Giving the pinewoods a helping handFriday 13th January 2017
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
Riparian Planting TrialsTuesday 20th December 2016
Mar Lodge Estate is well known for its magnificent pinewoods. But we are also pretty interested in broadleaf riparian woodland - that is, woodland which runs along waterways. This is because riparian woodland is beneficial for riparian ecosystems. It helps with regulating water temperature, bank stability, habitat quality, water quality and habitat diversity.
There is currently a lack of riparian woodland within the upper sections of the River Dee and recent evidence has suggested that due to climate change, water temperatures are getting dangerously high for some freshwater species. Riparian woodland may help to limit water temperatures through shading in addition to all the other benefits it provides.
At Mar Lodge Estate we are encouraging natural regeneration of woodland around existing trees primarily through reducing the grazing pressure from deer. We are interested in exploring whether we can establish riparian woodland in the upper tributaries of the river Dee. In these areas there is no existing seed source and therefore it is necessary to plant trees.
Where possible we prefer not to use deer fencing on Mar Lodge Estate. We like to keep our land as ‘wild’ as we can, and deer fencing sometimes causes problems for species like capercaillie and black grouse. We also want people to be able to enjoy as much of the estate as possible, without having to negotiate cumbersome fences.
So, for the last four years, we have been running an experiment. This experiment has three main aims:
To find out whether we can create riparian woodland on Mar Lodge Estate without using deer fences
To find out the best way of planting new woodland
To find out where on the estate we could do this successfully
In 2012 and 2013, volunteers from John Muir Trust and staff from NTS planted over 5,000 trees at five sites in our ‘regeneration zone’, where we keep deer numbers low, and at one site in our ‘moorland zone’, where deer numbers are higher. We used lots of different variations in how the trees were planted, so as to get as much information as possible. We experimented with different styles of planting and planted trees in large plots 30m by 30m, and smaller plots 5m by 5m. We planted trees on different gradients and among different species. We also distributed the sites widely across the estate from high up in Glen Derry, around Pol Bhat on the slopes of Beinn Bhreac, and along Glen Quoich. Our ‘moorland zone’ plot was planted under the imposing cliffs of Devil’s Point, in the remote Glen Geusachan.
Glen Geusachan and Glen Dee from Devils Point
Ecologist John Agnew marking out lines of planted trees for monitoring
After four years of monitoring, we have learned some really useful things:
Tree planting is definitely worth considering
We are pretty chuffed with how the trees have survived. The results show that tree species can be planted here without fencing with a third year survival rate of more than 80%, and possibly up to 90%.
Deer have a clear impact on the survival rate of trees
There was a very strong correlation between deer density and tree survival. While deer browsing affected the survival rates of trees in all of the plots, the effects were much more pronounced in our plot in the moorland zone, as this graph shows:
This is backed up by the rate of browsing on the ‘leader shoot’ of each tree. This is the shoot that will turn into the tree trunk, once the tree is mature, so it is a really important part of the young tree. Note that the percentage for Glen Geusachan is significantly higher than the other planting plots:
You may hear about the effects of mountain hares on trees. This does not appear to be a problem within this experiment at Mar Lodge Estate, despite the fact that we have a healthy population of mountain hares on the estate. Hares were responsible for only 1.9% (Standard Error ±0.6%) of all the browsing on the trees. We can tell this by looking at the tell-tale way that deer and hares nibble at trees.
Where you plant the trees can also make a big difference
The abundance of deer, however, is by no means the only thing that can affect tree survival rates. Soil type, climatic conditions and location can also make a big difference to survival rates.
We tried planting some trees within broom, (a shrub which is closely related to gorse), to see whether these shrubs would provide protection for the saplings. We found that this didn’t work particularly well at all. Less than 30% of planted trees planted around broom survived to 2016. We also tried planting some trees on very steep slopes. This is because deer can find it hard to reach these areas. Again, this wasn’t particularly successful. Only 52.1% of the trees planted on steep slopes were alive in 2016, which is around 20% less than trees planted on less steep places.
How you plant the trees can make a big difference
We found turf planting (cutting and turning a turf to plant into) gives trees an extra boost, by providing them with a small amount of fertiliser and removing some of the competition. However, the size and species composition of planted plots does not make much difference to the success of the planting. We found no statistically significant difference in survival rates between planting areas of different sizes, and different species compositions.
Some species work better than others.
Sadly, only 50% of the juniper trees planted have survived to 2016, which makes us question whether it is worth planting in the future. We are not entirely sure why the survival rates are so much lower for juniper.
One of the planted Juniper trees, this one is doing well!
Which brings us to our final point:
You can never have too much data
We will be getting lots more detailed information in the next couple of growing seasons from this experiment. It is also clear that since this experiment was established, the natural regeneration has been moving on apace across the estate. Hence in a couple of years we will use the new information alongside data collected on the natural regeneration progress to help us to decide if, where, when and how we may go about planting more trees along the burns of Mar Lodge Estate.
Research-led management work is at the heart of Mar Lodge Estate’s plans for the future. We’re looking forward to seeing new trees growing up along the banks of our burns. By doing experiments like this, we can give them the best possible chance for the future.
The Regeneration Game: the Scores on the DoorsThursday 1st December 2016
One of the jewels in the crown of Mar Lodge Estate is the Caledonian pinewood which winds its way up the glens. This rare habitat is a vital refuge for iconic species like capercaillie, red squirrel and the endemic Scottish crossbill. The Caledonian forest used to cover a vast area of Scotland, but it is thought that only 1% of it has survived to the present day.
In 1995, when the National Trust for Scotland started managing the property, the pinewoods on Mar Lodge Estate were growing old. Several hundred years of exploitation, and the nibbling of many generations of red deer and livestock, had greatly reduced the amount of semi-natural woodland on the estate. Our gnarled granny pines, many of which are over three hundred years old, were succumbing to old age and losing their fertility, and new seedlings were being eaten away faster than they could grow.
Regenerating woodland is a long and tricky process. To do it successfully we need to take into account all sorts of things like heather height, browsing pressure, soil type and structure and seed sources. We also need to think about issues like access for visitors (we are, after all, a place for everyone). Over the last twenty years we have studied our methods, improving and refining them. Mostly, though, we have just allowed the trees to do what they are best at – producing more trees.
In 2011 we did a survey of the semi-natural woodland on the estate. We found that we had 155 hectares of young naturally regenerating pinewood on the estate. That’s about 170 football pitches worth of new woodland. It was a good start, but in the last five years we have redoubled our efforts. When we repeated the survey this year, we found an enormous 455 hectares of woodland regeneration. This is all regeneration established outside of fences and through reducing the number of deer.
The total amount of semi-natural woodland regeneration on Mar Lodge Estate now covers an impressive 835 hectares, which is roughly the same size as another NTS property, the isle of Iona! This includes about 400 hectares of regeneration that was established on the estate in pre-NTS days by using deer fencing to protect seedlings. This is great news for all the creatures which thrive in extensive pinewoods. It is also great news for people. As well as being a wonderful place to visit and enjoy, our woodlands are providing valuable services like capturing carbon, mitigating flood damage and even improving the water quality of the river Dee!
These maps show the total area of woodland regeneration in 2011 (top) and 2016 (bottom). You can see by comparing the area of red on each map that in the last five years a hefty amount of woodland has been popping up across the estate!
In 2011 we also took a series of fixed point photographs across the estate, so that we could monitor the long-term response to our work. This year, we repeated the effort, and here are some of the results:
These pictures show an area in Glen Derry, on the slopes of Carn Crom. You can see that some of the trees are growing at a pretty impressive speed!
These trees are growing above the river Lui, which is one of the tributaries of the Dee. You can see that they are making the most of the steep bank, which is difficult for deer to reach, and has bare ground which is easy for pine seeds to root in.
These pictures were taken in Glen Quoich, approximately four miles away from the last set of pictures from Glen Lui. What we are doing at Mar Lodge Estate is truly ‘landscape scale’ conservation.
Meanwhile, high up beyond the tree line, we are also working with rare ‘montane scrub’ species like juniper, which is declining across the country at a truly alarming rate, and dwarf birch, which you are more likely to find around the fjords of Norway than the high lochs of Scotland. These plants, and the ecosystem that they support, should be flourishing in the uplands of Scotland. However, like the Caledonian pinewood, they have suffered over the years from exploitation and the attention of deer and other herbivores. You can read about the work we have been doing with these rare species in a future blog.
There’s plenty more to come. We have a 200 year vision for our woodlands. It may seem like a long time, but having a long vision is vital for sustainable conservation. Working with nature can be a long and sometimes frustrating task. After twenty years of regeneration, we have had some major successes, but our work has only just begun.
Fun with Machinery Part OneFriday 30th September 2016
Now that summer is drawing to an end, the work that we do at Mar Lodge is beginning to change. The ecologists are moving indoors to crunch the data that they have been collecting in the field since the spring, while the gamekeepers are starting the sporting season.
Meanwhile, visitors to the Linn of Dee over the past couple of weeks may well have noticed our estate team out and about with contractors tackling one of the more spectacular jobs of the year.
The woodland around the Linn of Dee is one of several areas of Scot’s pine plantation on Mar Lodge Estate. These were mostly planted in the 1970s and 1980s, and were originally designed to produce high volumes of timber.
One of the main objectives that NTS has at Mar Lodge is increasing the amount of native Caledonian woodland on the estate. To this end, we are making the areas of forestry plantation on the estate more like ‘natural’ Caledonian Pinewood. We are doing this in several different ways, but one of the most important ways is through a process called ‘thinning’.
Thinning involves felling some of the trees in a plantation in order to give other trees the space and light that they need to grow to full maturity. If it is done well then thinning creates a range of habitats, with trees of all manner of size, age and species coexisting to make a complex, biodiverse woodland.
Areas with fewer trees let more light get to the ground, promoting the growth of heather and blaeberry, which is vital for ground nesting birds like capercaillie. Creating areas where trees will eventually mature into large pines with spreading canopies encourages species like the endemic Scottish crossbill, as well as red squirrel and pine marten. Leaving other areas with dense tree cover creates winter shelter for deer and other mammals.
This work will also encourage a new generation of trees to grow – not only Scot’s pine, but also broadleaf species like downy birch, rowan and, in wetter areas, alder and willow. Other flowering plants benefit too, like the rare Caledonian pinewood specialist twinflower, and the elegant wood sorrel and wood anemone.
Our forestry work is not only good news for wildlife. The trees that we are felling are all destined for our biomass boiler, which provides the heating for the estate. As well as being a sustainable, eco-friendly means of energy production, it is also saving the estate a considerable amount of money on our heating bills. This means that we can spend more money on our habitat management and public access work, meaning that everyone benefits.
To do this work efficiently and safely, we are working with Prosser Timber Contractors, who have brought a couple of impressive pieces of kit with them.
This exciting looking machine is called a harvester. It works by feeding the tree through a pair of rollers which are attached to a very large, and very sharp, chainsaw. This is all set up on a rotating head, which means that it can fell a tree and cut it into manageable lengths all at the same time. It is hugely efficient – the operator can fell and process one tree in under a minute! This means that using a harvester is quick and cheap. It is also very safe, as the driver stays well away from the trees that are being felled.
It’s fascinating to watch. Harvesters take a lot of skill to use. Despite their size, they do no long-term damage to the ground, and are the most cost-effective way of working in large areas of plantation.
Once the harvester has done its magic, another, equally impressive piece of kit called a forwarder comes along behind to move the processed lengths of wood into manageable piles:
So while it may look a little odd to see such large, technologically advanced pieces of machinery in our woodlands, we are working with natural processes to create a sustainable future for the our Caledonian pinewoods. It’s a win-win for people and the wildlife that we share Mar Lodge with.
The work here never stops. Next week we will have another fun piece of machinery working on the estate. Watch this space.
How to Speak Cairngorm: Place Names at Mar Lodge and BeyondThursday 11th August 2016
I’ve been pretty busy with all sorts of work since I started working at Mar Lodge in March. However, I’ve been doing one thing more than anything else: mispronouncing place names.
Being English, seeing a name on a map (say, Clais Fhearnaig or Sgor an Lochain Uaine), is a little daunting. Because no matter how you pronounce it, you know that the first time you utter it aloud you will say it completely wrong (Clas Fhearnaig is, apparently ‘kla-shernaig’). What I have found though is that with a little bit of practice and research and a lot of time out and about in the mountains, place names first become pronounceable, then they make sense, and finally they become rather beautiful.
The names of the places that surround us come from a mixture of languages and dialects, from Gaelic to Scots dialect to Doric to Queen’s English. The vast majority are Gaelic in origin. The names that people gave to the places of the Cairngorms act as a record for the history, culture and folklore of the people who have made the Cairngorms their home for thousands of years. In this way, the history of the highlands is written into the very landscape.
So without further ado, here is a very brief introduction to some the place names that you will find around Mar Lodge and the Cairngorms, and what they mean.
Let’s start with the names of the Munros that lie within the estate:
Name Translation Ben Macdui Hill of Macduff Braeriach The Brindled Upland Cairn Toul Hill of the Barn Sgor an Lochain Uaine Peak of the little green loch Beinn a' Bhuird Table hill Beinn Bhrotain Hill of the Mastiff Derry Cairngorm Blue hill of Glen Derry Monadh Mor The big hill Beinn a' Chaorainn Hill of the Rowan Carn a' Mhaim Hill of the pass An sgarsoch Place of sharp rocks Bod am Deamhain The devils point Carn an Fhidhleir Rocky hill of the fiddler Carn Bhac Rocky hill of the peat banks Beinn Bhreac Speckled Mountain
You can see from these names that Gaelic is descriptive and lyrical in a way that English sometimes struggles to be. If English is a language of prose, the Gaelic is a language of poetry. Given the great descriptive properties of the Gaelic language, it comes as no surprise that a great number of place names actually describe the place itself. For example, Beinn a Bhuird literally translates to ‘table mountain’. This makes a lot of sense, as Beinn a Bhuird is definitely table shaped. This also means that not only do we have our very own Table Mountain at Mar Lodge, but it is a hundred metres taller than its more famous namesake in Cape Town!
Once you study a map closely you will notice that some words crop up again and again. Below is a list of some of the most commonly seen words in place names around the Mar Lodge Estate:
Noun (Gaelic) Noun (English) Adjective (Gaelic) Adjective (English) Ben (Beinn) Large hill or mountain Dubh Black Cairn (Carn) Hill Gorm Blue Clac Stone Ruadh Red Coire Corrie Geal White Linn Waterfall Uaine Green Cnoc Knoll Geldie Clear Lairig Pass Lundain Marshy Loinn Enclosure Garbh Rough Meall Lump Odhar Dun Clas (Clais) Hollow Crom Curved Sgor Peak Derry wood/grove Craig Crag (rock) Sleac Spear Allt Burn, river
So for example Carn Crom means ‘curved hill’. And you can see that it might be worth steering clear of Meall an Lundain, unless you are wearing suitable footwear!
Some of these names go further than simply describing the looks of the place, and tell us a bit about the history and the culture of the people who named them. The Linn of Dee, rather pleasingly, means ‘waterfall of the goddess’ (‘Dee’ in Gaelic is an approximation of ‘goddess’, so the river Dee is the river of the goddess) Craoibh na croiche, an unassuming tree that stands just off the road towards Inverey, translates as ‘the Hangman’s Tree’. No need to tell you what went on there in times past.
The River Dee
Spelling and pronunciation are a sticky matter, which are far too complicated to go into here. I was once told that to pronounce a Gaelic word correctly, it was simply necessary to take out half of the consonants and try again. Having tried this a few times I can tell you that it isn’t really particularly useful advice. It is worth remembering that the Gaelic alphabet is slightly different to the English ‘Roman’ alphabet. Some letters like ‘v’ and ‘z’ are missing, while others are pronounced very differently to their English counterpart. Groups of letters can be very confusing: ‘sg’, for example, is pronounced ‘sk’ (so Sgor an Lochan Uaine is ‘skoor an lochan oo-an-ye’), while bh is normally pronounced ‘v’. There are some excellent resources online to help with spelling and pronunciation, but the best advice I can give is to find someone who knows a little Gaelic and ask them to help you!
If you think English and Gaelic are completely unrelated languages (and it often feels that way), then think again. Both languages share a close ancestry, which is to be expected, given how geographically and historically close they are. English and Gaelic share words, steal words from one another, and have inherited similar words from more ancient languages like Old English and Old Norse. ‘Loch’ and ‘ben’, originally Gaelic words, have become firmly rooted in the English lexicon. ‘Crag’ shares its origins with the Gaelic ‘craeg’, as does corrie ‘coire’. Some of our oldest words like ‘fiddler’ and ‘wood’ (in Gaelic ‘fhidhleir’ and ‘wuid’) are identical.
Sometimes, however, things get a little lost in translation. The mountain Cairn Gorm translates as ‘the blue mountain’. So when people talk about the Cairngorms National Park, they are talking about ‘the blue mountains’. To make life a little confusing, name of the massif in Gaelic is ‘Am Monadh Ruadh’, which translates as ‘the red mountains’. Even a cursory glance at the landscape and the geology will tell you that this is a far more sensible name than the ‘Blue Mountains’.
Let’s finally, and quickly, take a look at the spectacular Devil’s Point. This is itself a translation from the Gaelic ‘Bod an Deamhain’, though it is a bit of a loose translation. The story goes that, on being shown around the estate, Queen Victoria asked her guide (the famous John Brown) what the name of the strikingly dramatic looking mountain was. Brown, thinking that the real translation (‘the devil’s penis’) would be a little too shocking for the Queen, took it on himself to give her a slightly euphemistic translation. ‘The Devil’s Point’, he said, and the name stuck.
Bod an Deamhain - the Devil's Point
Our role here at Mar Lodge is to conserve and celebrate not only the amazing estate, its wildlife and its buildings, but also the rich history and culture that went into shaping this place into what it is today. Learning just a little bit of Gaelic is a great way to tap in to the hidden secrets of the Cairngorms, and turn it into a truly living landscape.
Hen Harriers successfully breed on Mar Lodge Estate for first time in decadesWednesday 13th July 2016
Once widespread across the British Isles, Hen Harriers are now on the brink of extinction in the UK.
This beautiful bird of prey is a Schedule 1 legally protected species but has been the subject of illegal persecution for many years and is the UK’s most persecuted bird.
The male Hen Harrier can be recognised by its characteristic plumage, pale grey with black wingtips and a white rump. The females and juveniles are very similar to one another with brown plumage, a striking white rump and a barred tail. This gives them their nickname of ‘ringtail’.
We need your help to choose a name for our tagged female chick - cast your vote in the Twitter poll below:
Hen harriers have been sighted occasionally on Mar Lodge Estate in recent years but there have been no records of breeding individuals. This year however there were a number of casual sightings in one area of both a male and a female Hen Harrier from staff on the estate. This led our Ecologist Shaila Rao to go out and have a look for any signs of breeding.
After hours of observation Shaila saw some nest building by the female. On returning to the site a few days later she observed both the male and the female in the same area, the female emerging from the nest area and the male passing food to the female. A subsequent visit confirmed there were eggs in the nest.
Four chicks were successfully hatched, the first Hen Harrier chicks to be confirmed hatching on Mar Lodge Estate in living memory.
One of these chicks has been chosen to be satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project (www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife). This 5 year project aims to find out as much about Hen Harriers as possible and to find ways to protect and conserve them as well as raise awareness of the issues surrounding their decline.
Of the four chicks hatched on Mar Lodge Estate, three are female and one is male. As there are already male chicks tagged as part of the LIFE project a female was chosen to be tagged from the Mar Lodge chicks. RSPB staff member Jenny Weston is trained in attaching the tags safely and securely to the birds. She therefore chose the largest, strongest looking female so that she would be able to cope with the extra weight of the tag although the tags only weigh 3% of the bird’s body weight.
We will be able to monitor the movements of this chick and see what she gets up to in the coming months and years. You will be able to follow her too in around a month once the satellite tag data starts to come through. Keep checking the Hen Harrier LIFE project website for updates. We will also be adding regular updates here on the Mar Lodge Estate blog.
This is tremendously exciting event for all involved. Read more about the tagging and partnership between the National Trust for Scotland, the RSPB and Cairngorm National Park Authority in this feature.
5 Things to look out for on Mar Lodge Estate this JuneThursday 16th June 2016
June is a great time to come and visit Mar Lodge Estate. The estate is full of life, with flowers growing and young creatures emerging from nests and burrows. If you are a hiker then the long days make this an ideal time to try out some longer walks around the mountains. Here are a few things to look for while you are out and about this month:
Red Squirrel kittens
Red squirrels normally give birth in the early spring, so this is the best time of year to see their young, which are called kittens. Red squirrels can be seen around the Linn of Dee, but it can take a bit of patience to spot them. They also live in the woods between the Linn of Dee carpark and the carpark at Allanaquoich.
Red Squirrels have been chased away from most of their old haunts across the UK by non-native grey squirrels, which carry squirrel pox, a disease that is fatal to red squirrels. Fortunately, the reds are still thriving here on Mar Lodge Estate.
NTS has a red squirrel conservation action plan, which aims to protect red squirrels across all of its sites and help with national efforts to conserve the species.
Adders are remarkable creatures, with a beautiful diamond pattern running down their backs. While adders are venomous, they are nothing to be afraid of, as long as you respect them and don’t try to handle them. Adders are a ‘viviparous’ species of reptile. This means that they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. This is the reason why they can survive this far north. They are a fully protected species, which means that it is illegal to disturb them.
Look for adders basking in the sun, on rocks or patches of heather.
At this time of year the woodlands are alive with singing birds. Siskins, chaffinches are crossbills all doing their best to be heard. In the last few weeks they have been joined by migratory songbirds. Listen out for willow warblers, which have a charming song and are very common here. Tree pipits launch spectacular display flights to attract potential mates. They look very similar to meadow pipits, but have a distinctive song and, as their name suggests, tend to prefer trees and woodland to meadow and moorland. Redstarts also spend the summer here. The males are among our most beautiful birds, with a smart black head, bright red body and slate grey back. All of these species are declining nationwide, but happily we have healthy populations of each at Mar Lodge Estate.
Orchids and other wildflowers
June is the month when plants really come to life on Mar Lodge Estate. Look out for early purple orchids in grassy areas, alongside commoner species like the petty whin, bitter vetch and the peculiar looking birdsfoot trefoil.
Bitter vetch Early purple Orchid
On the hillsides you will see bright yellow bushes of broom in full flower this month. If you are looking really hard then you may find some of the Cairngorms most special plant species, like the wintergreens, twayblades and twinflower.
If you are planning a trip to one of our highest peaks then keep an eye out for dotterel. These charming birds are one of the jewels in the crown of the Mar Lodge Estate wildlife. They are slightly odd in their nesting habits - in Britain you can only find them on the highest peaks, while in Holland they can be found breeding below sea level!
The females will lay a clutch of eggs and then leave the males to tend to the young. Some females even find the time to sneak off to Europe to have another clutch of young with a European dotterel!
Plan your visit to Mar Lodge Estate here.
Spring Migration at Mar Lodge EstateSaturday 21st May 2016
"They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working"
Ted Hughes, “Swifts”
The annual migration of birds is one of the great miracles of nature. Birds that weigh as little as a packet of crisps fly thousands of miles to breed. That they can find their way for all that distance is amazing, but what's really incredible is that many of them arrive on almost exactly the same day every year.
All sorts of birds migrate to Mar Lodge Estate. Waders like lapwings, curlews and golden plovers join us to breed. Even some of our hardy birds of prey like merlins migrate away to the coast for the winter, only coming back to us in early April. But the most well-known migrants that come to Mar Lodge Estate are the songbirds. These birds come from as far away as southern Africa to feed their young on our summer insects.
Given the brilliant, if intermittent, weather that we have been having in the last week or so, it’s perhaps not surprising that Mar Lodge Estate feels very spring like at the minute. House martins and swallows are flying around the estate. Ring ouzels, the mountain specialists, are back up in the hills, and redstarts and tree pipits are singing in the woods. If you are paying us a visit in the next couple of weeks then keep an ear out for our cuckoos.
Here on Mar Lodge Estate people have been recording the arrival times of these remarkable spring migrants for the last twenty years. We can use these records to work out what day we can expect each species to arrive here.
The first birds to reach us are usually the pied wagtails. This smart little birds winter in the warmer areas of Britain, down in England and along the coast, so they don’t have nearly as far to come as some of our other birds. The earliest record we have of pied wagtails is the 1st March, but they normally get to us about a week after that.
Most of our migrants get to us in April. Wheatears, well known for being early arrivers, usually get to us around the 8th April (though this year they got to us earlier, on the 28th March). They are joined by redstarts (14th April), and the rare upland specialist ring ouzels (16th April - though this year they were three days late).
We get very excited by the arrival of house martins (25th April). Large numbers of these charismatic creatures nest in the Lodge's buildings. Swallows usually beat them here (23rd April) by a couple of days. This year, they both turned up on the same day - the 20th April. Finally, the late arrivals include cuckoos (1st May), swifts (16th May) and spotted flycatcher (27th May). These species are also usually among the first to leave us. Swifts will have left Mar Lodge Estate to go back to Africa as early as August, while adult cuckoos, which famously trick other species to rearing their young, often leave as early as the end of July.
Cuckoo - Photo by Chris Romeiks Swallow - Photo by Andrew Painting
Keeping this information is interesting enough, but for geeky ecologists like me, the data becomes really interesting when we start to analyse it closely and compare it to data that other people collect.
People say that spring comes late to Mar Lodge Estate. If we look at the data, then we find that, for birds at least, that is true. Compare these arrival dates for birds in Hampshire, which is 500 miles south of us, to our own dates:
Species Hampshire Mar Lodge Estate Cuckoo 04 April 30 April Swift 18 April 14 May House Martin 31 March 25 April Wheatear 12 March 08 April Ring Ouzel 30 March 21 April
We can see that birds get to us between three and four weeks after they get to the south of England.
The other really interesting thing that we can use this data for is spotting long term trends in migration behaviour. We can see whether birds are getting to us earlier in the year, or later.
There is some evidence that some of our songbirds are indeed arriving at Mar Lodge Estate earlier than they used to. We can see this by comparing the average arrival date for birds between 1995 and 2005 and between 2006 and 2016:
Common Sandpiper Cuckoo House Martin Ring Ouzel Wheatear Mean 1995-2005 27 April 06 May 27 April 21 April 08 April Mean 2006-2016 23 April 25 April 24 April 08 April 09 April
These results are interesting, but should definitely be taken with a pinch of salt. While we have data spanning twenty or so years, there is still not enough data to ensure that our results are statistically significant. There is also a chance of what is called ‘observer bias’ – that is, we might have simply gotten better at recording our results in recent years, and have been looking more carefully for newly arrived migrants. So while we cannot definitely say that migrant birds are arriving at Mar Lodge Estate earlier than they used to, we can say that migrant birds are being recorded at Mar Lodge Estate earlier than they used to.
The results are similar to the findings of a much larger, more formal study that was published by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) earlier this year. This study compared information from a national survey which ran from 1962 to 1966 with information collected from another national survey which ran from 2002 to 2011. They found that spring arrival dates for 11 species have gotten significantly earlier. Six of those species, including swallow, house martin and chiffchaff, are coming back to breed more than 10 days earlier than they used to.
Why might this be happening? The answer is of course climate change. The regularity with which most migrants get to us is carefully co-ordinated to coincide with the emergence of their favourite food sources. Unfortunately, climate change seems to be making the insects that the birds rely on emerge out of sync with the birds’ arrival. Many plants and insects are emerging earlier in the year than they used to, and while birds are coming here earlier too, they are struggling to keep up with the plants and insects.
What’s really interesting is that the BTO survey also found that the species that advanced their arrival times the most also showed the most positive trends in abundance over this period. This means that bird species that have adapted to arrive earlier in the year generally do better than those that have not.
It is not only climate change that our migrants have to contend with. Two other major problems, habitat loss and illegal hunting in the Mediterranean, are causing real issues for our migrant songbirds. In fact, these birds are declining faster than almost any other group of birds in Britain. Three species that breed on Mar Lodge Estate – spotted flycatcher, cuckoo and whinchat - have seen their British population half in only twenty years.
Mar Lodge Estate continues to be a safe haven for many migrating birds. Our programme of habitat management and annual monitoring means that we are well placed to tackle the issues that these birds are facing. By increasing the amount of native Caledonian pinewood and broadleaf woodland on the estate we are making more places for species like cuckoos and spotted flycatchers to breed. We are helping swifts by providing nest boxes for them and monitoring their use. Nevertheless, it is a perilous time for our songbirds, and they need all the help that they can get. The globe is still working, but it might be a bit wobbly at the minute.
Andrew Painting, Seasonal Ecologist.
Newson, S E, Moran, N J, Musgrove, A J, Pearce-Higgins, J W, Gillings, S, Atkinson, P W, Miller, R, Grantham, M J, and Baillie, S R. Long-term changes in the migration phenology of UK breeding birds detected by large-scale citizen science recording schemes. Ibis doi: 10.1111/ibi.12367
Barking up the right tree!Monday 25th April 2016
Did you know that 20% of all British wildlife species depend on dead or dying wood?
When a tree dies, its wood begins to rot and soften. This attracts beetles and flies which bore into the wood. Specially adapted fungi and lichens quickly colonise dead wood. It provides food and homes for birds like woodpeckers and tits. When the tree falls over it lets light get to the woodland floor, allowing new wild flowers and trees to grow up where the old tree once stood. It continues to provide food and shelter when it is lying on the ground. A healthy woodland ecosystem needs a mixture of both living trees and dead trees to survive.
Fungi and Lichen growing in woodland
Here at Mar Lodge Estate we are proud of our ancient Caledonian woodland and the work we are doing to help this precious habitat regenerate in areas where it once stood tall. When you walk through these native woodlands, you may notice that there are dead and fallen trees around. We leave these where they are, for the good that they do.
But it is not only native woodland that we have on site. When the NTS took on the estate in 1995, it acquired several areas of modern forestry plantations. If you see a big square of trees, very densely packed, and all of the same size and age, then it is probably a forestry plantation.
Fungi species reliant on deadwood
Generally modern plantations do not contain as much dead wood as the ancient forests. Trees in plantations tend to be younger than in ancient forests, and so are less likely to die of ‘old age’. In some plantations foresters take out dead wood because they think that it looks ‘untidy’, or is unproductive use of space. This is one of the reasons why modern forestry plantations seldom provide a habitat for as many species as ancient forests do.
Given that we are not primarily in the timber business (though we do use some of our plantation timber to power our new eco-friendly biomass boiler), we prioritise wildlife over timber production in our plantations. So, ably assisted by an army of volunteers, we have been making these plantations more wildlife friendly. We have removed non-native species, created clearings and thinned the edges. We have also been creating deadwood.
You can kill a tree by taking out a ring of bark around its trunk, and severing the layer of xylem underneath. This stops the tree from being able to move nutrients and water between the roots and the leaves. By ring-barking a small percentage of trees in a plantation we can create brilliant deadwood habitat, which is great for a variety of species that wouldn’t otherwise be found in the plantation.
Ring barked trees
But we don’t just want to make new habitats for animals – we want to study and monitor our work, to find out the best ways of doing things. And so for the last week the ecology team has been out on the site monitoring the progress of long term ring-barking experiments.
In truth, it wasn’t too hard to drag myself away from the office last Thursday. The sun was out, and I was working in the shadow of Beinn a' Bhuird, one of the most spectacular Munros on the site. (If you fancy hiking up Beinn a' Bhuird with an experienced mountain guide, then you can join our guided walk to the summit on June 20th).
View of Beinn a' Bhuird
The trees that we were monitoring were ring-barked by volunteers ten years ago, and every year the ecology team has been back to check on them. The study involves looking at the ring-barked trees – over two hundred of them - and assessing their stage of decay and what animals are using them. While we were working we heard woodpeckers, robins, mistle thrushes, wrens and coal tits, all of which feed on the insects that use dead wood.
It is slow progress, but the project is really coming into fruition. After ten years of study we have a lot of important data. Last year the ecologists published a scientific paper on the work that has been done here. This paper is now being used by ecologists and rangers to help them make the most of plantations and create new deadwood habitat in the most effective way. You can download this paper here.
The work is far from over. In the next few months we will doing more ring-barking in another plantation with the help of volunteers, and will be looking at studying more of the dead wood on the estate.
Five things to look out for on Mar Lodge Estate this EasterWednesday 6th April 2016
Spring is in the air! With the school holidays under way, here are a few suggestions for things that the whole family can look out for at Mar Lodge Estate over the next few weeks:
1) The Dawn Chorus: Here at Mar Lodge we’ve been enjoying waking up to the gorgeous songs of blackbirds, robins and song thrushes. There are about twenty types of songbird currently singing their hearts out in the woods around the estate, including loud, shouty wrens, melancholy mistle thrushes and twittering tits. If you’ve never really listened to birdsong before then early spring is the perfect time to get to grips with the songs and calls of our more common birds. Be sure to listen out for the drumming of woodpeckers too; this is the best time of year to hear them.
2) Rangers! Now that spring is here and the days are growing longer we’ll be manning our ranger’s hut at the Linn of Dee car park. We’ll be around to answer your questions, advise you on the best walks, let you know about our upcoming events (like our exciting new Mountain Mondays) and help you to stay safe if you are venturing into the mountains.
3) Frog Spawn: Keep a close eye on the pools and puddles around the estate, because there’s a pretty good chance that there will be frogspawn and toad spawn in them. Frogs and toads love the early spring, and have been making the most of the mild weather to mate and spawn. Want to know how to tell the difference between frogs and toads? Click here.
4) Mountain Hares: for those of you who are prepared to venture a bit further into the estate (warm waterproofs, good footwear, extra food and navigation skills essential), keep an eye out for mountain hares. They are currently in the middle of their spring moult, and so are changing from their warm white winter coats to their smart brown summer coats. Expect to see mottled browns and whites on these characterful critters.
5) Butterflies: Mar Lodge’s first butterflies of the year appeared just last weekend. The first butterflies to appear are usually species that hibernate through the winter, like small tortoiseshells and peacocks. They will soon be joined by the likes of green-veined whites, red admirals, orange tips and the rarer green hairstreak. Mar Lodge estate is home to some very special butterfly species, including Scotch argus and pearl-bordered fritillaries. They will appear later in the year to coincide with warmer weather and the emergence of their favourite food plants.
The Mar Lodge Ranger team is looking forward to a busy few months, and we are hoping to see as many of you out and about on the estate as possible. Keep an eye out for regular blogs: we’ll be letting you know about the things you can see and do here, the work that we do, our wonderful wildlife and lots more!
Andrew Painting, Seasonal Ranger
Festive Floods Flatten Mar Lodge EstateWednesday 20th January 2016
The festive season was ruined for some on Royal Deeside due to severe flooding as a result of Storm Frank.
Heavy rain caused rivers in the area, including the Dee (the source of which is on Mar Lodge Estate), to burst their banks with rain continuing into January. The nearby village of Braemar was without electricity, phones and internet for several days and access to Braemar from the East was cut off as Invercauld Bridge suffered damage. A large section of the A93 connecting Braemar with the rest of Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen also collapsed into the River Dee.
Mar Lodge Estate itself was cut off from the village of Braemar due to flooding on the main road into the village. The estate suffered severe damage to bridges, tracks and paths and the vehicle bridge over the Quoich water was severely damaged. A large section of the bank has collapsed into the river and the water now flows around the bridge rather than under it.
Two staff cottages on the east side of the Quoich water were completely cut off and the occupants had a long walk to reach emergency accommodation in Mar Lodge itself.
There is now no access from the West of the Quoich water to the East on foot unless you cross a ford, not possible if the river is high for example after heavy rain or snowmelt.
Water seemed to be flowing from everywhere with numerous small streams springing up all over Creag Bhalg and flooding the road and stream behind Mar Lodge.
Sediment, rocks and debris were washed onto the roads, the water at the Linn of Dee rose spectacularly and the Dee flood plain was completely underwater. Our estate staff worked tirelessly to divert floodwaters off the main roads and away from buildings.
Thankfully the embankment around Mar Lodge, constructed after the great ‘muckle spate’ in 1829 to protect against floods, held fast and the Lodge and surrounding buildings stayed nice and dry. Due to our biomass boiler and our generator guests within Mar Lodge were kept warm and comfortable.
There are some access issues on the estate - information on damage to paths, tracks and bridges across the Cairngorms National Park can be found here.
The flood damage will take some time to fix as all tracks and bridges will need to be surveyed and repaired where necessary so visitors are asked to take care when out and about and be prepared to alter your route if necessary.
You can help us repair the damage to this beautiful landscape.
First Mountain Film Night at Mar Lodge Estate a successWednesday 25th February 2015
The first mountain film night to run at Mar Lodge proved successful with a full house after all the tickets sold out.
The film night was the idea of Mar Lodge Ecologist Shaila Rao and was sponsored by Glenshee Ski and Snowboard and Braemar Mountain Sports.
All the films chosen had an adventure or mountain theme to fit in with this spectacular mountain location. The film night took place on the 14th February 2015 and the films shown were:
Between Places – Four mountaineers go on their first expedition to unexplored areas of Greenland and also reflect on their past adventures.
Five Months – A group of Scottish free-skiers explore the limits of the Highland back country over five months of winter 2012-2013.
Alone on the River – In the heart of the Himalayas, five world class paddlers embark on a month long self-supported kayaking adventure.
Shaila and the rest of the Mar Lodge team worked tirelessly to make this event a success. A wall in the Craggan room of Mar Lodge was repainted specially for the occasion and mountains of popcorn were prepared.
Despite some technical difficulties earlier in the day everything went without a hitch and everyone seemed to have a great night. Here’s hoping we can make it an annual event or perhaps develop it into a small weekend festival!
For more information on events at Mar Lodge in 2015 visit our website.
The extraordinary tale of the stag that shot the keeper (1867)Wednesday 18th February 2015
An extract from the Inverness Courier in 1867 giving details of a fatal rifle accident involving a stag and a keeper on Mar Lodge Estate –
“On Friday, the 5th inst., a fatal accident happened in Mar Forest, by which George Urquhart, the head forester, was killed. It appears that in the morning Mr. Powell, with Urquhart and another forester, named Peter Macintyre, went out deer stalking on the face of Cairntoul, one of the highest in the Grampian range, on the ridge overlooking Glen glusechan. Mr. Powell, at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, shot at and wounded a fine stag. Fearing he might escape by the pass he sent Urquhart, with a rifle, round the head of the glen, and the latter fired at the stag and again wounded him. John Grant, another forester, joined him, and they followed the stag, which was only able to go at a slow pace for about a mile into a very steep burn the sides of which rose precipitously for 200 or 300 feet. Being desirous to get the stag into more open ground before he killed him, Urquhart tried to drive him down the burn, pushing him with the butt end of the rifle. The stag, in his struggles, kicked the locks of the rifle, which were downwards, breaking the hammer of one lock off and striking the other hammer onto the cap, breaking the catch of the lock, and so exploded the rifle. The muzzle being pointed towards Urquhart’s chest, the bullet went right through his side. The poor fellow stood for a moment, then, exclaiming, “I am shot,” fell back into the arms of Grant, who was with him in the burn. Grant laid him down and did what he could to stop the bleeding but Urquhart himself said he felt he was dying.”
The article then goes on to describe how Grant ran to get the help of Mr Powell and Mr Macintyre before running 8 miles to Geldie Lodge. Grant then sent a messenger 16 miles to Braemar for a doctor before returning to Urquhart with Donald Fraser and a deer pony to help carry him back to Geldie Lodge. They arrived at the site of the accident at around 7 o’clock but they were too late, Urquhart’s condition had deteriorated rapidly and he had passed away at around half past 5. Urquhart’s body was then placed on the pony but weather conditions deteriorated and the group got lost in dark. When the pony could go no further they laid Urquhart’s body down in the heather before continuing in search of Geldie Lodge. They were eventually found by some of the other foresters and reached Geldie lodge at 2am. The body of George Urquhart was taken home the following day and the funeral took place later that week.
This extraordinary and sad story highlights the changes in deer stalking practices over the last 150 years or so as there are now much more stringent health and safety guidelines in place.
Current best practice puts health and safety and animal welfare as top priorities. Had this happened in modern times Urquhart would not have been pointing the muzzle of the gun at himself and he would not have tried to move the injured deer, instead he would have dispatched it as quickly and humanely as possible.
This dramatic tale also highlights the difficulties these men faced in getting help after the accident when working in such a remote location. Nowadays we have the luxury of all-terrain vehicles, gps transponders and mountain rescue organisations to come to our aid if we get into trouble in this remote and difficult to access environment.
A very dedicated team of local volunteers make up the Braemar Mountain Rescue Association and more information on them can be found here.
Here at Mar Lodge we offer an authentic sporting experience for groups of all sizes and experience. Our experienced stalkers and Ghillie’s are highly trained and follow best practice - you won’t be shot by any stags on your holiday! For more information on sporting activities here on Mar Lodge Estate please contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
Preparing for Winterwatch 2015Wednesday 28th January 2015
All is quiet again at Mar Lodge Estate after a hectic couple of weeks, with over 90 BBC staff here for the production of Winterwatch 2015. The programme was a great success with the weather and wildlife performing well for everyone and providing a memorable showcase of the estate.
Winterwatch preparations started a long time ago for John and I working in the Ecology team at Mar Lodge. In early November 2014 we started work trying to pin down good locations for situating remote wildlife cameras in the hope of filming otters, pine martens, birds of prey, jays and squirrels. We started baiting a number of sites for these species and monitored activity at the locations with trail cameras. A variety of baits were used to entice as many animals to the sites as possible – seeds and nuts for the birds, peanut butter, jam and eggs for the pine martens and deer carcasses to attract birds of prey. Getting the bait to these sites was sometimes made tricky by the extreme weather conditions we experienced in the run up to Christmas, from gales and severe storms through to blizzards and freezing temperatures.
Despite the weather we had immediate success with some species – buzzards, jays, squirrels and pine martens - but other species such as golden eagle proved more elusive. We collated the information from the trail camera images into a spreadsheet and sent this regularly to the BBC remote camera team. Based on this information a decision was made as to which sites would be used for the programme and which sites would be abandoned. We continued the baiting and monitoring of the sites until the Winterwatch team arrived and installed their high spec cameras.
This year the cameras delivered amazing footage of pine martens, otter, jays, squirrels and tawny owls. Golden eagles escaped us in 2015 but had been the stars of the show in 2014. Videos featuring our preparation for Winterwatch can be viewed on the NTS Nature Channel.
In addition to the groundwork for the remote camera’s, John and I also had regular communication with the producers before Winterwatch, providing ideas for features within the programmes and for Martin’s missions as well as collecting any natural artefacts they required. This year three of our ideas were used for Martin’s missions and we successfully collected over 30 otter spraints (poo!) for dietary analysis.
All in all the Winterwatch experience was one of hard work but great fun for all the staff at Mar Lodge. What a platform for promoting the NTS, the local area and showcasing a beautiful estate.
To find out more about Winterwatch at Mar Lodge Estate in both 2014 and 2015 visit the NTS Nature Channel.
Shaila Rao - Mar Lodge Ecologist
Severe weather destroys Winterwatch 2015 studioTuesday 13th January 2015
Severe weather conditions have battered the wooden cabin that was to be the Winterwatch 2015 studio, lifting the roof and destroying weeks of hard work. Thankfully no one was injured.
Gusts of wind measuring speeds of up to 96mph had somehow got into the building, pressurised the cabin and caused it to explode from the inside out. Remarkably the glass in the doors remained intact, however the base was damaged beyond repair and with more severe weather and snow arriving, the cabin is no longer an option for the Winterwatch 2015 studio as you can see from these pictures.
However all is not lost. We plan to re-build the cabin as a visitor centre within the area and the BBC team will move their studio inside the main building to enjoy the comforts of a Victorian Hunting Lodge. Something far grander than they're used to on Winterwatch!
The BBC Winterwatch team chose our location in the Cairngorms due to it being one of the harshest places in the UK during the winter months. This just goes to show how severe the weather can be.
This was only the most recent period of wild weather to affect this part of Scotland. In August 2014 Mar Lodge Estate experienced flooding on a scale not seen for over 50 years, causing incredible devastation.
Tune in to Winterwatch 2015 on BBC2 19 - 22 January to see how wildlife copes in these extreme conditions.
Wildlife Walks at Mar Lodge EstateThursday 8th January 2015
The Ranger team here at Mar Lodge Estate run a number of scheduled walks and events throughout the year. My first walk of 2015 was at the start of the week and by all accounts a success.
We started our morning down at the Linn of Dee taking a short stroll down to the famous gorge. The wildlife was not hugely abundant here however the majesty of the falls in spate more than made up for it. Meandering downstream along the bank we spotted a dipper perched on a rock at the edge of the torrent. We didn’t expect the bird to be feeding in the flow we witnessed that day and postulated that the bird would have to head off to some of the smaller streams of its territory to find some food. No sooner had we finished discussing this, the bird hopped gracefully off its perch and disappeared below the surface. Continuing to prove its abilities it re-emerged from the flow a few seconds later with what looked like a stonefly nymph held tightly in its bill.
We moved on, walking quickly through the pinewoods out towards Black Bridge and Derry Lodge, eager to see what the more open areas of the estate would have to offer. Again it was quiet at first, though we did spend some time examining the contents of otter spraints (otter poo!) along the way. They contained a variety of fish and amphibian bones as well as a number of scales giving us a clue as to what the otter had been eating. Otters seem to be doing well here at Mar Lodge as we often find their oily black spraints on prominent rocks along the shores as well as prints on the sandy riverbank. However if you have actually seen one of these animals on the estate you are very lucky. These charismatic animals are almost entirely nocturnal on our rivers and tend to shy away from all but the stillest and quietest observer.
We were stirred back into action by the sounds of fast wing beats. This is often the case when examining the wonders at your feet - you neglect to notice what is right above your head. In this case it was a group of black grouse, all males with their typical night and day colouration. This got us all excitedly scanning the skies again with the hope of seeing anything else we had inadvertently missed. However there was nothing else to be seen so we decided to turn our backs and start walking back towards the Linn of Dee.
As every seasoned naturalist knows this is invariably when the wildlife appears. A quick glance back over a shoulder yielded a squeal of excitement from one of our party. Something was soaring over a distant ridge and we raised our binoculars just as the bird banked into the light, allowing to sun to flash off its golden mantle. It was one of the resident golden eagles of Mar Lodge Estate. We watched the eagle showing off its mastery of the air, seemingly able to find a good thermal even on the most biting of days until after twenty minutes or so it disappeared over another ridge on the opposite side of the glen from where it emerged.
On reaching the car park in the woodland again we were happy to be surrounded by a lovely mixed flock of woodland birds including coal tits, great tits, finches and even a couple of treecreepers. It was difficult trying to get good views among the trees but this gave us an excellent opportunity to practice our bird call identification as they chirped and darted through the trees all around us.
We said our goodbyes at the Linn of Dee car park and although we had only been out for a couple of hours we were all thoroughly exhausted but satisfied with a very productive morning of wildlife sightings.
The Mar Lodge Ranger service runs a number of scheduled walks and events throughout the year. However we can also be available on a more casual basis to guide visitors around the estate - whether you want to see spectacular wildlife, epic scenery or even just go for a post-Christmas leg stretch.
For more information on ranger events at Mar Lodge Estate visit our events page or phone the Rangers office on 013397 20164.
Duncan McNeill – Volunteer Ranger
Breaking News: BBC Winterwatch to return in 2015Friday 5th December 2014
The BBC have confirmed today that they will be returning to Mar Lodge Estate in January 2015 to broadcast the latest series of the popular wildlife programme Winterwatch. This will be the second winter that Mar Lodge Estate has played host to the Winterwatch team and we can’t wait to have them back.
The shows will be broadcast live from the Estate from 19 - 22 January 2015 and will be presented by Michaela Strachan, Chris Packham and Martin Hughes-Games. Spin off show Winterwatch Unsprung will also be broadcast from Mar Lodge presented by Nick Baker.
This year Winterwatch will be looking at how UK wildlife copes with winter conditions. With Braemar holding the record for the lowest temperature in Britain, Mar Lodge Estate (located close to Braemar) is the ideal place to discover how Scottish wildlife copes with the extremities of winter.
The Mar Lodge Ranger and Ecology teams are currently busy preparing for the arrival of the BBC team. We are out and about setting out camera traps and monitoring the movement of the wildlife in order to give the BBC team the best chance of filming some of the fantastic wildlife found here in the heart of the Cairngorms.
Trust in Style with new T-shirtsWednesday 26th November 2014
In October 2013 students from the fashion and textile department of Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen were invited to take part in an exciting new project within the NTS. The Trust in Style Project offered the opportunity for students to create a product to go on sale at NTS properties.
These budding young fashion designers visited several NTS north east properties and were asked to come up with creative and innovative designs that symbolise the properties that they visited.
In January 2014 several of them came to Mar Lodge Estate to try and find some inspiration. The group spent time exploring the estate as well as chatting to members of the Mar Lodge team to find out more about this unique NTS property before heading home to create their masterpieces.
Designs were submitted early in 2014 and in May went on display in Drum Castle prior to judging. This project resulted in a marketable product for the Trust but also benefitted the students by enabling them to see their designs marketed and produced, as well as giving them a credible design to add to their portfolios. Kitty Pressland’s design was chosen as the winner for Mar Lodge. Kitty tells us how she came up with the design:
“As the Golden Eagle is of great importance to Mar Lodge, I decided to base my design around the idea that the eagle watches over the estate seeing all and knowing all.”
The designs were then printed on t shirts for all the properties visited and are available to buy on the NTS online shop including the Mar Lodge design.
The designs are limited edition, unique to each property and can only be purchased online or at the property itself. With Christmas fast approaching they make the perfect gift for anyone who has a connection with this beautiful property in the heart of the Cairngorms or indeed any of the other NTS properties involved.
Find the T-shirts at: http://www.nts.org.uk/Shop/Clothing-Accessories/T-Shirts/All/
In fact the NTS online shop has a wonderful range of unique gifts that you won’t find on the high street, perfect for the festive season. All profits from sales go towards protecting Scotland’s heritage.
Biomass boilers burn for the first time on Mar Lodge EstateTuesday 18th November 2014
On Wednesday the 12 November the boilers for a new biomass scheme here at Mar Lodge Estate were fired up for the first time. The newly installed biomass will provide heat to; a house, the stable block (containing offices and staff accommodation), Mar Lodge itself and our famous Stag Ballroom, saving an estimated £120,000 per year and reducing CO2 emissions by 450 tons per year on heating alone.
As part of our forest management plan we carry out conservation thinning on our plantations in order to create a more natural forest structure. Creating gaps in the forest allows the trees left behind to grow more naturally than the regimented rows they were planted in.
We've been experimenting with environmentally sensitive ways of removing this timber such as horse logging and low impact mechanical harvesting. Although the least damaging, we discovered that horse logging alone would not allow thinning targets and timber requirements to be met as it was too slow and expensive.
Opening up the canopy and the forest floor also encourages natural regeneration, creating a more diverse age structure in the forest and ultimately creating a more diverse and healthy forest.
Thinning will therefore be achieved using a mixture of horse logging, low impact mechanical harvesting and traditional chainsaw felling, depending on the sensitivity of each site, its location and weather conditions. The by-product of this thinning is obviously timber and this provides an opportunity to fuel the biomass boilers.
The shed which houses the biomass boilers measures 20m x 48m and being in the heart of a National Park it was important that the impact of this building did not detract from the landscape quality of the area.
The designed landscape around Mar Lodge is designated as important therefore the we worked closely with planners and contractors from the beginning to ensure that the visual impact of the building was minimised.
The shed was constructed by Algo from Blairgowrie and houses two 333kw boilers supplied by Austrian company Fröling and installed (along with the 600m of piping required to pipe the heat) by HW Energy. The size of the shed means there is the capacity to store enough fuel to power the boilers through an entire winter, a necessity due to the harsh winters the Cairngorms are famous for.
To power the heating network 1000 tons per year of green round wood is required to be turned into woodchip. The wood will be chipped directly into the shed and onto the drying floor where it will be dried to provide the 600 tons of dried wood chip required per year to keep the boilers working.
As far as possible wood from Mar Lodge Estates own forests will be used but wood will also be purchased from neighbouring estates, as in some cases their forests are closer to the biomass shed, thus reducing the need to transport large volumes of timber over longer distances.
The reduction in CO2 will contribute to the Trust's green targets as well as national targets to reduce the effects associated with climate change.
The £120,000 saving that the biomass scheme will allow comes from savings made on purchases of LPG and oil combined with renewable heating incentives provided by the Government. This will help to ensure the financial stability of the estate and help us to continue to care for this unique and very special place.
Pinewoods, mountains and moors: Managing an upland estateMonday 20th October 2014
Covering 29,000 hectares and almost 7% of the Cairngorms National Park, Mar Lodge Estate takes in some of the most scenic and important areas of conservation in the UK. Within the boundaries of the estate is a diverse mix of habitats ranging from remnants of Caledonian woodland to the high montane plateau which contains rare arctic alpine flora. In fact there are many rare species that flourish on Mar Lodge Estate, 40% of the estate is of international and national significance and is now covered by designations such as Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).
The landscape is also significant as Mar Lodge Estate covers some of the most remote and scenic wild land in the UK and is part of the Cairngorm Mountains National Scenic Area. As a result this area is very popular with visitors who come to enjoy the scenery and the solitude as well as enjoying lots of outdoor recreation activities; the estate contains 4 out of the 5 highest mountains in the UK within its boundaries.
There are 700 sites of archaeological interest and 260 hectares of this have been designated as Scheduled Ancient monuments. Historical human evidence can be found from the Mesolithic right up until the present day. There are some lovely examples of 19th Century buildings such as the Lodge itself and the Stag Ballroom that are important links to the estates use for traditional field sports during Victorian times. Indeed the estate still practices traditional field sports such as grouse shooting and deer stalking alongside its conservation activities.
All these different land uses mean managing an estate such as this presents many challenges and we would like to invite people to take part in an evening discussion on the issues involved in managing such an estate.
Evening discussion at Mar Lodge Estate
Saturday 1st November 7 – 9pm
Take part in an informal discussion on the issues involved in managing an upland estate.
Property manager David Frew will open the evening with an introduction to some of the challenges encountered at Mar Lodge Estate. The NTS faces the task of conserving some of Scotland’s wildest land which also has huge visitor numbers. The evening will be guided by the audience and anything is up for discussion: woodland regeneration, deer, intervention, field sports, access, visitor facilities, archaeology etc.
Buffet food will be provided, please get in touch to book a free place: email@example.com or 01339720165
UPDATE: 1st December 2014.
Neil Reid attended the event and has written a blog on his website, Cairngorm Wanderer, about how the evening went and the issues that were raised. You can follow Neil at https://cairngormwanderer.wordpress.com
Mar Lodge storm damageSunday 31st August 2014
Mar Lodge Estate has experienced flooding on a scale not seen for over 50 years, causing incredible devastation to this stunning Highland landscape. We need your help to repair it.
There was severe flooding throughout estate, which while spectacular to look at, has caused damage. This clip shows of the Linn of Dee with the river in full spate.
During the flooding bridges were swept away, rivers changed course and entire sections of footpath have disappeared completely as a result of the storms. Elsewhere, tons of material has been washed from the surface of tracks and mountain paths, which will now have to be re-surveyed and repaired.
Please donate today and help repair extensive storm damage to this stunning Highland landscape
As testament to the wild weather that can affect this part of Scotland, the BBC Winterwatch studio was flattened in January 2015 as a result of severe weather conditions.
Camera traps & trailersTuesday 14th January 2014
Winterwatch is coming...
Things are getting a little busy here at Mar Lodge. The arrival of the BBC production team is now imminent. In fact the advance party is already here; the wildlife cameramen arrived on Saturday and have been out and about capturing footage.
Take a look at the Winerwatch web page and the Trust Twitter feed for a sneak peak of some of the things we're hoping to film. The image below was captured on one of the camera traps that we set at the beginning of December. The Ecologists and Rangers on the Estate have been advising the BBC Wildlife Team and have been out and about most days, checking camera traps to find out what's visiting us, and how regularly. It's all aimed at giving us the very best possible chance of being able to show the amazing wildlife of the Cairngorms in winter.
I think we're almost there in terms of our own preparations as well. Estate staff worked through the weekend, building fences, moving furniture, cabling up the Lodge for internet and phone access ad generally trying to get a ahead of the game.
Watch the Winterwatch 2014 trailer at www.bbc.co.uk/winterwatch
David Frew, Property Manager
Winterwatch 2014Friday 10th January 2014
At long last...we can talk about it!
We are absolutely delighted to be welcoming the BBC Winterwatch Team to Mar Lodge Estate during January, where we will be the main production base for the 2014 broadcasts.
Discussions started with the BBC team back in November, and since we were confirmed as the base, our staff team have gone in to overdrive! I think it's fair to say we are all trememdously excited, at what is an amazing opportunity to showcase the wildlife and landscapes of the Cairngorms.
We quickly came to realise the enormity of hosting such a production, but it has been a fantastic experience for all the staff involved. Our Rangers and Ecologists have been out reccying sites with the BBC camera crews and setting camera traps in order to find out exactly what the wildlife is up to. The Lodge itself will be turned upside down as the production team install their equipment. Of course, of crucial importance to NTS is that we protect the collections in the Lodge so our curators have been involved throughout. We're planning to give the Mar Lodge Estate web pages a bit of a facelift, which has been keeping our Digital Team in Edinburgh busy, along with setting up our own social media services to interact with the BBC.
Caterers have been organised (locally from Braemar) and in less than a weeks time, the production team will descend en-masse.
Now that we're less than two weeks away from the first transmission (Monday 20th January at 8.30pm, BBC2) we will try and post to this blog on an almost daily basis to keep everyone up to speed with what's going on. Hold on to your hats...it's going to be an exciting start to the year! Looking forward to sharing our experiences with everyone.
David Frew, Property Manager
Melodies in MotionFriday 20th September 2013
Traditional Scottish fiddle tunes echoed around Coire Etchachan on Mar Lodge Estate last Saturday. Twenty people joined North East fiddler Paul Anderson and piper Jim Stevenson for a musical walk and cycle up to Loch Etchachan, the highest body of water in the UK and a spectacular location in the Cairngorms.
The walk formed part of the Atomic Doric Project organised by Woodend Barn Banchory which brings together musicians and artists with local estates. The aim of the project is to celebrate traditional Scottish music and contemporary art within the fantastic habitats and scenery of Deeside and for the artists to gain inspiration from the landscapes to create new pieces of work.
Musical interludes along the way to Loch Etchachan at Bob Scott’s bothy and in Glen Derry provided beautiful and relaxing rest stops. Despite sore feet and aching legs after a long day, the walk was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone and proved to be a memorable day.
Ecologist - Mar Lodge Estate
Deer fence trampoline fun!Wednesday 10th July 2013
How many uses can there be for redundant deer fencing? Having fulfilled its intended purpose - protecting regenerating pinewood from grazing deer - recent Thistle Camp volunteers, seen in the photo, decided to do a bit of trampolining in their break and found that a bit of old deer fence was just what they needed!
Seriously, they had just been working very hard to remove the fence and jumping on it was the best way of squashing it as they rolled it up, and they deserved a bit of fun as they worked! We host a Thistle Camp, the Trust’s working holidays, here at Mar Lodge Estate every year, and this is the second year deer fence removal has been on the agenda.
It’s hard work - getting the wire off the post is the easy bit, but a lot of digging and brute strength is required to get the bottom of the fence out of the ground, where several years’ worth of heather and other vegetation has grown over it. Then the wire has to be cleaned of any vegetation still clinging on and rolled up and stacked so that our Estate Team can collect it easily. Needless to say our volunteers were very tired at the end of the day! But they really appreciated the difference it made to the landscape.
Over the last year fencing has been removed from almost all of the plantations in Glens Luibeg, Derry and Lui. The visual improvement is not the only reason for removing the fencing, which has been in place since before the Trust owned the estate. There’s no doubt that fencing is a fairly reliable way of protecting young trees from grazing, but it has its downsides in that it closes off the woodland and creates a micro environment – some trampling and grazing of the understorey is no bad thing. Bird strike can also be a problem, particularly with grouse which tend to fly low.
Most of the trees are now beyond the reach of deer and are big enough to withstand the barking (when deer rub their antlers around the tree removing the live part of it which is just below the bark). And for those that aren’t big enough? Well, a bit of natural thinning is only natural!
Back to the hardy volunteers! We weren’t so cruel as to inflict five days of fence removal; one day was also spent doing some landscaping in one of our car parks, together with a bit of nearby fence removal (I managed to sneak that one in, but it was easier as it was just a short stretch of redundant electric fencing), and another marking some new deer fencing with canes to make it more visible to those low-flying grouse.
The hard work obviously hasn’t put them off as some were heard to mutter about coming back next year, in fact it was the second year for one of them. I know from experience just how addictive conservation volunteering is! Apart from the fact that it got us out of the office, Matt and I really enjoyed working with them, so thanks to our valiant volunteers and the leaders; we look forward to seeing you again!
Fungi Firsts at Mar Lodge EstateSunday 16th June 2013
For this blog, I am grateful to experienced mycologist, Liz Holden. Her dedication, knowledge and expertise, working with Scotland’s fungi for many years, mean that she’s a real asset to the Estate.
As an ecologist, I am always conscious of the benefits of working with specialists. This is a great example of how Liz’s specific experience in the field has added to our collective understanding of, and appreciation for, biodiversity on Mar Lodge Estate. It’s fair to say that we’re pretty excited about her recent discoveries.
Here’s what Liz has provided for the Mar Lodge blog:
“A foray for fungi late last year in the native pinewoods of Mar Lodge Estate exceeded all our expectations, revealing a total of four species entirely new to Britain, a further two species with previously unconfirmed single records, and 22 species each with less than 12 previous Scottish records.
“The foray was targeting a group of fungi which generally receives little attention, called the resupinates or “crust” fungi. The photograph illustrates a fully mature wood rotter of this group. Crust fungi form crusts or cobwebby structures, usually on the underside of damp fallen branches or trunks, and are an important part of the woodland recycling process, returning carbon and other substances back into the ecosystem.
“Our 2012 visits weren’t the end of the excitement, however, as a 10 minute search in the mature conifers of the Mar Lodge policies in early February this year produced yet another species new to Britain, Trechispora subsphaerospora (pictured). Growing on fallen conifer, this has very distinct spores as seen under the microscope - almost triangular in outline and quite unmistakeable.
“At this time, the British checklist included one other old record from Kent, so thinking that it was at least new to Scotland, the collection was sent down to Kew for confirmation. A bit of investigation at the Kew end confirmed the record but also that it was actually a first for Britain - the original Kent record having been listed in error! So, Mar Lodge turned up trumps again!
“Given the fundamental role these and other fungi play in maintaining the health of our ecosystems, it is astonishing how poor our understanding of their distribution is - are these fungi really rare or just under-recorded?”
Shaila Rao, Ecologist, Mar Lodge Estate
Icicle met - at last! [with video]Friday 3rd May 2013
It has been a long, hard winter at Mar Lodge Estate, with snow blanketing the peaks and drifting in the glens non-stop since January. Only now are we seeing signs that spring is truly here.
As the icicles melt away near the old fish ladder on the Lui Water, it’s possible around the estate to see hares bounding and boxing, lapwings displaying and birds of prey - such as golden eagles and peregrine falcons - take up their positions in trees and on rocky crags where they nest and lay their eggs at this time of year. Soon we will see the return of snipe and golden plover to the moorland for breeding. And, we’ll see wood ants becoming active, constantly adjusting their pine needle thatch to raise the nest temperature and raise a brood.
April is a hungry time of year for the deer on the estate, before new green shoots sprout up from the vegetation following the snow, and a worrying time for our young trees. Central to our work on the estate is regeneration of the Caledonian pine forest, and increasing numbers of trees are growing up above the height of hungry mouths every year, evidence of the success of our vision for the woodland. If you get a chance before the snow melts, it is easy to track where deer have been, cloven prints leaving tell-tale signs.
Up on the plateau there’s still plenty of time for ptarmigan to enjoy the snow cover while the snow melts away in the glens below. These are birds well adapted to Scotland’s arctic-alpine zone, still white for camouflage against the snow and soon to turn brown as they lose their winter plumage for another year. This harsh, high-up environment is also home to the rarer, but just as well-camouflaged snow bunting, and when the snow is gone it will welcome dotterel from the Mediterranean where they have been soaking up the sun over our coldest months.
Jonathan Agnew, Seasonal Ecologist, Mar Lodge Estate
Open for Business!Wednesday 17th April 2013
We were delighted to welcome over 250 visitors braving the cold to enjoy a surprisingly sunny day out at Mar Lodge on Easter Sunday.
Visitors were treated to Easter egg hunts, tours of the Lodge and Chapel, pony rides and - under strict supervision - a chance to play around with the estate team’s automotive toys for the more mechanically-minded.
We were also lucky enough to have Colin from ayecoffee on site with his espresso machine-rigged van, supplying much-needed hot brews and tasty cakes. The inside of the Lodge was decorated beautifully by Veronica from White Mice and Pumpkins.
Our very own Rebecca Rowe, as well as dressing the Craggan Room for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, also set up a display on life below stairs in the Lodge’s Edwardian heyday (…although we’ve still not worked out what those strange metal rolling-pin things are).
Neal Murray, one of our favourite wedding photographers, took over the Drawing Room to display some of his more recent shots of Mar Lodge weddings, bringing back fond memories of last summer and inspiring excitement about the coming wedding season.
The Ranger team took over the ballroom and turned it into a treasure trove of information on the flora and fauna of the estate, but even this splendid display threatened to be eclipsed by the Gaudi cathedral-esque igloo, built by guests staying in Bynack, which was inhabited by scores of children throughout the day.
All in all an excellent start to what looks like an enormously busy season. We’re really looking forward to welcoming visitors and guests alike to the estate and Lodge now that spring has finally sprung into action.
Hywel Lewis, Hospitality Manager, Mar Lodge Estate
Terminator, toilets & chocolateThursday 14th March 2013
“I’ll be back,” I said, as I left Mar Lodge Estate at the end of last September. Words once uttered by The Terminator, of course; a promise or a threat?! After a four month break back at my ‘other home’ several hundred miles away in Surrey, I am indeed now back at the Mar Lodge Rangers’ Base. And, it feels like I’ve never been away!
I love the estate at this time of year with the snow-covered mountains looking their majestic best. This is one of my favourite views, looking north-west towards the Cairngorm plateau. We try to get out and about as much as possible, keeping an eye on the popular spots like Derry Lodge and the Quoich and, of course, tending to our composting toilet in the Linn of Dee car park!
At the moment we’re largely office-bound, preparing for the season ahead. Easter tends to kick things off here with the Mar Lodge Open Day at which Matt, my fellow Seasonal Ranger, and I run the popular Cadbury Easter Egg Trail. If you’re in the area do come along; as well as the chocolate there will be other light refreshments, various displays about the work on the estate, wedding displays, activities such as pony rides, and a rare chance to look around the Lodge itself. Something for everyone!
I’ve been busy putting all of our events and guided walks onto various websites and preparing our in-house events booklet. We have a wide range of guided walks planned for the summer, from a gentle stroll around the policies, learning about the history of the estate, to a more strenuous 20-mile walk through the Lairig Ghru; plus some events focused on wildlife, such as the early start to see Black Grouse, a look at Wood Ants, and Nature Detectives for the youngsters. See our events pages for a full list and for more information. We look forward to seeing you on one or more of them.
Hasta la vista!
Alison Pitts, Seasonal Ranger, Mar Lodge Estate
Bold as brash!Thursday 14th February 2013
Ten students and staff from the Scottish Agricultural College recently braved sub-zero temperatures to team up with Mar Lodge rangers for a day’s conservation work. Many of the volunteers were working towards their John Muir Award, and all travelled through treacherous conditions from as far afield as Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
Despite a cold and snowy start to the day, folk soon warmed up as they set about completing a brash fence which had been started by a Thistle camp in the summer. The fence, made up of logs and thinning material from an old felled plantation, now forms a deer-proof barrier around some vulnerable young deciduous trees, and should help these trees to thrive. It has the added benefit of providing valuable habitat for invertebrates, an important part of the ecology, and will reduce the likelihood of collisions by birds compared to conventional fences.
Over time the fence will weather and blend into the landscape, so will also be less visually intrusive than traditional wire fencing. Mar Lodge is already starting to reap the rewards of brash fencing in other parts of the estate, and this new fence is a good example of how the estate is meeting its commitment to improving its riparian woodland habitat.
Let’s not forget though, that it wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and commitment of those hardy volunteers.
Matt Tweed, Seasonal Ranger
Twinflower ActionThursday 10th January 2013
It is not usual for the Trust to intervene and physically manage habitats at Mar Lodge Estate. There is a strong case to be made, however, when it comes to the rare pinewood plant, twinflower.
Before Christmas, the estate ecologists teamed up with Cairngorms Rare Plants Project officer to try and improve the habitat for this species and help it to flourish in the future.
Mar Lodge Estate has three known populations of twinflower occurring at different corners of the property. The vigour and growth of these patches is poor, most likely because the plant is shaded by heather, which has grown up due to a reduction in grazing. In December, as part of a Cairngorms-wide experiment, we strimmed over and around an area about half the size of one of these patches.
It is hoped this will increase the vigour and growth of the patch and allow it slowly to expand into the cut area. Monitoring will be carried out every two years to measure how the patch has responded to the habitat management.
Each of the twinflower patches on Mar Lodge represents single clones - genetically one plant. Research has shown that the insects that pollinate twinflower do not fly the distance between these patches and hence there is no opportunity, therefore, for cross-pollination between the patches. Patches can self-pollinate, but this has a low success rate.
Working in partnership with the Cairngorms Rare Plant Project, we have taken cuttings from the three Mar Lodge twinflower patches. Cuttings have also been taken from other twinflower patches within the local area. By planting out these cuttings in 2013, we intend to start two new populations of twinflower on the estate. They will be made of multiple plants and so are likely to be more productive and spread faster.
We hope this work will allow the plant to hold on long enough until the pinewood habitat expands to provide sufficient self-sustaining niche habitats which twinflower requires to thrive.
Shaila Rao, Ecologist
Bond on the BonfireFriday 16th November 2012
Last weekend’s Bonfire Night signalled the drawing to a close of an enormously busy summer season for the hospitality team at Mar Lodge Estate, giving me a breather to write - at last - the inaugural Hospitality MarBlog!
We were delighted to host so many for the bonfire, barbecue and fireworks. Judging from the "oohs", "aahs" and volleys of applause, the fireworks met with everyone’s approval - I have to admit that tending to the barbecue to fill a seemingly insatiable demand for burgers meant that I didn’t see any of the show!
Our estate team did a fantastic job organising the fireworks as well as creating an enormous bonfire (which seemed to be smouldering away for several days), topped by our competition's winning Guy - one Mr Bond, James Bond…
As the echoes of the fireworks die out and winter’s quiet descends, we’re getting ready for the festive season at the Lodge. It looks as though Landward, the STV country affairs programme, will be filming its Christmas Special at one of the Estate’s luxurious holiday cottages (hoping for a little early-season photogenic snow).
We’re also looking forward to holding our very first Christmas Fair on Saturday, 8th December, between 16:00 and 20:00, with around 20 local businesses displaying their wares. There will also be raffles, as well as free mince pies and mulled wine to keep out the chill… If you’d like any more details on this, or any other event at the Lodge, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with either myself (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Rebecca (email@example.com).
We hope to see you at Mar Lodge soon! I’ll also be writing again soon to fill you in on further developments at the Lodge.
All the best,
Hywel Lewis, Hospitality Manager
Native Pinewood Under ThreatFriday 26th October 2012
Last week we met to finalise the estate's 20-year forest plan. Part of the meeting involved a discussion about how the estate should approach the heightened risk of Red Band Needle Blight (Dothistroma septosporum).
Dothistroma is a fungal pathogen which attacks any age of pine tree, causing early loss of needles and often death of trees. One of the symptoms of the fungus is red banding on the needles which gives rise to its name.
Dothistroma was first recorded in Corsican pine nursery stock in England in 1954 and, from the mid 1990s to 2002, there was a sudden increase in reports of the disease in Corsican pine. The first record of the pathogen in Scotland was in 2002, again in nursery stock. Corsican and Lodgepole pine are susceptible to Dothistroma and already there have been significant losses of these species across the UK, including Aberdeenshire and Moray.
There is serious concern about the potential impact of Dothistroma on the native pinewoods, as Scots pine can also be susceptible to this pathogen. That said, Scots pine seems to be more resistant to Dothistroma than Corsican or Lodgepole pine, possibly because it is growing within its natural range. Knowledge of the behaviour of Dothistroma within Scots pine woodland is not yet well understood.
It is possible that Dothistroma could be brought to Mar Lodge by the wind, by planting infected nursery stock or by people bringing in infected needles on their boots or car tyres. Here on the estate, we are considering how to minimise the risks and what actions we would take should we have an outbreak. We are also looking at management measures that can be employed to reduce the rate of spread of Dothistroma once infected. For some time now, we have been keeping a careful eye out for any signs of infection.
Shaila Rao, Ecologist
Unexpected pinewood visitorMonday 8th October 2012
Last week, enjoying a day off, I took a wander up Glen Quoich only to be surprised by an extremely unexpected visitor at the top of the glen. Sitting on the track ahead of me was a large strange bird which I initially struggled to identify.
I knew it was not a bird of the pinewoods. After a few minutes of thought it suddenly dawned on me what the bird was, nothing usually found around Mar Lodge, a juvenile gannet. This is the first record of a gannet at Mar Lodge. The bird appeared uninjured and had a feisty reaction when I approached it for a photograph.
It is likely the gannet had been blown off track on the strong westerly winds that we have been experiencing in the week or so before. It did cross my mind whether I should intervene and perhaps take the bird to the coast. However, I decided against this and the next day when I went back there was no sign of the bird.
Let’s hope it had a good rest, got itself airborne and headed-off towards the coast!
Shaila Rao, Ecologist
The season for stags, salmon & grouseThursday 27th September 2012
Hello and welcome to my first MarBlog post! As head stalker on the estate, working with my colleagues Andrew, David and James, I am responsible for delivering the Trust’s field sports commitments, as well as contributing to the wider conservation work here. Through the blog, over the course of the coming months, I hope to keep you up-to-date with what’s happening with my team and our plans for the future.
As you may know, we are now in the busiest part of the sporting calendar, when all three quarry species for which Mar Lodge is famed, are in season at the same time: salmon, grouse and red deer stags.
We got under way with the salmon fishing in May, with the first fish being caught by Gordon Fleming on 9 June. It was a nice 7lb fish caught on a Silver Stoat’s Tail fly, caught in the little Dubrach Pool. As with all the fish on the River Dee, Gordon returned his fish to the river unharmed and fit to fight another day.
It has been a mixed season for the salmon, with 30 caught so far, 13 of which were recorded in July. Unfortunately, the fish seem to go AWOL through much of August, but with plenty of fishers booked through September - the optimum month for us - and the river now fishing really well, we may yet match our bag of 40 recorded last year.
As elsewhere, our grouse have suffered yet another poor summer. Unfortunately, the impact of all that wet weather was hardest out in the Geldie Lodge area, where grouse population density is highest. This ground is not only high but naturally wet even under normal conditions, as anyone who has walked through to Glen Feshie or climbed Scarsoch Bheag can testify.
After counting grouse on 6 August, we realised the full extent of the problem. Not only were the grouse coveys depleted but the young birds were not mature enough to be shot, so we made the decision to cancel the first three walked-up days, allowing the birds more time to develop fully. We had our first day towards the end of August, with two teams of guns shooting over English pointers. As you can see from the photograph, Serge the pointer is performing well in difficult wind conditions. Both teams had a fantastic day shooting five and a half and six brace of grouse respectively.
We have also started stalking red deer stags with 30 individual let days being taken out so far. In the picture, taken last week, this stag was extracted by Morven one of our four Highland Garrons, which we try to use as much as possible. Unlike many of the other animals and birds here at Mar Lodge Estate, the stags thrive in this wet and relatively mild climate as it results in an abundance of grass. So this should mean we can expect some heavy stags coming through the larder. There are a good number of stags about, but they are high up and far out, as unfortunately the stags are not alone in thriving in such conditions; the midges also seem to like it! They have been making their presence felt over the past few weeks causing great discomfort to everything with a pulse but, thankfully, there are signs of their numbers decreasing.
Speak to you soon!
Christopher Murphy, Head Stalker
Pulling Power!Tuesday 11th September 2012
The first weekend in September was the occasion of the annual Braemar Highland Gathering. Always a prestigious event, it marks one of the busiest weekends in the calendar for us. Our ’Gathering Ceilidh’ on the Friday evening started things off with around 130 people enjoying traditional music and dancing in the stunning setting of the Mar Lodge Stag Ballroom. On the Sunday, we welcomed visitors to our Open Day, to view the Lodge - originally built for one of Queen Victoria’s grand-daughters - and to join in some of the many activities on offer, including pony rides and laser clay shooting.
At our stand at the Gathering itself (always the first Saturday in September), we were able to show off our facilities and explain the range of work we undertake on the estate. There were thousands of visitors there, arriving from all over the world, to experience the sights and sounds of the massed pipe bands and to enjoy the Highland dancing and sporting events taking place in the Games Park.
This year our stand was situated in a prime site on the main avenue, and we were joined by staff from the Cairngorms National Park who shared our tent.
The Braemar Gathering benefits from the Royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen, who attends the event each year, following a long tradition established by her great-great-grandmother, Victoria, in 1848. Her Royal Highness would, we hope, have been entertained by the Estate Challenge Tug-o’-War, an annual contest between neighbouring local estates. We are delighted that, after a number of years of trying, our own ‘Forest of Mar’ team finally got their hands on the trophy, beating the holders of the last two years, Balmoral Estate! Victory was especially sweet for our Estate Foreman, Neal Gregory, as this was Neal’s last opportunity after numerous attempts. Neal is moving on to a new job on the west coast. We wish Neal and his family all the best. Thanks are also due to Peter Lawrence, who did an excellent job of coaching the team to new heights! Roll on next year when, once again, we can ‘take the strain’!
Pete Holden, Senior Ranger
Lingering snow in Garbh ChoireTuesday 28th August 2012
Together with Alison, one of our seasonal rangers, I recently guided a party of 12 through the Lairig Ghru - one of the walks on offer through our annual programme of events. The Lairig is an iconic walk across the Cairngorms linking Deeside and Speyside, rising to a height of 835 metres, and originally one of the old drove routes. At 20 miles long, it is also a significant challenge for many of the people we get coming along.
I’ve just about lost count of the number of times I’ve done this walk over the years - somewhere around 29 now I think - but once I’m a few miles along the route, I begin to appreciate it once again. The seasons change - there’s always something different to appreciate - and, of course, it’s different company each time I take a group.
One thing I always look out for is the big snow patch in Braeriach’s high Garbh Choire Mor. This is one of the few places in Britain where snow usually persists all year round - almost a remnant or reminder of the last Ice Age. Snow has been absent from this corrie just five times in the last century: 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003 and 2006.
Sitting at an altitude of about 1,140 metres (3,740 ft), the two most long-lasting patches are known as "the Pinnacles" and "the Sphinx" after the rock climbs lying above them. The fact that three of these occasions have occurred in the last 15 years is just maybe telling us something about climate change - or is it just weather patterns? Nobody can tell us for sure!
Mar Lodge Estate
Welcome to MarBlogs!Friday 3rd August 2012
I wish I could say that we’ve been basking in the sun at Mar Lodge Estate over the summer months. Truth is, it’s been pretty cold and wet for much of the time.
That said, looking back on the year to date, we have a lot to smile about. Over the past weeks, thousands have come to the estate - to walk, ride, fish or just experience the beauty and tranquillity of the place.
In June, for instance, we hosted a week-long visit by Aberdeenshire secondary school pupils given a chance to experience what it’s like to live and work in the country. They loved it! A great example of joint working with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Aberdeenshire Council, River Dee Trust, John Muir Trust and Sportscotland, together with our own rangers and ghillies.
A month earlier, the British Horse Society approved us as its first Horses Welcome accredited centre in the region. It’s a magical place for riders, of course, with miles of tracks taking in some of the most breath-taking views in Scotland. We’re now promoting a special midweek discount which lets riders who book accommodation here bring their horses for free. For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.horseswelcome.org/mar-lodge-estate.html
The scheme is proving incredibly popular, with dozens of riders and their mounts coming to stay since the launch.
We’ve had Jubilee celebrations, ant-hunting expeditions, walk & stalk outings, blackcock lek dawn watches, several spectacular weddings, and an occasional VIP visit. On top of all that, two of my management team have become parents for the first time. It’s been all go!
We’ve also recently put our final consultative draft management plan online for public consultation. The plan, which covers 2012-16, together with key supporting documents, can be downloaded from www.nts.org.uk/property/mar-lodge-estate. We’ve still got much more work to do on some of the underpinning detail, but the main strategic thrust is now clear. The closing date for comments is 16 August.
The rest of the year is going to be busy, too. This blog is a new way of keeping those interested in Mar Lodge up to date with what’s going on. But it’s definitely not just me who’ll be blogging. There’ll be posts from our head stalker, head ranger, ecologist and hospitality manager.
Anyway, I hope you like it. Your views are welcome - please email email@example.com
And enjoy the summer!
David Frew, Property Manager
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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 >