• Hen Harrier chick tagged at Mar Lodge Estate

    Hen Harrier chick tagged at Mar Lodge Estate

    A Hen Harrier chick was satellite tagged in July at Mar Lodge Estate, following the first successful breeding attempt on the estate by this iconic raptor species in several decades.

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  • 2017

    • Giving the pinewoods a helping hand

      In December 2016 we wrote a blog about the success of regeneration on Mar Lodge Estate.  Young Scots pines are well on their way to surrounding the core woodland area in a blanket of fresh green growth, not seen for over 200 years. This success has come about through hard work and determination in keeping deer numbers low enough for pine seeds to germinate and grow into young trees without being eaten. 

      Despite such widespread success of new woodland establishment across the estate, there are still areas where regeneration is limited.  Compared to the core woodland, some more remote and fragmented woodland areas still get a mark of ‘could do better.’  The possible reasons for this occurring are numerous: these remote peripheral areas of woodland further out on the estate are still experiencing some browsing, climatic conditions are so harsh in these areas that seedlings struggle to get going and progress is slow, seed production in some of the old granny pines is waning and the ground vegetation has grown so thick and tall that pine seeds find it hard to germinate and compete with vigorous heather.

      It is the last of these possible reasons that we have sought to explore with controlled experiments. Since 1995 when NTS acquired Mar lodge Estate, deer numbers have been gradually reduced to a level which is allowing natural regeneration of pine. The reduction in grazing impact while allowing the trees to escape browsing, has also meant that the ground vegetation has received little grazing. The result is that in some areas heather, grasses and moss have grown vigorously and now form a tall and thick layer, sometimes impenetrable for seeds.  The theory is that pine seedlings aren’t able to reach the soil and so dry out on the mossy litter layer or get caught in the vegetation.  Those which do germinate and sprout up are crowded out and face stiff competition in their early years from the tall heather and grass.  One possible solution to this problem is artificial disturbance, also known as scarification to improve the seed bed.

      In our experiments we sought to disturb the ground vegetation barrier in a number of ways:  using a digger bucket to completely remove all vegetation leaving bare ground; cutting the heather to shorten the field layer; cutting then using machinery to scarify the soil and moss layer (using a ‘blecavator!’) and cutting the heather then dragging a log with metal pins in it across the ground.

      Blecavator in action                           Cutting heather with the softrak

      Finally we also experimented with Tamworth pigs to root up the heather and moss.  All these different methods of scarification have varying impacts on the ground and they were all compared to ‘control’ areas where we have done nothing at all. 

           

      Tamworth pig                            Pig scarification

      While scarification may be a potential tool to increase regeneration it is not without its downsides. Scarification is an intervention into the woodland system with some methods disturbing the soils and vegetation communities. It is also likely to have a short to medium term landscape impact. Finally it can be very time consuming and costly depending on the method used.

      So has our experimental artificial ground disturbance been successful?  And is it worth such an intervention in a wild landscape and a resource cost to the Trust?  Well, the jury is still out as it takes a number of years to be able to draw firm conclusions. However the first data coming in shows that the digger bucket has certainly increased the number of both new pine and birch seedlings, although not as much as we expected and only when it is done very close to the woodland edge.  The pigs created a patchwork of bare and disturbed ground which has less visual impact and has allowed new pine and birch seedlings to pop up, but the pigs destroyed any young trees which were already there. The effect of pigs seems to be greater for birch than pine but we are only in the first year of monitoring and hence things may change.

      Just cutting the heather seems to have made no significant difference to regeneration and dragging a log and pin is not much more successful. However, mechanical scarification, in this case the blecavator, has been successful in significantly increasing the number of pine seedlings but this method is quite costly and time consuming. Our seed collection data has also suggested that some of the solitary pines in exposed situations beyond the current treeline may also be senescing and producing little viable seed.

      All this paints a very complex picture and clearly we need to wait a few more years to draw firmer conclusions. However as time goes on since starting the experiments, young pine trees are beginning to pop up in all sorts of surprising places, albeit at a lower density than the core woodland.  This begs the question - could it be that we just need to be patient?  Why are we in such a rush?


      Jonathan Agnew, Seasonal ecologist

  • 2016

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Braeriach Apartment

This luxuriously furnished apartment is often used as the Bridal Suite for weddings held at Mar Lodge. Situated at the top of the main staircase, the apartment has a …

Find out more See all holiday accommodation >

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21 Feb
  • Estate: all year daily
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Prices
  • Member: FREE
  • Admission is free, but visitors are encouraged to support the conservation of Mar Lodge Estate by joining or making a donation.

    The Linn of Dee car park is pay and display (£2 for non-members, free to NTS members) which contributes to footpath maintenance on the estate.

Gradings & Awards

  • The Green Tourism Award - Silver
  • Scottish Tourist Board - 4 Star