Not heard of Cairngorms Connect? Take a quick trip over 600 square kilometres in the Cairngorms in this video from SCOTLAND: the Big Picture to experience the special habitats and species involved in this ambitious restoration project. A partnership of the neighbouring land managers of Scottish Natural Heritage, Wildland Limited, Forestry and Land Scotland and RSPB Scotland, we are working together towards a 200-year vision to enhance habitats for the future.
Watch the another film featuring the visionary Cairngorms Connect project brought to you by BBC Spring Watch.
While life has paused for many, trees are continuing to grow and habitats in the Cairngorms continue to function, so planning carries on for work to help achieve our 200-year vision…
While life has paused for many, trees are continuing to grow and areas of land are still degraded in places, so plans are progressing in the Cairngorms Connect area towards our 200-year vision for habitats, ready for when restoration work is possible…
Lockdown may have stopped many things, but the seeds and cuttings in the Tree Nursery at RSPB Abernethy are still growing regardless, which is great news for the planting that we plan to do over the next few years.
Although much of the Cairngorms Connect area is seeing forest expansion through natural regeneration, our tree nursery is key to helping protect the threatened communities of montane woodland and missing tree species. The nursery will help to expand native woodland, through a combination of tree planting and seed scattering to create pockets of trees that can then start to spread further over time, naturally. This process of supplementing the native woodland is introducing species which should be present in places but are currently missing due to historical land management practices so that as the woodlands regenerate over time, this mix of species is present. In higher, more remote areas, the few remaining montane willow trees will have new cuttings and saplings from the nursery planted close by to boost numbers and encourage viable seed production.
In the tree nursery, we’ve been able to keep existing stock alive with watering and to sow seed collected locally last year, including pioneer species like birch and aspen. With an unusually good flowering season last Spring, aspen seed was collected commercially from Strathspey and has been stored in controlled conditions, which will keep it alive for up to 5 years. The seed is tiny and, like willow is normally spread far and wide in fluffy down on the wind. Once it lands, it only has a few days to germinate before the seed becomes unviable. When separated from the fluff, 1000 aspen seeds weigh just one gram, the weight of one paperclip, and it needs careful treatment in our nursery to get the best germination.
Later in the summer and autumn we plan to carry out more seed gathering from lowland willows, downy birch from a variety of altitudes, dwarf birch, bird cherry, and alder for growth next year. We will also be collecting from our montane willow seed orchard which was established at the end of winter, to build up our stocks of plants and seed for next year.
Moving away from the tree nursery, one very satisfying job which forms part of the Cairngorms Connect Project, is the restoration of peatlands on both high and low ground. This normally takes place from late summer through until the winter snow stops work, so as restrictions change, we should be able to get machinery in place to help repair 168 hectares of damaged peat this year and kick start new peat forming vegetation.
The work has multiple benefits from locking up carbon from the atmosphere as the peat re-grows, to cleansing and slowing the flow of water off the hill which helps reduce flooding and improves water quality. This double whammy (or is it a triple-whammy?) of ecosystem services shows how vital these habitats are, not only for plants and animals, but also for people. These blanket bogs have been degraded by historically high deer browsing, atmospheric pollution, drainage and burning. Couple that damage with a short growing season at altitude and extreme weather events and you get an idea of the challenge in restoring these valuable habitats, but using a variety of techniques it is possible to reduce erosion, reinstate vegetation over bare areas allowing the bog to start to heal.
Steve Blow is the delivery manager for Cairngorms Connect, a partnership of Forestry and Land Scotland, Wildland Limited, RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage across connected land in the Cairngorms. Together, they are striving towards a 200-year vision to enhance habitats, species and ecological processes. Supported by funding from Endangered Landscapes Programme, they are working across 600sqkms making this the biggest habitat restoration project in Britain.
Find out more at: www.cairngormsconnect.org.uk
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