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18 Jun 2020

Mar Lodge pinewoods

Written by David Frew
A pine woodland with blue sky above. A close-up of a large tree trunk at the left hand side.
Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve is the single largest property cared for by the National Trust for Scotland – at 29,000 hectares, it’s roughly twice the size of Glasgow. Sitting at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, its conservation importance is unparalleled in the UK.

When the Trust acquired the estate 25 years ago it could have been described as a desert. Once at the centre of the Great Wood of Caledon, the remaining fragments of ancient pinewood were critically endangered, having been subject to centuries of overgrazing, first by sheep and then by red deer.

The Trust’s vision for the pinewoods at Mar Lodge was clear from the outset: to save what remained of this ancient forest and then to allow it to regenerate and expand.

This vision has become ever more relevant, as the full impact of the climate emergency has become clear in recent years. The pioneering work undertaken at Mar Lodge to reduce deer numbers to a sustainable level, allowing woodland to regenerate, while monitoring the changes in vegetation and biodiversity, provides evidence and data for future management of the uplands in Scotland. By improving the quality and connectivity of woodlands for biodiversity, we also provide opportunities for people and communities to thrive. The impact of people played a significant role in the decline of the ancient pinewoods and people are at the centre of saving it.

Under the Trust’s stewardship, the loss of the ancient woodland has been halted, and new life is springing up all over the estate. When it was last mapped in 2016, an additional 800 hectares of woodland had been ‘created’ through natural regeneration. We expect this figure to rise to around 1,400 hectares when it’s mapped again in 2021. Wildlife species such as hen harriers have returned to the estate and many other endangered species are thriving, including eagles, otters, red squirrels and black grouse.

Close up of a golden eagle
Golden eagles are thriving at Mar Lodge Estate

The change at Mar Lodge Estate over 25 years of Trust ownership has been nothing short of transformational. As well as saving and enhancing habitats and biodiversity, opportunities have been created for people to learn about, experience and enjoy the estate. Footpaths have been maintained and upgraded, visitor facilities enhanced, and thousands of children have come to the estate to learn about the special qualities of the landscape and habitats here.

All this reflects the continuous commitment of the Trust to deliver on a 200-year vision for change. It’s a vision that requires a huge amount of resource to deliver. We spend more than £1 million each year delivering the core vision for the nature reserve through managing deer numbers, monitoring habitats, maintaining visitor infrastructure and welcoming and educating visitors through our ranger service. This doesn’t include the capital investment in buildings and infrastructure required to deliver the vision and enhance the visitor experience.

The benefits of our management for habitats, wildlife and biodiversity, and indeed for people, are becoming more apparent every day. When the world is in crisis, the value of such sanctuaries is brought into sharp focus and the importance of continuing this work couldn’t be clearer. By supporting our work at Mar Lodge Estate NNR, you’re helping to secure a better future for generations to come.

A carpet of blaeberry plants grow on the pinewood floor.
A carpet of blaeberry plants grow on the pinewood floor at Mar Lodge

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