Peatlands & Peeweep Eggs


Over the next few weeks I’ll be visiting a number of Forestry England woodlands and forests, immersing myself in the trees and getting to know the people, wildlife and habitats behind them. In the meantime, I’ve been really enjoying researching the history of the Forestry Commission and learning more about the last century of forestry in the UK.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a lovely couple who have spent their lives working in forestry, and they let me borrow a few books to kick start my research. One of these was From Peat Bog to Conifer Forest by Ruth Tittensor, a fantastic account of Whitelee forest in Scotland told through oral accounts and recollections of the people who lived and worked there.

One of the stories inspired this small haiku about the lapwing, or peeweep. A large stretch of Whitelee peatland was chosen as the site for a new timber plantation, and as part of the preparation, farmers and landworkers were paid to plough and drain the peat moors so that trees could be planted in the furrows. The forest took many years to plant, but it is now a recreational centre and wind farm near Glasgow, and definitely somewhere I’d like to visit now I’ve read so much about it.

During planting, one man called Robbie Allan recalled how he couldn’t bring himself to plough through wild birds’ nests, which are usually built in secret spots on the ground. Horses would instinctively avoid standing on them, he said, and farmers would avoid them when working by hand. But tractors were indiscriminate, so instead of ploughing through with his tractor, he would wait until a bird ‘lifted’ from the ground (when it heard the tractor approaching), jump out of the tractor, and put a homemade ‘flag’ in the nest so that he could avoid running it over again. After a while, his manager came up to him and said: ‘Whit’s aa this bloody flags aa ower the place?!’ And Mr Allan had to explain his compassionate new way of ploughing!

I loved this story so much because it seems to represent a more conscious way of working with the landscape, in which man and wildlife can both flourish with just the smallest bit of extra care. The lapwings no longer inhabit that particular part of the land, because they are open-land birds and not forest birds, but the forest is now home to a variety of other wildlife and I like to think the lapwings found somewhere else to nest.