3 key projects

For an insight into some of the vital work we do to care for and protect Scotland’s countryside, here are three short case studies.

Upland footpaths

Mountains are far more fragile than we realise, and looking after 245 miles of upland paths takes plenty of effort and a fair bit of ingenuity.

Our upland footpaths are well trodden and are exposed to a constantly changing climate. Rain, frost, snow, gales and the odd bit of blazing sunshine (sometimes all in the same day!) mean that our paths need dedicated care and attention, all year round.

Thankfully, the National Trust for Scotland has a passionate upland footpaths team who work tirelessly to keep our mountain paths accessible. Using the lightest of touches – working by hand or helicopter to avoid heavy machinery, and using locally sourced materials – they’ve assessed every metre of our mountain footpaths and have a rolling programme of maintenance at places like Torridon and Ben Lomond.

To keep the paths safe and accessible without the need for things like handrails or escalators, the team employs some clever techniques and structures. Stone waterbars guide rainwater into ditches and protect the surface of our paths, while ‘stone pitching’ involves burying large boulder ‘steps’ under slopes so that only a small piece of the stone is visible above the surface (a bit like an iceberg).

We are extremely grateful for donations to our Footpath Fund, which lets people show their support for our work and ensures that our paths are maintained for everyone to enjoy.

Staff repairing the footpath in the snow
The footpaths team are out in all weathers, working tirelessly to keep paths accessible.

Ben Lawers: 30 years of conservation

In August 1987, two experimental fences were built on Creag an Lochain and Meall nan Tarmachan in Ben Lawers. The then owner of the land, Mrs Ann Sants, had given her permission for the National Trust for Scotland to test the effect of keeping sheep away from certain areas that had the potential for floral diversity.

The rights to graze sheep on the hill were held by the farms below the Trust ground, alongside Loch Tay. Grazing was centred on short plants and eliminated taller species, among which were several rare or scarce plants. From 1983, Trust staff had shown that these plants were undergoing a long decline, and so the Trust and the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) agreed that practical measures should be taken to reverse the loss of these important species.

The initial two fenced areas totalled around 1 hectare, which may not seem much but it was the first step in a pioneering project. In 1989 and 1990, the Trust used donated funds to build two more fences that would enclose another 30 hectares of land on the Ben Lawers range. In 1991 the Trust began planting trees and shrubs to help with the regeneration. It wasn’t long before rare plant species were thriving, accompanied by an increase in wildlife – caterpillars, beetles and birds.

Decades later, rare plant species and habitats in the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, such as subarctic willow scrub and eutrophic tall herbs, are now protected by law. Various partnerships and increased funding have seen the project evolve to include hundreds of hectares of land at different altitudes, with the aim of keeping Ben Lawers and its important plants in good health for decades to come.

The restored green habitats of Beinn Ghlas mountain
The restored habitats on Beinn Ghlas

Seabirds on Canna

In order to protect Canna’s treasured seabirds, the National Trust for Scotland, the EU Life Fund, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage all provided funding for an ambitious project.

Research by the Highland Ringing Group and the Trust had discovered that numbers of manx shearwaters and other important seabirds on the island of Canna were dropping. Brown rats had arrived on the island and were preying on seabird nests, causing certain birds to abandon the places where they’d been breeding for years. Birds had started nesting in caves and on ledges, deserting traditional boulder areas where they were vulnerable and moving to more inaccessible sites. But even with this change in behaviour, numbers were falling alarmingly.

In 2005, a project was funded to eradicate brown rats from Canna. A team from New Zealand, supported by volunteers, set up and replenished bait stations, recording when and where rats were taking the bait. By March 2006, it was believed that all the rats on the island had gone. After two more years of monitoring, the island was officially declared rat-free in 2008. Now, Canna is quarantined to make sure that rats don’t return to re-colonise the island.

Canna’s manx shearwater colony was recorded at 1,500 pairs in the 1980s. But through most of the 1990s, seabird numbers on Canna were in decline, and by 2005 only 1 or 2 pairs of shearwaters survived in isolated areas on some of the more inaccessible cliffs. Now, manx shearwaters are returning to Canna and breeding successfully, while numbers of puffins and shags have also increased.

A flock of oystercatchers flying across the sea at Canna
Oystercatchers flying across the sea at Canna