Blaeberry Wood is situated to the south of the M8 and lies between Whitburn and East Whitburn within the Central Scotland Forest. The undulating topography is influenced by glacial deposits, which produce a series of characteristic east-west gently convex ridges, with the land gradually rising from 160m in the north to 200m a.s.l. to the south, with a generally northern aspect.
The soil parent material is derived from sedimentary rocks, mainly sandstones and shale. These are grouped as the Rowanhill Association producing brown-forest soils with various degrees of gleying. These soils are characterised by slowly permeable clayey horizons at varying depths. Where these occur 40-80cm with overlying till, as at the north end of the site, soils are moderately draining, but to the south of the site, gleying occurs closer to the surface and soils are poorly drained, except on slopes. Pockets of richer alluvial soils occur along the White Burn which flows through the north of the site and the Bickerton Burn which forms the southern boundary, whilst the area to the south-east of Glenburn gardens contains areas of shallow podzol with a peaty surface layer over sandstone. This area is drained by several ditches, which collect in a deep drain running into the White Burn. Ground adjacent to this peaty area has been disturbed in the past and topsoil covers a compacted layer of clayey subsoil. All areas, with the exception of the last two described are capable of supporting a range of tree species, but combined with exposure are unlikely to produce quality broadleaves or trees of great height, although growth should be better to the north of the area. The MLURI climate map identifies the area as fairly warm moist lowland (rainfall c1000mm per year) but as being exposed with moderate winters.
The woodland consists of a series of linked blocks of woodland and shelterbelts, with larger blocks of woodland directly to the north and south of the A705. The east west aligned belts are generally broad in width at 50-100m, with narrower strips of woodland aligned north-south. Areas of open space have been retained along the Bickerton Burn and White Burn with additional open glades within the planting. The areas of woodland are bordered by housing developments to the north and west and enclose a number of lowland crofts as well as grazing land associated with an equestrian centre. The A705, Hens Nest Road and a private access road to the Bickerton crofts all separate and fragment the woodland areas.
The belts and blocks consist of new planting from 1994-96 of which most is well established and only requiring some shelter maintenance. Most recently, compartment 5b was planted in 2002. Stocking over the site is between 90 and 95%. Overall about 25% of the site has been retained as open space. This is concentrated along path routes and burns/watercourses with the central area of peaty acid grassland also left open. The woodland was planted as amenity woodland, with about 25% of the area occupied by non-native, but exposure tolerant species, including beech, sycamore and larch to the north and Scots pine to the south. Other species include oak, birch, aspen, with small proportions of rowan, whitebeam, goat willow and hazel as under storey, and relatively large groups of woody shrubs, including blackthorn, hawthorn and some guelder rose, generally located between open ground and woodland areas. The planting was intended to produce high forest of mixed broadleaves to the north of the site and pine, birch, aspen and mixed broadleaves to the more exposed south. Older mature, but often stunted beech trees are found along old field boundaries and roadsides.
The ground flora within planted areas is grass-dominated and reflects previous use. Diversity is limited, with the northern area consisting of mainly of Holcus/Agrostis grassland with frequent creeping buttercup and docks. The southern areas are of ranker, tussocky Dactylis-dominated grassland, but also containing bents, fescues, meadow grass and with herbs including spear thistle, creeping buttercup, and docks
As part of a ground flora trial, foxglove, bluebells, primrose, tufted vetch, red campion, self-heal, and wood avens of Scottish provenance were introduced to the planted area in the south-east of the site (6a), although not all of these species are still evident.
Woodland habitats within the site are still developing and hold relatively little specific interest for biodiversity at present. Within the site, non-woodland habitats are represented by the two burns and associated wet valley floors, with occasional older hawthorn and dog rose bushes; areas retained as open grassland within and beside planted woodland areas, and the peaty area, to the south-east of Glenburn Gardens. This includes compartments 2c and 2d. The west of this area contains unimproved acid grassland and includes patches that are more heath like in composition, with heather, heath bedstraw and blaeberry, whilst the east (now part planted) is classed as a mosaic of dry heath/acidic grassland. Goat willow and scattered rowan occur in places, with willow concentrated around three small depressions, which seasonally hold water. A second area of acid grassland with tormentil, heath bedstraw and heather occurs on the south-facing slope above the Bickerton Burn, to the south-west of the site.
Of these habitats, the burns and acid grassland areas hold more immediate biodiversity interest, being longer established. In 2002 a vegetation survey was carried out over cpts 2c and 2d, highlighting the local conservation requirement - although much of this area suffered fire damage in spring 2003. In terms of mammals, voles are common on the site, but there have been no sightings or evidence of rabbits, hare or deer to date, although most of these are expected to be present at times. Water vole have also been seen (2010) along the White burn with holes in the banks indicating a permanent presence.
The remnant rectangular field pattern of the area probably dates from the early 19th century when drainage systems were installed to improve the land, which has been much fragmented and modified by recent development. Some of the old hedgerow and lines of beech still remain within and around the site, but much of the field structure and the shelterbelts that would have been planted on the higher ground have disappeared. The south-west of the site, still contains an area of the previous rig and furrow drainage system and was planted (as were other similar areas) as a shelterbelt in the past, rather than drained. Tree cover, lost relatively recently from this area as current maps still show it as mixed woodland, was re established in 2002. The area of peaty soil in the centre of the site, contains a number of shallow pits, now seasonally water-filled, which may have been small sandstone quarries at some time. There is also evidence that Scots pine were present on this area in the past, with bark scales found in the peaty surface horizon. More recently the entire site was grazed as part of East Whitburn Mains Farm. The site was gifted to the Woodland Trust in 1994 when the area was developed as a lowland crofting scheme. This allowed low density housing to be built within a planned wooded landscape, designed to improve the general landscape, screen the new housing and to provide recreational opportunities to the local community. The bulk of planting was undertaken between 1994 and 1996 with the help of the local community. In the past, part of the site had been used for trials for a ground flora planting project, with larger scale flora planting undertaken in 2000. The project was stopped in 2001/2.
The woodland was designed prior to the Woodland Trust’s ownership to assist in creating a new landscape structure to the area to the south of East Whitburn. The design reflects the layout and to a certain extent also the species (beech, sycamore and Scots pine) of narrow shelterbelt complexes planted in the mid 18th century, which are found elsewhere in West Lothian. The developing tree belts now have a role in forming boundaries and screening to both the lowland crofts and also to new housing developments constructed around Blaeberry and along Hens Nest Road, which lead south from East Whitburn. Linkages between this site and adjacent woodland planting with public access, on bings to the east of the railway line and to the south of the Blaeberry site, increase the overall value of the site. Amenity value is at times reduced by accumulation of litter and fly-tipping which tends to occur at the north of the site, along housing and roadside boundaries and also along the White Burn and drains. Although there is currently relatively little deliberate vandalism, except to entrance points, illegal access by motorbikes and quad bikes continues.
The site was planted as community woodland and initial involvement with planting works and naming of the site was high. Since then there have been few opportunities for direct practical works and less interest expressed, except in attendance at organised activities. The community continues to be involved through consultation in the management plan process, posters informing of works and direct contacts with site users and local residents over specific issues such as litter and access.
Sited between the busy communities of East Whitburn and Whitburn within the Central Scotland Forest, Blaeberry Wood offers excellent opportunities for recreation either on foot or a bike. There are approximately 5km of paths throughout the site, just under half of which are whindust-surfaced paths, originally 1.2m in width, whilst the remainder are mown grass paths. Due to the woodland layout and fragmentation by roads and watercourses, most paths are effectively through-routes, with no opportunities as such for circular routes within the site boundary. The site however provides excellent public access for both short and longer routes when viewed as part of the local network. This includes adjacent amenity land to the east of compartment 2, land at Whitrigg Bing, Fairbairn Wood and the Trust’s nearest site Foulshiels to the south, the recently upgrade paths on the old railway line to the east and other paths and minor public roads, especially Hens Nest Road.
Paths are designated through planning conditions as multi-use for walkers, horses and cyclists, however the fragmented layout requires gates to be located at frequent intervals. Although management gates are currently locked to prevent access by motor cycles, which damage paths and cause nuisance and concern to local residents and users, local horse owners have been provided padlock keys which allow access to most of the southern section of the wood. Other parts of the site are considered unsuitable for horse access since they lack both exit routes to other paths or the possibility of circuit paths. The fragmented nature of the site and need to exclude motorbikes also restricts the attractiveness of the area for riding. The frequent entrance gates allow only short riding sections between woodland areas and are kept locked. Squeeze entrances and kissing gates allow free passage to pedestrians who are the main users to date.
The paths within compartment 1 were upgraded in summer 2003 to facilitate wheelchair/pushchair use with all-abilities kissing gates being installed at all four entrances. A bridge was installed over the white burn to provide a link between Bellalmond Crescent and Moidart Road.
There is no Woodland Trust car park at the site; parking is limited to roadside parking within local housing schemes, with use mainly by local residents.
Management access to the site is good and can be obtained from a number of gates around the site, leading off Hen’s Nest Road and the A705. Within the site access is generally along or adjacent to the footpath network, which effectively limits vehicle access during very wet conditions.More about this wood ...