Forest ranger Gordon Harper is working a miracle cure on the ‘sick’ grounds surrounding the area’s new hospital.
He was put in charge of looking after the Forestry Commission’s ground at Larbert’s Forth Valley Royal.
And now the land, which had been abandoned for 15 years after the Royal Scottish National Hospital closed down, is being transformed into a space for patients, nature lovers and dog walkers to enjoy.
Since coming to the site last year, Gordon, from Kincardine, has been working to a masterplan to return the area to what it was like in Victorian times.
He said: “This beautiful site would have been well cared for when Larbert House was built. But the area was allowed to fall into ruin, with paths overgrown and weeds and non-native species of plants taking over the 72 acres.
“Since we came in, we have been clearing lots of the invasive plants such as the rhododendron which takes over and doesn’t allow the native plants to grow.”
The forest ranger, who looks after sites across Central Scotland, has a broad job description – maintaining and developing Forestry Commission sites, taking groups on walk-abouts and fighting fires.
Gordon is drafted in to help firefighters during forest fires and says this spring has been busier than he can remember.
“Usually the spring is not too busy because the ground is pretty wet. But it has been non-stop this year thanks to the dry spell. There have been a few around Falkirk, but it’s not been too bad – the Fauldhouse area has been terrible, with lots of fires, and I’m afraid the wildlife there might suffer because of them.”
Rejuvenating the area surrounding the hospital is a laborious process but already the community is benefiting from the work.
“Although work in the grounds is still ongoing, we have had lots of groups in already – from school groups to adults with health problems.”
Branch Out is a programme for people suffering from mental health problems run by the Forestry Commission. Patients from nearby Bellsdyke Hospital and Westbank Hospital in Falkirk come to the grounds to take part in conservation work and even get arty with the natural resources at the site.
“We have just finished a 12-week course and will be doing another. The group was taught about the different plants, trees and wildlife in the area and all achieved a qualification in environmental practice. This can help them to get further education in the field or lead to employment as well as being proven to be beneficial to their mental wellbeing.”
With all the hard work at the hospital, Gordon hopes staff, patients and visitors will make use of the beautiful grounds.
“There are species of plants here that are rare, such as the Scottish bluebells that have just cropped up. Spanish ones are far more common, so this wildflower is a rarity, and keen walkers can spot many species of frogs and even the brown long-eared bat, which is an endangered mammal, if you come around sunset. The facilities are just fantastic and the woodland is a real asset for the local community to make use of.”