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Countryside News

Update on news across Parks & Woodlands, including Beecraigs, Polkemmet and Almondell & Calderwood Country Parks and other key public sites.

Beecraigs Forest Thinning Operations

Over the next few months (commencing week beginning 22nd October) the area around Beecraigs Loch and the Lochside car park are due to be thinned out, as shown on the pdf icon map [339kb].

For this work to be carried out safely, we will need to temporarily close / divert some of the paths and trails. Those areas where machines are working and / or lorries are due to uplift timber will be closed in rotation. Diversions will be in place.

Felling on the North shore of the loch will start on the 7th November and the path in this area will be closed whilst this work is underway; the area will have areas thinned and other areas clear felled, creating more light and space into the woodland. We would advise those using wheelchairs and children's buggies to avoid the North shore area of the loch and the orange path up the dam wall steps.  Access is still available from the Lochside car park along the South shore of the loch.

Please adhere to the safety signs and do not enter any work area.  We would like to thank everyone for their co-operation and apologise for any inconvenience to visitors while this necessary management work is carried out.

For further information contact the Ranger Service, Beecraigs Country Park, at the Visitor Centre or call 01506 284518.


New Car Park & Event Area under Construction at Beecraigs

Recent visitors will have noticed that the new Hillhouse Car Park works are underway.  These works will provide the Country Park much needed additional parking, within easy walking distance of the Visitor Centre, as well as a hireable Events Area.  During these works, path diversions may be required to maintain public safety but we will endeavour to minimise any disruption to visitors walking between the Visitor Centre/Hillhouse and Balvormie.  

As soon as we have a date of opening agreed, we will update this page.


Dog Walking

Beecraigs Country Park neighbours onto farmland and many fields have livestock, both young and older animals. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase other creatures and a sudden movement or scent can trigger this impulse in a dog that was previously walking calmly along. It can be extremely difficult to call a dog off once it takes chase and we urge dog owners to please make themselves aware of the countryside law. Previously a number of incidents in the area around Cockleroy Hill have resulted in serious injury to sheep which have been reported to the Police. Cockleroy Hill is not within Beecraigs Country Park but many visitors enjoy the walk and view from this popular landmark. Both the landowner and Beecraigs Country Park urge dog walkers to be much more vigilant and responsible for their actions.

If you do see a dog owner acting irresponsibly or a dog worrying livestock, please call Police Scotland on 101.

We want dogs and their owners to enjoy their walk but to be responsible for their actions. We ask that dog walkers please follow these simple rules when walking in livestock fields with your dogs:

  • Do not take dogs into fields where there are lambs, calves or other young animals.
  • Never let your dog worry or attack farm animals.
  • Cattle can act aggressively so keep yourself and your dog at a safe distance and, if necessary, let your dog go so that you can both seek safety.
  • Before entering a field, check to see if you have any alternative routes and keep your dog under close control at all times when walking across farmland as you often cannot see what is in the field.
  • Avoid causing concern to other people, especially those who may be afraid of dogs.
  • Pick up and dispose of your dog waste in public places, as dog waste is dangerous to both people and livestock.
  • Farmers have a duty of care towards livestock and are legally entitled to shoot a dog if it is causing distress, so please ensure your dog is under your control at all times.

Fantastic new mountain bike facility at Beecraigs Country Park

After two years of planning and applying for funding, construction started in October 2015 to create a mountain bike skills loop within Beecraigs Country Park.  This new skills loop area is now open to ride and is situated adjacent to the Lochside car park. On the 14th September 2016 the new Skills Area was officially opened at Beecraigs.

This £80,000 project was funded by SportScotland's Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund and the Landfill community fund, via Landtrust and Avondale environmental Ltd. WLC opening night skills loop photo
Image courtesy of Cameron Mason
The skills loop area will provide the public with a purpose built facility to help them improve their MTB skills as well as provide coaching facilities for groups such as West Lothian Council's outdoor education team and the West Lothian Clarion cycling club (who have over 80 children in their youth section). The trails in this area are intended to help, whatever level of rider you are, to hone your skills and technique. They will help you to master the technical features that you will find on the MTB trails within Beecraigs Country Park and beyond.

Please find a quote, following its opening, from one of the Clarion coaches to Clive Forth, MTB Skills (skills area designer): 

  • 'Just spent the last two hours up on the loop. A chance to let it rip. It's fabulous - thank you for turning our dreams into a physical reality that marries up to our hopes and expectations. Could you please pass on my sincere thanks to the rest of the team who worked alongside you to produce this outstanding facility. I know that the gratitude to your hard work from all of the Clarion kids and coaches is huge and that this facility will enable many riders to develop socially, emotionally and physically into the future. Well done'. 

WLC opening night skills loop Sam air
Image courtesy of Cameron Mason
Many people already use the completed mountain bike trails within Beecraigs Country Park, with the red loop 2 still under construction. Volunteers have committed many hours of their time into improving access in the Park and are keen for more support to enable the final MTB trails to be completed. If you would like to volunteer your help in developing these trails, contact Tracey Smith on 01506 848944 / tracey.smith@westlothian.gov.uk or go onto the Beecraigs Mountain Bike Facebook page for information on build and maintenance sessions.


Friends of Almondell
Friends of Almondell

Friends of Almondell

The 'Friends of Almondell' are an enthusiastic group of volunteers who meet regularly once a month to take on a variety of practical conservation projects and fund raising activities in and around Almondell & Calderwood Country Park.  The 'Friends' came together in 2012 and include an eclectic mix of local people sharing the same goal - to make a real difference to their local environment and to help support their community through volunteering.  Constituted in 2013, they work in partnership with the Countryside Ranger Service and Parks & Woodlands Team.  Together with practical projects, the Friends are also involved with visitor surveys, applying for grant funding, supporting community events, wildlife surveys, showing photo exhibitions and fundraising in the form of plant and bake sales.  They have a very popular Facebook page updated frequently by members and providing lots of useful information about the Friends and West Lothian's Country Parks and countryside.

Over the years, the Friends have achieved many successes and undertaken many tasks and projects that the council were not able to due to other commitments and financial restrictions.  Maintenance projects include path and step clearing and construction, tree and orchard planting, rhododendron clearing, snowdrop planting, garden planting and improvements, drainage works litter-picking and spring cleaning.  Future projects include pond restoration and garden works.  Whatever the weather brings we have regular group of 8 or 10 volunteers who freely lend their time, skills and experience.  There's always a cup of tea after efforts along with the occasional BBQ and curry night out too - 'Friends' really have become friends!

The Friends have also applied for several grants including submissions to Forth Valley Orchards, Keep Scotland Beautiful (Tesco carrier bag scheme) and Persimmon Homes.  Through successful application they have planted a new orchard, created a snowdrop walk, planted wildflower seeds, enhanced and improved the Visitor Centre Garden and provided information signs for all our visitors to enjoy.  Current applications include Edinburgh Airport Community Board for improvements to our wildlife pond and support for our grant application to Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration of our historic walled garden. With current funds, the Friends also plan to purchase maintenance equipment, undertake training and make further landscape improvements.

Parks & Woodlands Team would like to thank the Friends of Almondell for all of their help and support over the years, and wish them well with many more exciting projects for the future. If you would like to join our group of volunteers, please contact Ranger kirsty.morrison@westlothian.gov.uk or call into the Visitor Centre and leave your details. 


Little Boghead Nature Park, Bathgate

Hidden away in a quiet corner of Bathgate is Little Boghead Nature Park. Its pond, woodland and wildflower meadow make it a haven for wildlife and people alike. The little perch seats dotted around the park provide an opportunity to stop and reflect, a resting place or somewhere to watch dragonflies flying over the ponds, nesting Moorhens and Coots or even the chance of an elusive Water Vole.

The platform out over the pond provides the opportunity for visiting school groups or families to discover what's hiding under the water - tadpoles, diving beetles, newts, and in spring the water is thick with a blanket of mating frogs and toads.

Little Boghead Boardwalk
Little Boghead Boardwalk

The Friends of Little Boghead group meet regularly to carry out practical conservation work and input into how the park is managed. In 2017 they successfully applied for funding from Tesco Bags of Help which financed the pond dipping platform, seating, new signs and educational visits to the park for local primary school children.

None of this would be possible without the 'Friends of Little Boghead' group, who meet quarterly to give input on how the park is managed and plan practical tasks like community clean ups and vegetation control. If you'd like more information on what they do or would like to get involved, check out their facebook page -  www.facebook.com/LittleBoghead


Balvormie Meadow

Following the successful grazing of Balvormie meadow, some of the Beecraigs cattle herd and sheep flock will be used for conservation grazing within the fenced area of the meadow this autumn.  Species rich meadows need late summer grazing to prevent an impenetrable thatch of dead vegetation building up and restricting fresh growth.  Low intensity grazing is a proven conservation technique which can enhance biodiversity.  Stocking densities for conservation grazing are kept low and the timing and duration of grazing is carefully managed.   Grazing animals are selective in what they eat, often choosing the more dominant plant species, allowing the less competitive plants to establish and increase species diversity.  Their hooves disturb the ground allowing smaller more delicate plants to flourish.  As the conservation grazing animals work across the meadow, they create a mosaic of different sward lengths and micro habitats.

Different animals and breeds are needed to manage different habitats.  In 2017 small numbers of cattle and sheep were chosen to graze.  The cattle wrap their tongues around and pull up vegetation (normally longer, coarser grasses) leaving uneven sward lengths and producing a tussocks.  Sheep prefer to nibble shorter grasses and can be good for scrub control.  Their small size also reducing poaching.   

Gates to the meadow are closed in early October, to allow dog fouling to be removed, before the animals can be brought in.  The grazing animals remain on the meadow for approximately 10 weeks and staff monitor the meadow's condition during this time.  If conditions become too wet underfoot or poaching is excessive, the animals can be moved off the meadow early.  When the animals are not grazing on the meadow, a brief resting period (following best practice) is given before the fenced off area is opened up for responsible access.

Indications from surveys carried out show an increase in plant diversity in the grazed area, and hopefully this trend will continue in the coming years.  Feedback has been positive with many families enjoying seeing animals grazing on the meadow and commenting on the rich floral display through the summer.