The Eskrigg Reserve is on the site of an old curling pond. It occupies 7 acres (2.83 hectares) and contains a mixture of habitats including mixed woodland, grassland, heathland, willow carr, sedge bed, reed bed, stream and pond each with its own associated flora and fauna. There is coniferous woodland to the north and west with a rich deciduous understory, permanent grassland to the east and marshland to the south. Notable animal species include Red Squirrel, Willow Tit, Little Grebe, Kingfisher and Tawny Owl. You will also find the rare Adder’s Tongue Fern there.
In the beginning, 1986 - 1989
Jim Rae learned of the old curling pond from a pupil in 1986, when he was Principal Teacher of Biology at the local secondary school in Lockerbie. After visiting the site, he was impressed by the range of habitats in such a small area, but noticed that one of the habitats, a monoculture of reed-grass, covered more than three acres and supported a very limited fauna. The pond had been drained and the natural succession of vegetation over many years had eliminated all open water. Jim quickly realised that, by digging out much of the reed-grass and repairing the sluice gate, a pond could be re-established thereby increasing the biodiversity and, at the same time, creating a resource for the local community, including his Natural Resources class at the school.
He explained his ideas to Sir Rupert Buchanan-Jardine, owner of Castle Milk Estate, then applied for, and was granted in January 1987, a joint one-year lease of the curling pond with the then shooting tenant Henry Strath. Jim spent the following year seeking advice and assistance from many experts in the field of conservation. He arranged a survey of the area to determine future water levels. With the assistance of Mary Martin (Regional Plant Recorder) and Elizabeth Kungu (expert on mosses), he identified as many plants and animals as possible and drew up a potential management plan.
In August 1987, Jim started a Conservation Class at Lockerbie Academy and together they discussed and worked on the management plan. They also organised a sponsored cycle run to raise the funds needed for digging out the pond.
In September 1987, a public meeting was held at Lockerbie Academy at which Jim Rae explained the draft plans to interested members of the local community. His plans received overwhelming approval and that evening a Local Support Group was set up. At the first meeting of the support group, in October 1987, the members decided to form the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust and to name the old curling site Eskrigg Reserve.
Jim Rae took on the sole lease of the pond site for a year in 1988 and, throughout the spring of that year, continued his research, obtained estimates for digging out the pond and, in discussion with members of the support group, determined the objects of the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust. In May 1988, a local firm (Dalgliesh Brothers) dug out the pond area creating islands and banks, the sluice was repaired, an overflow pipe (donated by Express Cheese Factory) was installed and the pond area flooded. Within a month there was good growth on the islands and a wide variety of wildlife in the pond. In the summer of '88, eight weeks of dry weather resulted in the pond drying up. This helped to determine the future management policy for the site. In June, pupils from Lockerbie Academy erected two bird-watching hides.
In September 1988, the inaugural meeting of the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust was held and a programme of talks, visits, workshops and fund-raising events was organised for the year ahead. Over the next year, Academy pupils, former pupils, Scouts, Cubs and students from the Barony College helped Trust members with clearing, construction and maintenance work.
In January 1989, the lease for the pond site was transferred to Lockerbie Wildlife Trust for an initial term of ten years, subject to review after five. The pond site then became officially recognised as Eskrigg Reserve. Throughout '89 Jim Rae consulted widely and drafted a Constitution for the Trust.
1989 - 2009
Jim continued to manage Eskrigg Reserve for the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust, during his spare time, over the next 20 years. He received a lot of support from the local community and members of the Trust. The reserve and adjacent woodland was an ideal site for biological fieldwork with his science classes. He organised many different wildlife workshops and events, particularly for local youngsters. A number of social events, including a wedding, woodland fair and a concert, were also held at the reserve.
In spring 2008, the first Dumfries and Galloway Wildlife Festival was organised. Although the Easter activities at Eskrigg were not on the official festival programme, they continued to prove popular with local children. In the summer of 2008, Jim organised the first of the now annual Wildlife Weekends at Eskrigg. Over one weekend in the summer holidays, the Trust runs a range of workshops for both children and adults. These include pond dipping, small mammal trapping, moth trapping, wild food foray and bird or bat box workshops. Fungal forays and den building were included in the autumn activities.
2009 - 2012
IIn August 2009, Jim retired from teaching at Lockerbie Academy in order to oversee the building of the Eskrigg Centre. This timber building has wheelchair access. It contains a viewing area with four windows overlooking the pond and another four facing the trees and wildlife feeders on either side making it ideal for wildlife observation and photography. Also included is a comfortable reading area with access to the latest wildlife magazines and leaflets. By arrangement with the Reserve Manager, there is secure area that can be opened up to convert the hide into a small classroom, lecture hall or research laboratory as required. Sir Rupert Buchanan-Jardine opened the Eskrigg Centre in April 2010.
Since then, Jim and the Lockerbie Wildlife Trust have contributed to the Dumfries and Galloway Wildlife Festival, assisted with the Wild Seasons initiative to educate people about the wonderful wildlife in our area and helped promote Dumfries and Galloway as a prime venue for nature tourism. From 2012, Eskrigg activities were listed in the D & G Wild Seasons programme.
2013 - 2016
In 2013, Lockerbie Wildlife Trust, assisted by Lockerbie and District Rotary Club, marked the 25th Anniversary of Eskrigg Reserve by replacing one of the original bird hides with the new Red Squirrel Hide. This also has disabled access and provides visitors with an excellent opportunity to view and photograph the Red Squirrels and other wildlife.
In 2014, Lockerbie Wildlife Trust started its 'Access For All' project. Castle Milk Estate, Dumfries and Galloway Ranger Service and Lockerbie Wildlife Trust worked together to provide a car park (Phase 1) and hardcore path to the Reserve (Phase 2) allowing safer access for all. These were in place by the end of August.
During 2015, Lockerbie Wildlife Trust proceeded with Phase 3 of the 'Access For All' project and raised funds to purchase and install a NatSol Compost Toilet with disabled access. The underground vault was lowered into place and the timber building was erected above it at the end of April 2016. During May and June, the toilet building was painted and fitted out. A concrete ramp was put in place and the toilet was ready for use at the beginning of July 2016.
Meanwhile, Phase 4 of the 'Access For All' project had already begun - the resurfacing of the Woodland Walks next to the Reserve with gravel in order to facilitate access to the woods. This work will continue over the next few years until there is disabled access to at least one mile of woodland walks.