Saltoun | Environment

Land ownership | Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

There have been no changes to the parish boundaries between 1945 and 2000. Saltoun sits on one of the largest blocks of limestone in Scotland, and although quarrying for lime has long been discontinued there are still traces of this activity, such as the limekiln and quarry at Middlemains. This now contains a most attractive pond with a large number of ducks and other wildlife, and much of the site has been restored to agricultural use. The quarry site on the Gifford road has been filled in and is now a community woodland project. This and other old quarries near West Saltoun have at one time been used as landfill sites for refuse disposal. All have now been filled, closed, and the surfaces restored and re-seeded.

Improving landowners made other changes to the landscape, including the joining up of some fields, the removal of a few hedges and the burying underground of many minor watercourses to ease cultivation.

Here and throughout the text, Julie Murphy comments on life in Saltoun

Houses at Spilmersford just beyond the parish boundary were flooded in 1948, and thereafter a river monitoring station was installed beside the walled garden at Saltoun Hall. This is still maintained by East of Scotland Water.

The parish retains a good variety of habitats for wildlife, as there has been relatively little destruction of woodlands, shelterbelts and hedgerows. With the active encouragement of the Farmers and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), at field edges and corners, farmers have created many small new wildlife habitats. Roe deer are seen often in the wooded areas, and there are also foxes, hares and badgers. Red squirrels are still seen occasionally in the Saltoun Big Wood, but elsewhere, grey squirrels have moved in and are now common.

Numbers of rabbits were reduced as a result of myxomatosis in the 1960s, but they are now very common. Otters were not seen locally for many years but there have been two recent sightings in the Birns Water (1999 and 2001). Bats are rare in the villages but may still be seen around Saltoun Hall.

There are good numbers of most woodland and garden birds, but birds in the open fields, such as skylarks, curlews and peewits, are now rarer than they were 20 years ago. There are also fewer song thrushes, swallows and house martins. More seabirds, such as gulls and oystercatchers are seen inland, and magpies and buzzards moved in during the 1990s. Herons, mallards, dippers, grey wagtails and moorhens are frequently seen in the Birns Water and elsewhere and goosanders arrived in the 1990s.

Butterflies, including red admirals, tortoiseshells, peacocks and orange tips, and moths including the goat moth are still seen, but not in such great numbers in recent years.

A rich variety of wildflowers are seen in woodland areas, on the river banks and on roadside verges. The council’s policy of allowing them to seed before cutting verges has proved beneficial. Cornfield flowers such as poppies are seen less because of the use of herbicides.

Dutch elm disease affected many trees in the 1980s and 1990s but young elm survives (so far) as a hedgerow plant.

The grounds of Saltoun Hall hold many fine specimens of trees, including a large Lucombe oak, some very old sycamores, and all three types of cedars. Two of the Lebanon cedars date back to the 18th century.

In 2001, Alistair Scott (with Walter Gordon) listed the following trees growing at Saltoun; the measurements given relate to the trunk circumference; this is measured at DBH (diameter at breast height – 1.3m above ground level, taken at the highest point of ground level).

Drive: sessile oak (Quercus petraea 13’7″); Lucombe oak (Quercus x hispanica ‘Lucombeana’ – a cross between Q. suber and Q. cerris, 12’6″); European larch (Larix europaeus 8’5″); and a young field maple (Acer campestre).

Forecourt shrubbery by garages: sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus, 16’8″ around burrs); sessile oak (Q. petraea 8’10”); Atlantic cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca).

Behind house: Atlantic cedar (20 years old, growing well); silver lime (Tilia tomentosa ex- Markle Mains); whitebeam (Sorbus aria – young); coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens – a young established tree); three cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libanii) one 14’11”, two at 20′ circumference, both very long-established trees, possibly dating c1713; Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara 11’5″) – this tree was measured and was close to 100’tall; Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi 7’4″); European silver fir (Abies alba 11’5″); a young Weymouth pine (Pinus strobus); a large sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus 16’10”).

There was also a group of eight gean, or wild cherry (Prunus avium), and a young Norway maple (Acer platanoides) that has lost half its trunk. A recent tree was identified as a possible Cunninghamia lanceolata.

Going down to the river are: a red oak (Quercus rubra (borealis)); a third cedar of Lebanon, and another giant redwood.

There are no designated nature reserves in the parish. The Saltoun Big Wood is a popular area for walking dogs, and for riding.

Land Ownership

During the period 1945-2000, the Fletchers sold several of the farms on their estate. In 1954, East Saltoun, East Mains and in 1956 Greenhead and Barley Mill farms were sold to the Hamilton & Kinneil Estate. Saltoun Hall and the surrounding land were sold in the late 1960s, and the house divided into nine privately owned apartments.

The Hamilton & Kinneil Estate then sold East Mains to the Morton family in the 1960s and the estate in turn bought Greenlaw from them. Greenlaw was later sold to Reid, and later still to David Orr, in whose ownership it remains. Herdmanston Mains farm changed hands from Reid to Waddell in the 1960s, and Sergeant replaced the Cadzows at Samuelston South Mains, which in 1981 was bought by Logan, the current owner.

Saltoun Big Wood has changed hands several times over the period. Once run by the Forestry Commission, and then the Dumfries & Galloway Council Pension Fund, Sir Francis Ogilvy acquired it in the 1990s.

Most of the Church glebe land in East Saltoun was sold for housing in the 1990s.

So, in 2000, the vast majority of the land in the parish is still owned by families or companies engaged in farming. The Fletcher estate still owns Saltoun Home Farm and Middlemains. The farms of East Saltoun, Greenhead, Barley Mill and Upper Townhead are in the ownership of Hamilton Farming Enterprises Ltd.; this company was formed in 1987 on the reconstruction of the Hamilton & Kinneil Estates. Hamilton’s also owns plantations at Dryden and East Saltoun (also known as Strawberry Wood) and the shelterbelt on the Gifford road.

Family-run farms in 2000, are Herdmanston Mains (the Waddell family); Saltoun East Mains (Mortons); Blance (Scotts); Samuelston South Mains (Logans), and Gilchriston (Maxwells). The Maxwell family also own the Petersmuir Woods, and Saltoun Big Wood is still owned by Sir Francis Ogilvy of Winton House, Pencaitland.

Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction

The parish has lost or seen the decay of several of its ‘treasures’ over the years. Saltoun East Mains mill chimney was demolished in 1969 (Tindall (1998) p165). Herdmanston House was demolished on 31 May 1969. The house had been used by the military during the war and thereafter was considered unsafe and uninhabitable. Herdmanston dovecot, just over the river Tyne, and close to Saltoun parish boundary, has become very ruinous over the past decades, despite being a listed building. Herdmanston chapel (rebuilt 1840), also falling into disrepair, had originally what was thought to be a stone font. Current thinking is that it is a 12th century holy water stoup, as it was evidently originally built into a wall. The stoup is now in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh in the section on the mediaeval church.

Saltoun Hall was occupied by the Fletcher family throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and was sold in the 1960s. A sale of the contents of the house was held over three days in April 1966. The building was purchased by a private developer, Robin Jell who had a particular interest in preserving historic houses. It was divided into nine flats, which were sold to individual proprietors, the final flat being ready for occupation in 1972. All the major public rooms, except the dining room were retained intact in individual flats with the central saloon and dome, along with the gardens and surrounding land being owned communally by all the proprietors. Since the conversion further restoration and conservation work has been undertaken by the proprietors, including rebuilding some chimney stacks and replacement of some of the lead roofs.

The main feature of the past years has been the conversion of a number of buildings, including several listed buildings, into private homes. These are all prestigious conversions, which, in spite of the change of use, have retained the character and main features of the originals.

Although most of the parkland around Saltoun Hall has been retained, some areas are now ploughed, but care has been taken to retain the large parkland trees in these fields. The walled garden at Saltoun Hall was still in use as a ‘pick your own strawberries’ facility in the 1970s, but was subsequently planted with Christmas trees and has since been allowed to fall into disrepair.

The designed landscape around Saltoun Hall has for the most part been preserved. The gardens have been retained in their original form. A few of the mature trees have fallen victim to storms, notably on Boxing Day in 1998, but a programme of replanting is continuing. The wooded areas of the estate around Saltoun Hall suffered badly from Dutch elm disease in the 1980s. The dead trees have now been felled and there has been considerable replanting, mainly with native broad-leaved trees.