Baron’s Haugh over the years

The area we now know as Baron’s Haugh was proposed as an RSPB Reserve by Hamilton Area RSPB Members’ Group in 1981,and the Group, then in its 5th year, has maintained close ties with the Reserve ever since. 1983 saw the first temporary warden, Allister Moralee; 1984 brought Gary Pilkington and in 1985 it was Tony Baker.

Full-time wardening started then with Russell Nisbet, who for many years managed and developed the Reserve. The major changes to the landscape took place in this period and many will remember Russell’s expertise, enthusiasm and good company. The Reserve is now under the overall care of Area Reserves Manager for Strathclyde & Ayrshire,  Gerry McAuley, who will oversee the new developments which are currently being planned. The officer on the ground is Mark Mitchell, Warden, Baron’s Haugh & Airds Moss Reserves, who will be establishing a good contact liaison with the local RSPB Group.

The following extracts from the 2000 Management Plan tell us something of the local history.

3.6. Intrinsic appeal.

Baron’s Haugh has been described as " an urban wildlife gem " and is of great value simply because a large number of people (2.2 million within a 30 km radius) has easy access to view a large concentration of wildlife at relatively close quarters

3.7. Recorded history.

The area now known as Baron’s Haugh was once part of the extensive Dalzell Estate owned by the Hamilton family, who are thought to have held the Barony since the reign of Kenneth 2nd., about 843, until it was forfeited in 1343. Much estate management can still be seen in the form of lime and horse chestnut avenues, the former reputed to have been planted around 1721.

Coal mining certainly took place around the turn of the 20th century, and the area known as " the Doctor’s Pit " has the deepest stretch of water. Farming took place more recently and there are still remnants of the old fence-lines that controlled cattle. Crops were also grown and part of the area was Dalzell Home Farm.

There is evidence that there was an early Christian settlement in the " White Meadow " on the edge of the Haugh, though this cannot be dated with any accuracy. There was a pre-reformation Church of Dalzell, also known as St. Patrick’s Church, on the edge of the Haugh near the present graveyard, also a cross-stone near the junction of the Dalzell Burn and the River Clyde. This was rescued by Lord Hamilton in 1884 and was later moved to Dalzell School and built into the wall behind the gate of the girl’s entrance.

The biological value of the site has been influenced by the grazing of cattle, the growing of crops and by coal-mining activities. There is a reference from a Hamilton Natural History journal to a vast flock of waxwings appearing on the haughs of Hamilton and Motherwell in 1782, and it appears that Bewick’s swans were regular visitors up until the 1930s.

3.9. Position in an ecological/geographical/socio-economic unit.

The Haugh is one of a small chain of six similar habitats in the Clyde Valley. It is the best example and supports the largest local waterfowl assemblage that can amount to over 1500 birds. The three small areas of woodland are part of the overall Clyde Valley woodlands. Some of the latter situated further up the valley have been designated as SSSIs

There are two Country parks in the immediate vicinity that attract large numbers of visitors. Strathclyde Park lies 2km to the north west, while Dalzell Park adjoins the Reserve to the north east. Both sites are managed by North Lanarkshire Council.