Environment and Outdoor Recreation

11.1    Landscape

The Strachur Community Council area encompasses a wide variety of landscapes and habitats, from Loch Fyne and the surrounding shoreline to open moorland and mountaintop.  The area also includes Loch Eck a large expanse of fresh water, rivers, farmland and mixed native and conifer woodland.  As well as being pleasing to the eye, due to the variety of habitats, there is a rich and varied wildlife in the area.

11.2    Geology

The area is geologically highland.  The dominant rocks of the Cowal are metamorphic schist, dating back to around 500 million years ago.  The rocks are grey in colour but full of white quartz.

11.3    SSSI'S

There are two Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the area:
Loch Eck.
Ardchyline Woodland.

11.4    Access and Recreation  

The area of the Strachur District Community Council offers many opportunities for recreation, including fishing, sailing, horse riding, walking and cycling.  There are numerous access routes available, taking in a variety of scenery, and offering different challenges to the walker.

Heron Park
The open space opposite the Strachur Memorial Hall was acquired by the Strachur District Development company in 2004, and, with grant funding, has been developed into a community heritage park. This incorporates wildlife and biodiversity areas, as well as paths and picnic seating.  

Strachur House
This offers a woodland walk through part of the grounds. Responsible access is available throughout the estate.

Old Castle Lachlan Coastal Walks
There is a walk from Inver Cottage Restaurant around the bay to Old Castle Lachlan, a substantial ruin since 1746. The walk can be continued around to the site of St Brides Chapel and beyond.

Argyll Forest Park
There is a good network of way-marked routes within the Argyll Forest Park, a number of which begin from the forest village of Glenbranter.  Here there are opportunities for walkers and cyclists, including a 14km route along the West shore of Loch Eck to Benmore.  This passes through varied woodland and open farm ground and passes below the ‘Paper Cave' on the slopes of Clach Bheinn.  From Glen Branter there are also two high level routes to Lochgoilhead.  There is access to other areas of forestry via the forest roads, subject to forest operations.
 
Public Rights of Way
Within the Community Council Area there are three claimed Public Rights of Way.   The first leads from Strachurmore to Lettermay on Lochgoil.  It passes north of Bheinn Bheula by the Curra Lochain.  The second starts at the main A815 at Invernoadan and continues, mainly through the forestry, around Beinn Lagan.  It finishes at Strachurmore.  The final route is that previously mentioned, which travels the length of Loch Eck from Glenbranter to Benmore.

The Cowal Way
This is a mini long distance footpath running the length of the Cowal Peninsula.  It starts in the S.W. at Portavadie beside Loch Fyne, and finishes in the N.E. at Ardgartan.  It is 75.2km long.  The way follows existing rights of way and public roads, or cross Forestry Commission land.  Two of the sections pass through the Strachur area.  The first is Glendaruel to Glenbranter, and the second Glenbranter to Lochgoilhead.

Access improvements in the area
Forestry Commission has recently implemented a programme of improvements in the Strachur and Glenbranter areas including:

Access to Loch Eck
Access to the Loch for boating is at present via a number of sites along the East side of the Loch.  A Loch Eck Management Advisory Group was established by the National Park Authority including local residents, anglers, and commercial groups.  The group has produced a Code of Conduct for Loch Eck.

11.5 Forestry

Much of the Strachur Community Council area is forested, the majority being coniferous. The largest proportion of the forested area is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission and is part of The Argyll Forest Park. This was the first Forest Park for public enjoyment to be established in Britain in 1935, when the Forestry Commission realised the land could be used for recreation as well as commercial forestry.  The park now covers an area of 22,500 ha of this dramatic highland landscape. Nearly 3/4 of all trees planted in the Park are Sitka Spruce.  Broadleaved trees are, however, increasingly important for landscape purposes and to provide varied wildlife habitats.

11.6 Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne plays an important role in creating the oceanic mildness of the area, favouring the good growth of timber. The freshwater runoff from the hills brings nutrients to the loch, which softens the salinity.  During the winter storms, these nutrients churn up, which in turn creates plankton blooms, ideal for mussels, oysters, scallops and many other forms of shellfish.  Unfortunately over fishing of oysters caused the native oyster to disappear completely. 25 years ago, the Loch Fyne Oyster Company was formed and started the process of oyster beds.  Although there is still a healthy population of mussels in the loch, a large proportion of these are gritty to eat.  The oyster company has started to grow mussels on ropes. Over fishing of Salmon has also occurred and most of the Salmon in Loch Fyne are now reared in cages.  Along the shores of the loch, you will regularly see flocks of wading birds, which vary with the season. There are a wide variety of seabirds around the loch, whilst offshore flotillas of Eider duck are in large numbers. If one is very lucky, porpoises or seals may be spotted, or the elusive Otter.
In recent years, the number and size of trawlers operating in Upper Loch Fyne - as far as Cairndow - has been of mounting concern to local people. The equipment used by these vessels scours the seabed, leaving a virtual ‘desert' resembling a ploughed field in its wake. This is causing repeated damage to fragile ecosystems within what is, after all, a narrow cul-de-sac, and there is a view that commercial fishing activities should be far more strictly controlled north of Ardrishaig as the loch narrows.

11.7 Loch Eck

This long and winding expanse of fresh water is 42m at its deepest.  It contains one of the only two populations of Powan in Scotland. This is a freshwater Herring and a dwarf form of the Arctic Charr.  It is thought to have been marooned here when falling sea levels at the end of the last ice age left the loch ‘high and dry', cut off from the salt water of the Firth of Clyde. The Powan live in deep water, feeding on Zooplankton and crustaceans.  This population in appears to be stable, and is part of a unique fish community comprising of Salmon, Trout, Sea trout and Arctic Charr.  Red-breasted mergansers and Goosanders may nest in the forests by the loch and Herons are a common sight standing, motionless along the shoreline or the banks of the rivers feeding into the Loch. 

11.8 Natural History

Fauna & Flora
There is a vast wildlife interest in the area, which can be divided into the various habitats.
Farms within the community are stocked with hill sheep (mostly Scottish Blackface) and some raise hill cattle too, increasing the richness of habitat on the hillsides locally.
In Loch Eck, salmon, salmon trout, pike, perch, and powan are seen.
In Loch Fyne there are salmon, sea trout, cod, whiting, ling skate, mackerel and almost all varieties of white fish. Mussels are found in great abundance on the shores of Loch Fyne. Porpoises and seals are common in the loch, with whales and basking sharks spotted from time to time. 
There is also a wide range of raptors, the commonest being buzzards, with eagles nesting in the more remote parts.  Red deer are numerous, as are roe deer. Foxes are plentiful and mink numbers are increasing.
There are reports that otters have become more numerous in recent years.

Ardchyline Woodland (SSSI)
This area of woodland has been designated for it's native oak. It is a fairly narrow strip running alongside the A815 from just north of St Catherines to Ardnagowan.

Broadleaved Woodland
These woods house a varied flora, at its best in spring when primroses and violets give the first splash of colour, followed by bluebells, wood anemone and wood sorrel.  These woodlands are also home to a variety of woodland birds, including wood warblers, jays and cuckoos.

Coniferous Woodland
The denser stands of forestry provide shelter for both roe and red deer.  In the more mature forest, the insect populations provide food for birds such as coal tits and gold crest.  Good cone crops will provide seed for siskins and crossbills.  Red squirrels are frequently seen in the area with planted pinewoods being a key provider of suitable habitats.

Mountain & Moorland  
Along the burns leading up to the higher ground you may see dippers and yellow wagtails.  Higher up you will see wheatears and pipits.  The plants of the wetter ground on the hill include bog asphodel, Sundew and butterwort.  Higher up, in springtime look out for purple saxifrage, with heather blooming in the autumn.  The mountain habitat is home to ptarmigan, red grouse, ravens and golden eagles.

Strategic Issues

Proliferation of invasive alien species such as japanese knotweed and rhododendron ponticum.

Commercial trawler fishing activity from Strathlachlan to Cairndow should be more strictly controlled or banned.

Community needs to work closely with Forestry Commission and National Park in development of access opportunities.

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