Conservation on the Southern Upland Way

Glenlude and the John Muir Trust

Inspiration takes many forms here in the Tweed Valley … sometimes flying a little under the radar without even the knowledge of those who live here. One great example is the work of the John Muir Trust at Glenlude – a parcel of land near Traquair that is gradually being transformed.

Glenlude will be familiar to anyone who has driven the high, lonely B-road between Traquair and Mountbenger in the Yarrow Valley. It’s a route well-used by road cyclists testing their legs on the steep climb. Lying on the west side of the road, the property begins as a narrow strip of land alongside Paddock Burn but gradually widens to encompass 149 hectares of hill ground close to where the Southern Upland Way passes through Kirkhouse and Traquair.

In the thirteen years since the conservation charity was bequeathed the land, the John Muir Trust has made great strides in its plan to gradually ‘rewild’ a landscape shaped by years of heavy grazing and the planting of uniform conifer plantations. Such ambitions do not happen overnight, but the journey towards creating a mosaic of native habitats has well and truly begun.

Wild Ways

Slowly but surely, the Trust is replacing the extensive areas of conifer plantation with native broadleaf trees, and planting native woodland on some of the open areas of grassland. Trees planted today are grown from seed collected locally and nurtured at an on-site nursery.

And during this time, Glenlude has become not just a showcase for what can be achieved through a little imagination and plenty of hard work, but also an important hub for conservation volunteering. Easily accessible from the Central Belt and northern England, the site welcomes hundreds of volunteers from schools, businesses and local groups each year.

Many come to undertake their John Muir Award – the Trust’s environmental award scheme – while others use outdoor education and connecting with nature to help rebuild lives. Phoenix Futures, a Glasgow-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity, for instance, manages a part of Glenlude known as the Scottish Phoenix Forest. More than 800 trees have now been planted in the forest, with each tree representing a successful participant in the Phoenix Futures programme.

Between them, staff and volunteers have created not just the tree nursery and an outdoor staging area for the hardening off and growing of seedlings, but a variety of other facilities: a shelter for those who work at Glenlude; a composting toilet and dry store; plus a wild camping area.

Most recently, a Postcode Lottery Grant enabled the purchase of a firewood processor and the installation of secure storage – an old shipping container disguised as a turf-roofed log cabin with a wooden lean-to attached for processed logs. Firewood will soon be offered for sale on a small scale.

Out on the hill itself, extensive brash hedges – the largest of which covers half an hectare – and several smaller enclosures protect saplings from the attention of browsing deer. Within the shelter of the enclosures, natural regeneration is now taking place, with blaeberry, bedstraw and tormentil as well as birch seedlings readily taking root.

All this work has already made a difference to the diversity of species and habitat at Glenlude. Surveys of breeding birds have revealed the presence of more than 40 species, with the likes of black grouse, curlew, skylark and meadow pipit now all believed to be nesting on the hill. There are mountain hares here too, plus water voles and a wide range of amphibians.

It’s a wonderful start, although there is much more to come as the John Muir Trust continues to demonstrate what’s possible when people and nature work hand in hand.

Further info

For much more on Glenlude, including how to get involved, visit

Photography: John Muir Trust