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!).