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The farm & cottages blog

A collection of stories about life on Eastside hill sheep farm in Scotland. Short, frequent and hopefully engaging... we’ll try our best!

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Recent articles in — Ecology

Eastside | An Autumn Sunset Film

Watch our film capturing the vivid purples and golds of an Autumn sunset in the hills surrounding the cottages. The film is entirely shot on the farm and all these magnificent locations are within walking distance of your cottage door.

Autumn on the hill pasture

The autumn colours are often spectacular on a hill landscape with the purple of the heather, the orange browns of the bracken dying back for winter and the crimson and bleached ash of the hill grasses.

Autumn colour in the Pentlands

Autumn colour in the Pentlands ↑

kind permission Michael Rummey Photography

Heather burning

The hills on Eastside are mainly heather hills and it is a good food supply both for sheep and wildlife and especially black and red grouse. When the heather gets old and woody, it is indigestible but the young shoots are very edible. For the sheep and wildlife, a good mix of old and new is most beneficial; the old heather plants are shrubby bushes about 2-3 feet high and provide good cover and shelter from the weather as well as ideal nesting sites for ground nesting birds such as the grouse and golden plover while the young heather shoots keep hunger at bay.
To ensure a plentiful supply of young shoots, between the 1st October and the 15th April, we aim to burn 10% of the heather cover each year (a process called muirburn) but in reality this is a hard goal to achieve. The conditions have to be just right for a good burn with the heather dry enough to ignite (impossible some years!) and the wind in the right direction. We try and burn an old area of the plants into a recovering area from the previous year so that you have a natural fire “break” and stop things from getting out of hand.

Harry Robertson dowsing the flames

Harry Robertson dowsing the flames ↑

Photograph copyright of Michael Rummey


Planting new woodlands

Alexander Cowan was the first of the Cowan family to plant trees at Eastside in 1850- a mix of Scots Pine and Larch - some of which are still in evidence today on the face of the Black Hill, Cap Law and Braid Law. Trees are important to provide shelter for the sheep and wildlife. Shelter is worth half a feed is old scottish farming wisdom meaning that if you give an animal shelter, it doesn’t use so much food just to keep warm.

Now, it’s our turn and we’ve planted a lot of mixed conifer and broad leaved trees as shelter belts in the valleys and are now branching out to encompass some of the original old plantations to keep them going. So far, 42,000 trees have been planted in the last two years and we’re back where it all started, really!

New woodland planting on the Braid Law

New woodland planting on the Braid Law ↑

All photographs © Michael Rummey Photography