Glenfeshie – restoring Caledonia

How cool is it that one of the most ambitious restoration projects in the UK is happening in the back garden of my next-door neighbour? OK, I’m stretching the truth of it just a wee bit. Glenfeshie Estate’s back garden is nearly 50,000 acres. It’s a chunk of some of Scotland’s wildest country and although technically, they are a neighbour, it takes me nearly an hour to drive through the estate and follow the winding tracks up into the hills to my chosen viewpoint.

These hills have historically been grazed bare under the constant pressure of hungry herbivores and although the glen is justifiably known as ‘The Jewel in the Cairngorms Crown’ that crown has lost its sparkle and in ecological terms, its value. So how do you go about repairing such a massive back garden? Well you need to take some tough decisions and in recent years Glenfeshie has found itself under the media spotlight for doing just that.

In 2004 the estate embarked on a radical reduction in red deer numbers, the primary driver behind the lack of forest regeneration in the glen. It was an unpopular decision in many quarters but whether you agreed with that decision or not, the results of reduced grazing pressure are manifest. Alders are growing along the river banks, willows in the damp hollows, birch on exposed ridges and young pines are sprouting in the shadows of their parents for the first time in decades. The forest is finding its way back, creeping up the hills bit by bit. As I stood looking north along the River Feshie, one of the fastest spate rivers in Europe (downstream it runs uncomfortably close to my front door!), I found myself thinking about the opposition to the ambitious plans in Glenfeshie. I’ve heard it will be nothing more than a jungle, a rank, overgrown forest bereft of deer and therefore bereft of economic opportunity.

Its early days in the recovery of this wonderful glen but the evidence to date suggests that striking a balance between a vibrant, robust forest that harbours healthier deer, and allowing people to live and work there, is not only possible but from the estate’s point of view, essential. After a few hours of photography the light became increasingly less sparkly and I vowed to return this time from the air. That’s another story altogether and all you need to know about that is: Helicopter. Height. Fear. Oh and… Toilet (good job I live next door!).

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4 Responses to Glenfeshie – restoring Caledonia

  1. Anne says:

    Isn’t it strange how, in a world where we know we are losing landscapes and species world-wide, from over-use and poor management, a popular view is to argue that conservation-inspired change will be for the worst?
    Documenting the story of change to Glenfeshie sounds like a beautiful project, despite the depth of fresh air between aerial photography and well-grounded images.

  2. A great project, good luck to them!!

  3. viv blake says:

    An inspiring look at a marvellous project. Humans have been managing the landscape for millennia, sometimes for good and sometimes not. The idea of planting rows of wildlife and plantlife-inhibiting conifers in this fabulous estate is anathema, and I hope that the re-generation of natural woodland will bring bonuses for all.

  4. Hi Peter, I think this is an amazing project and I applaud and admire the people responsible for coming up with the idea. It’s a brilliant way of reconnecting people to nature and to what needs to be conserved, protected and improved. I came across the billboards with the photos of nature and wildlife while I was visiting the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith, Edinburgh and I just stopped in my tracks at the amazing beauty and skill of the photos.

    I’m an animal and nature lover and to see the fabulous photos of nature, wildlife and landscapes from all over the UK melted my heart. I’m an aspiring travel writer and photographer and it really inspires to be as good as the photographers on this project. It’s great to see that something constructive is being done. I will be writing about this on my blog too, in the hope also of spreading the word about this project.

    I take my hat off to everybody involved. Keep up the good work.

    Martina Mc Auley.

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