Guest Blog: Welcome to Creag Meagaidh!

Third blog this week! We’re spoiling you, but this one is for good reason. As mentioned in previous blog posts, as part of my placement with SNH I get to experience management on other NNRs, other than Loch Leven.

Next week I’ll not be blogging as I’m off to Creag Meagaidh for the whole week, and who better to explain what makes Creag Meagaidh great than Jo, the student placement at Creag Meagaidh!


aberafrmhs

Creag Meagaidh NNR, Aberarder near Loch Laggan (Scottish Highlands)

I’m Jo and I’m 7 months into my 1 year student placement at Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve (NNR) with Scottish Natural Heritage. I’ve been living and working, along with a number of volunteers, in an old delightful farmhouse in Aberarder (see picture).

Creag Meagaidh is a remote place situated at the southwest of the Cairngorms, surrounded by hills and cliffs covered with rare plants, wet heaths, hummocky blanket bogs, ancient birch woodlands and Loch Laggan, which is fed by many burns.

Creag Meagaidh has been a NNR since 1985 and is well known for its innovative deer management.  Basically, it was one of the first reserves that didn’t opt to erect deer fences to protect and encourage regeneration of upland habitats, eg blanket bog, wet and dry heath. This is achieved through sustainable deer management, given the absence of deer predators in Scotland such as the wolf and lynx. We also have Highland ponies that are being trained to extract the deer carcasses from the hills and Soay sheep and Highland cattle are utilised for grazing.

The NNR is a popular site for teaching Rural Skills to Scottish college and school students, as well as courses for best practice of deer management. Each week pupils from the local school join us to gain practical skills in handling farm animals and site maintenance, and also to learn the skills involved in deer stalking, including butchering techniques.

blaebumble

Highland/Blaeberry Bumblebee Bombus monticola

Last year we undertook a diverse range of projects on the reserve; black grouse lek monitoring, dotterel breeding survey, tree transects and ATV track impact assessments. One of the most challenging, but rewarding, surveys was walking the Mountain Ringlet (butterfly) transect. Each week we followed the transect coordinates up a very steep slope in search of this very rare small butterfly.

mtnrnglt

Mountain Ringlet Erebia melampus (http://www.guypadfield.com/)

In addition to habitat and species monitoring, we all get involved in maintaining the reserve: ensuring paths and trails are maintained, mowing lawns and trimming hedges. The young Highland ponies need to be trained regularly also, the grazing animals require additional feeding during the winter and the non-native trees removed. There’s rarely 2 days the same at Creag Meagaidh, which makes working on this reserve such a joy!

bridging

Volunteers building a wooden bridge to protect the hummocky heathland

My favourite part of the reserve is its remoteness and majestic landscapes, I can spend all day outside here with nature and not come across another soul.

The reserve is rich in wildlife, you can easily spot red deer, golden eagles, ptarmigan and mountain hare. Regular scats on paths and pictures from our motion camera show evidence of pine martens (s. photo below) too. In summertime, you might even spot the illusive dotterel (Charadrius morinellus), which breeds on the mountain plateaux.

Pictured above: top left – dotterel can be found on Creag Meagaidh plateau (RSPB); right – Dwarf Willow Salix herbacea female plant with red fruits, one of the smallest woody plants which grow in harsh upland conditions; bottom left – Pine marten captured on trail camera in alder wood, Aberarder.

If you would like to read more about the management and my time spent at Creag Meagaidh then you can follow my blog by clicking here.

 


Well I’m looking forwards to my week up there even more now! I remember seeing my first blaeberry bumblebee on a wander up into the Coire Arder in the summer, and seeing ptarmigan and parsley fern up on the boulder scree on Carn Liath. I suspect winter will be quite different!

Pictured above: Left – Ptarmigan using expert camouflage on boulder scree; top right – Coire Ardair with the regenerating upland birch woods just visible at the bottom of the picture; bottom right –  Parsley fern is a specialist of the scree slopes found in Coire Ardair.
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