. There would have been clearance over time, some intentional, some perhaps more accidental – driven by the need for firewood, building material  – and prolonged by the grazing of cattle and sheep.  But in the 18th century Thomas White, a pupil of Capability Brown was commissioned to design a  landscape plan to reimagine the landscape with trees. (He also imagined a ribbon lake. This vision  was not realised until we had beavers. Until then reality had given us only a deep ditch.  Now the beavers are in charge and creating their version of Thomas White’s lake – a chain of dammed pools.)

This landscape plan was drawn up “for the improvement of Bamff” in 1790 by Thomas White, a pupil of Capability Brown.

Hundreds of beech trees were planted – not all of them in the places White had suggested – and  now, nearly 250 years later,  they are tall and venerable, with stout trunks and spreading branches.  There is a line of them halfway up the hill and there are groups  and individuals in the middle of fields and on the edges of woods. The beech trees’ seedlings probably came from England at that time – so although it is thought that beech might not have made its own way to Scotland without human aid there is much debate as to whether it should be defined as native or not. They are certainly very beautiful trees although they do cast a deep shade which prevents most flowers from growing under them. The next phase, in the nineteenth century, was one of exotic conifers from the New World –  exciting new kinds of tree discovered in the magnificent primeval forests of North America as they were being opened up for logging. And we have some of these fine trees: Douglas Fir, Wellingtonia, Grand fir, and some huge Sitka spruce, often so tall now that you can identify parts of Bamff from a distance where these giants point up into the sky well above the others in areas of mixed woodland.

A more regrettable 19th century habit was the planting of rhododendrons – often the invasive Rhododendron ponticum, or else more exotic varieties grafted on to ponticum rootstock which have now reverted.  These plants are poisonous to eat and are not enjoyed by our native invertebrates or other species. Nothing grows under them either as they cast a deep shade all year round. They grow amazingly well and are hard to get rid of. Even once cut they sprout again vigorously. I spent a little time today with family members breaking off the shiny green leaves that were sprouting from stumps.

Luckily for us Dundee Conservation Volunteers have done an amazing job of eliminating them along the Burnieshead path (past the best known set of beaver pools – the ones on the Cateran Trail). And New Caledonian Woodland Volunteers are doing great work with the ones on the drive.

Why did our ancestors inflict this problem on us? Well, for 2 reasons – firstly for decoration. They liked the big colourful blooms better than anything our native trees and bushes could produce – and secondly as cover for pheasants for shooting.  But tastes change and now, for us, anyway, restoration ecology  is the aim and the rhodies are no longer wanted or really considered beautiful in our context.

From the early part of the 20th century forestry became a more commercial business and Norway Spruce, Larch and then Sitka Spruce became the favoured trees, planted not so much for beauty but for timber and thus money. They were planted in lines, and sometimes in square blocks.  We tend not to like these plantations very much but they do bring in a bit of money when they are felled, so we are grateful to antecedants for this.

The Norway Spruce woods, once thinned, become delightful red squirrel habitat, flowers returning as shafts of sunlight find their way to the forest floor. Again, the species is almost native.  Norway is such a near neighbour and its just chance that the North Sea prevented its arrival here after the ice age. So, our native squirrel, also native to mainland Europe, loves to eat its cones. Behind the Bamff Hideaway, there are lots of red squirrel dining tables on tree stumps in the Norway Spruce wood.

The Hideaway sits between a beaver pool and a Norway Spruce wood full of red squirrels.

In recent years, our approach has been to think about ecology and nativeness in our planting schemes and regeneration projects. This is to enhance the beauty and the biodiversity of the woodland as well as its flood preventing, and carbon absorbing capacities. We hope also to find some modest commercial use for some of the trees that are thinned out, or blow down in gales.  (Others are left to rot down and provide habitat for thousands of species). Our wood chip boiler which heats the big house and flats is supplied in this way, and most of the logs we provide to the cottages, yurts and hideaway also come from Bamff trees.

The most memorable part of my time living in a yurt, has to be the owls. Judging by the directions of their nightly hoots, there seem to be three that live on the Bamff estate, nestled away among the woods and streams of Perthshire, north of the small town of Alyth.  I’m told that they are Tawny owls, and though I’ve not been fortunate enough to see one, they’ve made their presence known for the two months that I’ve lived here. The thin walls of a yurt let in all the sounds of a Scottish forest at night, from deer barking in the woods and occasionally crashing about, to foxes calling as they do their nightly rounds. In the morning there is the usual squawking of the Pheasants, strutting around on the grass and in the late afternoon as it gets dark on these brief winter days, a large clamour of Rooks roosts in one of the taller Scots pines that overlook the grounds.

Some might think that during a Scottish November, the most pressing issue with yurt living, would be the cold, but apart from the half hour it would take to get the wood stove crackling out some heat in the evening, and the reluctance to pull aside nice warm blankets and see my breath in the air in the morning, the cold wasn’t really an issue, especially knowing that the cure for it, was only ever a tiny bit of effort on my part. When the fire is blazing, a yurt heats up very quickly and can be very warm and inviting, regardless of what the outside world is up to.

While the memories of my stay in Bamff will often be auditory; the sound of beavers gnawing logs by the side of the road as I walk past in the dark, the bleating of Blackfaced sheep, the distinct cry that alerts me to a Buzzard overhead, or the explosive sound of a Pheasant startled out of the underbrush, it is my visual memories that I share here now. (All photos were taken during November and December of 2016, in Bamff or Alyth and some have been digitally stylized.)

This new season has been our most exciting yet. The yurts are almost constantly full with our delightful guests, with changeovers almost every day. We have lovely cleaners, Tanya and Brook who wizz round with great efficiency. The Gate Lodge is finished and letting well and nearly everyone seems happy with what we have to offer at Bamff.

The beavers in the Burnieshead pools had three kits this year and they have been regularly seen by our guests. Guests have also seen otters, herons, lots of roe deer, and recently a wildcat!

The weather has done its usual Scottish thing of varying from day to day, but there has been a fair bit of rain and plenty of sunshine as a consequence of which the vegetation has gone crazy. There are six foot hogweeds down the drive and the wild raspberries have never been bigger, more abundant or juicier.

Thank you to all the guests who have brightened our summer with your enthusiastic response to our new ventures.

The composting loo for the Hideaway is being built this week and next – and then it will be advertised and available for letting. A couple of things caused a few delays on that front – but as Helen Fraser, our ever optimistic housekeeper, always says, “We’re getting there!”

This year we are going to expand the availability of holiday accommodation at Bamff to include a second holiday self catering cottage, the Bamff Lodge, which will be known as the “Beaver Lodge” as it is within yards of what are probably the UK’s best beaver wetlands!
Above two beaver-made pools on the Cateran Trail we are building a beaver hide   “The Bamff Hideaway”. In recognition of the nocturnal habits of beavers and other wildlife, there will be a double bed, which will make this a wonderful “glamping” destination – off the beaten path with wood burning stove and no electricity – it will offer exceptional access for wildlife watchers and photographers.

We will also add 2 beautiful yurts on the campsite at the back of the castle in the spring.Each with their own stove, they will be available for short breaks or longer stays. Washing and extra cooking/ eating  facilities will be available within the castle’s Garden Room, as well as a campfire and barbecue out of doors for use in good weather.

Ecotours will also be on offer, as usual but more so!  Watch this space!

Also see our facebook page.

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We had an American visitor here at the week-end who was astonished by the size of our flowers. She was a keen gardener and had some of the same flowers in her own garden as we have in ours, but she said ours were much bigger.  Flowers – gardens and wild flowers –  are a feature of Scotland that are possibly not as famous abroad as rugged mountains and bloody battles, but they are  one of the things I love about living here.

Garden poppies

This year has been a great year for growth as we’ve had plenty of rain and sunshine and the wild flowers have been a delight as well as the flowers in the garden. The flowers in my pots at the back have done wonderfully well and I haven’t even had to water them once.

photo 1

The yellow flag irises have multiplied this year next to the drive. They have benefitted from the expansion of the beaver wetlands.

Yellow Flag Irises



Orchids have flourished too.



Wild Orchid


The foxgloves are always a delight and come in three colours in our woods. White foxgloves are said to be a sign of the presence of fairies. I think we must have a thriving population of fairies. Or perhaps faeries – the Celtic kind.

photo 2


Another thing people comment on when they come here are the shops in Alyth.  We are very lucky to still have an old fashioned grocer’s shop that is very much like Ginger & Pickles in the Beatrix Potter books.

photo 1


Mrs. Ferguson’s shop has done well through the years,  in spite of being next door to the Spar. She stocks lovely things like vegetables straight from gardens in Alyth, with the earth still on them,  and raspberries grown  in the sunshine, from a farm that doesn’t use poly-tunnels. She also has a great range of biscuits and sweets in jars and she serves you!  Visiting her shop is always a pleasure.


.Mrs Ferguson's shop, Alyth

We also have a real butcher’s shop that sells all kinds of good things. Somebody once wrote in our visitor’s book “A butcher to die for”.  I couldn’t help thinking that might be going a bit far .


The Alyth Butcher's shop





George Monbiot’s “Feral” and our feral offspring

I’ve been away from home, taking in a bit of the Edinburgh Book Festival where I heard the very inspiring George Monbiot speak about his wonderful new book on rewilding, “Feral”,  which give favourable mention to the Tay Beavers.

I also saw some of the Fringe, including our son’s company, Clout Theatre’s  show, ‘The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity.’ (Which I loved, in spite of its  dark themes and bizarre twists, and fortunately, so did most reviewers).

Did growing up here as feral children – as Sophie likes to claim – contribute in any way to our George’s curious and macabre imagination?

Timber extraction by pony

Returning (with a little relief) to the rural idyll that is Bamff I heard from Rachel DuBois in the top flat that some people had been here talking about a plan to demonstrate timber extraction by pony.  This is going to happen here at Bamff on 18th September.  That strikes me as a great idea (if not exactly a new one).

These days the machines that are used for timber extraction are like huge and expensive mechanical dinosaurs, and they won’t get out of bed for less than a large commercial plantation. This makes it difficult at a small place like Bamff, where we may just have a wee corner we want cut and extracted, to fuel our woodchip boiler – or we might want to fell part of a wood but leave the rest for the squirrels.

An environmental approach to woodland management doesn’t always fit with the current highly scaled up commercial approach to timber production, and our imaginative woodland advisors Robbins Timber Services have come up with an alternative approach by collaborating with the Perthshire Machinery Ring. I’m not entirely sure where ponies fit in with this as a pony can only loosely be described as a machine, if at all, but I’ll probably find out more on 18th September.

A new BBC series on Rewilding

Meanwhile an email came from a BBC producer who is planning a series on Rewilding.

So Paul and I both spoke to him on the phone about our beavers and wild boars and other rewilding matters, and we have promised to send more ideas as they occur to us.  I am so pleased that rewilding’s time seems to have come.  As the optimistic face of environmentalism, it stands to be a lot more popular than the old pessimistic, puritanical one, that only told us what not to do, buy, eat – how not to travel and where not to travel to.  Which, nor surprisingly didn’t really catch on with a lot of the public.

Is there some kind of parallel between bringing back formerly extinct forestry extraction methods and bringing back formerly extinct animals to benefit the land?  Or am I stretching a point to infinite nullity?

I just got back from watching the beavers.  There were two of them out, an adult and a kit, grazing next to the pool, very relaxed, munching away on grass and other plants, sweet teddybearish expressions clearly visible through the binoculars.  As I headed home a vivid raspberry pink sunset was reflected in the still beaver pool behind the trees.  I was thinking about the remarkable week-end we had, when for once we were privileged to see, of all extraordinary things, the interior landscape of a living beaver.

BBC’s One Show comes to film the beavers

Roisin Campbell-Palmer of Royal Zoological Society of Scotland along with Helen Dickinson, Beaver Officer of the Tayside Beaver Study Group managed to successfully trap two of our beavers for the official monitoring programme, and then an operation, carried out by zoo vet Romaine Pizzi took place in our shed. Saturday’s one was also filmed by a film crew from BBC’s The One Show, making a programme about the health screening of the Tay beavers.

Imagine the scene, our cluttered woodchip shed containing assorted tools, cheap uplighters and other people’s beds, along with an set of metres relating to the wind turbine. In the foreground there is an array of screens and monitors around the operating table, and from time to time there is a the bleeping of a heartbeat. A surgeon is there and his nurse in green gowns and all this surrounded by people with TV cameras and huge fluffy microphones.   You could almost be on the set of Holby city except that the patient that is anaesthetised on the table in the middle of all this is not a human, but a beaver, its unmistakeable flat scaly tail attached to the end of its flat out dark brown hairy form, and of all things, its feet and tail wrapped in tinfoil to keep it warm.   Holby City meets The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, perhaps.

It was extraordinary to have a chance to feel the tail and webbed back feet of the creature and to run a hand over its thick soft fur.  At one point I even got a sniff of its castoreum, as I watched Roisin milk the anal glands to identify the sex. Both beavers turned out to be males. It is usually males that get caught in the traps, we learnt. They are either more adventurous or more stupid than the females.

Romaine the celebrity vet, on Saturday, when the film crew were there, talked us through the whole procedure.  Various checks were carried out but the main event was the laproscopy.  A small area of the abdomen was shaved, an incision made and a tube was fed in to examine the inside of the animal with the main purpose of checking to see if it had any sign of a parasite that can attack the liver. There was no sign in either beaver. In fact they both looked very healthy.  Romaine moved the fibre optic around and explained the image on the screen as he explored inside the abdominal cavity. Apart from the liver, I remember him pointing out the gall bladder, the bladder, testes and vas deferens. And once he’d had a good look around, he removed the tubes and neatly sewed up the little hole he had made. Before the beaver woke up Roisin put the animal (a heavy one on Sunday) into a sack and weighed him.  22 kilos I think he was. The anaesthetic was then switched off and the beaver put into a carrying cage where he slowly came round.

A few hours later, once he was ready, we all watched as he was re-released close to the point of capture. He swam, slapped the water with his tail, dived and headed straight for a bank burrow to sleep off his experience.  We wondered if he would tell the other beavers later that he had been abducted by aliens. And if so, whether they would believe him.

Much as we would prefer our animals to be left alone, we were happy to have this procedure done as it will help to reassure the government that our beavers are healthy, and in due course, give them some information about their genetics as well.