See all stories
13 Apr 2018

Spring finally arrives at Mar Lodge Estate

Golden eagle at Mar Lodge
Mar Lodge Estate is ready for spring to arrive, and so is its wildlife, as Head Ranger Paul Bolton explains.

Given the weather we’ve had in the last month, you’d be forgiven for thinking winter was here to stay. Between the ‘beast from the east’ and the ‘mini beast’ that followed, it’s difficult to think about the seasons changing beneath a deluge of ice and snow. For some parts of the country, spring takes just a little longer to arrive.

One of those places is Mar Lodge Estate, in the care of the National Trust for Scotland and situated just west of Braemar. This village holds the record for the coldest temperature recorded on Britain, -27.2°C; and not once but twice. The estate sits at the heart of Cairngorms National Park and consists of 29,000 hectares of wild land, equivalent to an area the size of Greater Glasgow.

Paul Bolton, Head Ranger at Mar Lodge Estate, explains: ‘Spring tends to come a bit later in the year for us – normally around April. But we quite often still get some frost into May and we’ve even had some as late as August. The arrival of spring marks a very different time for us: while the winter months are quieter, during April we begin welcoming our 100,000 annual guests, start to look at our events calendar, and get ready for guided tours and hill walks.’

Signs of wildlife also mark the new season at Mar Lodge. More than 5,000 different species have been recorded at the estate, including Britain’s largest land animal, the red deer, as well as pine marten, red squirrels, otters and water voles.

Visitors should also take a look to the skies – the estate is a safe haven for all sorts of birds of prey, from golden eagles to merlin. In fact, more than 140 species of bird have been recorded at Mar Lodge, with dotterel, ptarmigan and snow bunting finding refuge among the estate’s mountains.

‘The birds are a good indication that spring has finally arrived’, says Shaila Rao, a Trust ecologist based on the estate. ‘We know the seasons are beginning to shift when the early breeders – such as eagles, crossbills and ravens – start to lay their eggs. That tends to be around March, when the weather is still quite horrible. Then the wading birds, like lapwings, oystercatchers and sandpipers, return from the coast and overseas; woodcock start roding; hares start boxing; and black grouse begin lekking.

‘But it’s not just about the wildlife – flowers begin to bloom, with wood anemone among the first and most prominent to emerge, followed swiftly by wood sorrel. We have more than 600 species of flowering plants: from high-altitude subarctic flowers like mountain azalea to the rare pinewood specialist twinflower, along with eight species of orchid.’

On the subterranean front, Mar Lodge is also home to an array of invertebrates, like the rare narrow-headed wood ant, which is found at only five other sites in the UK. The pearl-bordered fritillary, one of the scarcest and most beautiful of the UK’s butterfly species, can be found in some of the estate’s glens.

The biodiversity meant that last year Mar Lodge Estate became Britain’s largest National Nature Reserve. More than 80% of the estate has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation or a Special Protection Area.

‘This is one of Scotland’s great areas of wild land – there’s a huge amount to appreciate and a lot of work goes into managing the estate,’ says Paul Bolton. ‘Spring may take some time to get to Mar Lodge but, when it does arrive, it’s clear for all to see.’

Explore Mar Lodge Estate

Visit now