Reforesting Scotland Land Revival Tour – Cairngorms, 28th-29th of June
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Reforesting Scotland Land Revival Tour, but I knew it would be an interesting experience whatever happened.
As you will know, if you’ve been following this blog, I am a land and deer manager, so I spend a lot of time monitoring and managing wild red deer populations and am well versed in the deer vs. trees debate. For an ungulate species, you’ll struggle to find one as controversial as red deer in the UK – some people adore them, other people call them vermin – and I was interested as to what attitudes would be on this front too, as well as looking at reforesting efforts in the Cairngorms.
We started the tour with a trip to Glenfeshie, site of the infamous “Glenfeshie Massacre” – an effort to drastically reduce deer numbers on site in the early 2000’s. Spending the morning on a brief tour of riparian regeneration and chatting to manager Thomas MacDonell about management aspects of the estate; working with neighbours who have different management objectives, the purchase of surrounding estates, intensive deer management, building access paths, bothy management and restoration, past research, and future projects; it was apparent the scale of Wildland Ltd.’s work and aspirations.
I found it interesting for a few reasons; to see for myself the site of the historic cull, to see the work being done by Wildland and reforesting progress, to compare it to reforesting work being done on the estate where I work, and to hear about the plans for developing a montane scrub zone and seed bank (something we are certainly missing from our uplands). On the whole, the goals and aspirations weren’t dissimilar from what many deer management groups are aiming for – though the methods are a bit different, having a billionaire running the show and funding things tends to speed up progress, and removes the concern surrounding income from stalking with clients.
On the vein of land ownership, if Glenfeshie and the surrounding estates didn’t have a, non-resident, billionaire owning them all and funding the work being done, would we see such a joined-up vision for land use? Personally, I don’t think so.
After lunch, with a mind brimming with thoughts, we left Glenfeshie and headed back towards Boat of Garten, to visit team at The Lazy Duck – a chance to look at a potential economic outlet from increased woodland.
The Lazy Duck comprises a selection of cosy, timber framed cabins, a hostel, and a campsite. All very homely, thoughtfully built, and simple. With tourism being pushed as one of the main potential revenue streams for Scotland going forward, it was pleasing to see an enterprise that had grown so organically, and that supported a small team of staff and volunteers.
Back onto the baking hot bus – it was cooking by this point and in a timely fashion the air-conditioning died – and onto our final stop of the day, Lynbreck Croft. Now I have followed the progress of Team Lynbreck on Twitter for some time and was quite excited to see the work they’re undertaking for myself.
Having been involved with the Scottish Crofting Federation, and the Young Crofters group, I am always keen to see what ideas other folks come up with. On our tour of the croft, I was delighted to see animals being grazed in woodland, and the use of ‘mob grazing’, the fetchingly named “flerd” – cattle and sheep grazed in the same areas and moved on rotation on a regular basis.
There are a range of reasons behind the mob grazing method that I won’t go into here (but take my word there is loads of interesting research and go and have a look). The main reasons are the two very different grazing styles to manage grasses; cattle and sheep act as end parasite hosts for each other’s pests; and the manure they produce is excellent for soil regeneration and a range of insect life (and consequently other species such as woodcock).
I was genuinely delighted to see a #flerd in action, especially grazing in woodland, with plans to establish further woodland pastures and a massive emphasis on soil building and regeneration! This is something I have been banging my drum about for a while. The idea, in a world with a rapidly growing population, that we can have the luxury of single-use land areas (forestry, farming, hunting, etc.) is quickly passing; I believe we have to find ways to sustainably and sensibly use land for maximum benefit – to wildlife, and ourselves – and integrate land uses with each other. In this instance, farming and forestry go hand in hand.
Wandering to the end of the croft we discussed the choice to use native livestock breeds, saw the pigs, and traversed a boggy area, thick with bog myrtle. Pausing in this area, Lyn explained they are going to establish a range of small woodland copses, which will be harvested on rotation for tree hay – I’ll be fascinated to see how this goes, using species such as willow, and allowing animals to self-medicate too. She also touched upon culling deer – very pragmatic and matter of fact, which was good. We met some of their #LadiesWhoLay, the pest control team…the chickens, who are busy maintaining new hedges; and we wandered up to investigate an area of new native woodland planting.
Unlike more commonly used mounding, they opted to clear and ‘screef’ (clear an area of bare earth) patches across the hillside to plant each tree in – massive respect for using this labour-intensive, but far more natural, method. I absolutely loathe mounding – having had to manage deer in woodlands created by it, you risk breaking your ankle with every step, and I do question its efficacy…but that’s another debate. As it was, using this method, their ground around the base of the trees maintained some moisture – a neighbour who had mounded, suffered drought damage and lost trees, another aspect to consider in a changing climate.
At this point in the day, I was dying with hayfever and starting to get attacked by midges, so while I was delighted to get a chance to look around, I was quite glad to call head back to Aviemore.
We were joined at dinner by Will Boyd-Wallis, Head of Land Management in the Cairngorms National Park, who gave a talk on projects and work ongoing in the Cairngorms, and the challenges of working with stakeholders who have competing interests and viewpoints – nothing new for anyone who works in land management, but a reason I was keen to go on this tour in the first place – to share what I do and to learn from others. We need to escape our silos and seek collaboration going forward.
The following day we headed out to meet with a forester from Cawdor Forestry at Dava Moor. Starting off, she (awesome to see another lady in the rural sector!) took us up to see an area of around 600 hectares of planting and regeneration…and I was really very impressed! (And I shouldn’t sound surprised, but we’ve all seen examples of truly awful woodland and forestry schemes).
From what I saw, this one appeared: sensitive to the landscape and form; considered soil types and tree species; left open areas and tracks to allow easier deer management and extraction (brownie points for any forester who does this); considered future harvest (looking at productive native woodland – hooray!); incorporated farming and leaving good farmland pasture; incorporated riparian management and planting (a totally different suite of tree species); and again, took a pragmatic approach to managing ‘pest’ species, in this case mountain hares and roe deer.
The hares make their way over the fences from the grouse moor during heavy snow and knock hell into the young trees; the roe have been simple to cull and remove from the plantation – our guide made the point that good fencing is worth every penny, when it comes to protecting your woodland from deer. I absolutely agree.
Before leaving, we had a nosey at some of the maps produced for the site – soil types, vegetation classifications, land flow and hydrology…great stuff. Who doesn’t love a good map?
My final visit of the day, as I had to leave early, was to Anagach Community Woodland, on the edge of Grantown-on-Spey. The rest of the group would head to Allt Lorgy in the afternoon to look at riparian woodland.
I had been for a wander round the woods in the past, but it was interesting to get the guided tour. Out of all the places we visited, this one seemed (and that’s only my perception), to be most divided and undecided in aims and management. Take deer management (surprise, surprise), some members of the community want deer managed in the woodland because there are quite a few of them, they’re grazing down saplings, and they can be a source of revenue through people paying to cull them – on the other hand, there are members of the community who like seeing deer, and don’t feel it’s appropriate in a community woodland for them to be shot.
It drives home the difficulty faced by land managers and committees, when dealing with the public – and emphasises the ease with which a big land owner, like Anders Hoch-Polvsen can make changes over a large area. What do we want to see more of?
Community land use and ownership would be great to see, if everyone was using the same hymn sheet…or do we continue to have lone individuals owning vast tracts of land, if it means (re)wildling and reforesting?
This tour gave me a lot to think about, in fact it’s taken me nearly three weeks to process and write about it. The people, their ideas, the different scales of land holding, and finances involved in achieving some of these goals.
I can’t get away from the idea that, while we all want ‘wild’ spaces, we’re going to have to make sure our land delivers to benefit the environment and local people.
I’m looking forward to the second leg, down near Moffat, to see woodland and reforesting in a lowland context, and in a more heavily populated area.