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GO WILD – UP NORTH


stunning. It truly is wild and there aren’t many places left where folk can experience that in mainland Britain.” Encouraging visitors to embrace the


outdoors and enjoy these stunning environments is one of the conservation charity’s main aims, and its ranger service is on hand to provide expert information for anyone planning to take to the hills in this special place. Peter Holden, the estate’s Head Ranger adds: “Te estate is open for access all year round, it’s free and we really encourage people to come and see what we have on offer here. Te views, wildness and wildlife have to be seen to be believed.” Te charity has worked hard to conserve and enhance the wildness of the land, sensitively restoring past damage inflicted on the hills. Removing vehicle tracks and repairing paths worn by thousands of hiking boots has helped preserve the unique qualities of the place. One of the focal points at Mar Lodge is its


Caledonian pinewood. Once common across the Highlands, swathes of these majestic trees have disappeared over the past few centuries. Mar Lodge Estate is home, not only to remaining pockets of that ancient woodland, but also to some exciting new growth for this threatened habitat. Te Trust has been working to regenerate these woods in their native heartland and is delighted to be beginning to see the fruits of


Dr Richard Luxmoore said: “Grey squirrels are moving west from Aberdeen and north from the Central belt, and are at an advantage in broadleaf woodland, where there are trees like oak and hazel. “Once the forest becomes more dominated


by pine, as it is around the estate, red squirrels have the upper hand. “As our work to expand the pine woods at


Mar Lodge grows, so will the areas suitable for red squirrels to live in; so it’s an important place for the future of this species.” Te pinewoods are also the place to find


these labours. Tis is a long-term project, one which won’t be fully realised perhaps for centuries, but it is an important job nonetheless, protecting an important feature of the Highland landscape. A vital part of this process is keeping the deer numbers under control, which the Trust says, is a difficult but necessary part of the job. Often noted for its mystical and ancient atmosphere, a foray into these pine woods is a treat for all of the senses. Te scent of the pine needles, the beautiful backdrops and the chance to spot some prime Scottish wildlife, including one of Scotland’s favourites – the red squirrel, make this an intoxicating experience. Te pinewoods are perfect places to spot these animals, which are being squeezed out of other parts of the country by their grey cousins. Trust nature conservation expert


“AS OUR WORK TO EXPAND THE PINE WOODS AT MAR LODGE GROWS, SO WILL THE AREAS SUITABLE FOR RED SQUIRRELS TO LIVE IN; SO IT’S AN IMPORTANT PLACE FOR THE FUTURE OF THIS SPECIES”


the very impressive black grouse. Tis stunning bird with its glossy black feathers is on the increase at Mar Lodge, which has more than 120 breeding males. Tis is excellent news for the threatened species and for twitchers alike who have a reasonable chance of catching a glimpse or hearing their distinctive call, especially if they are out early in the day. Capercaillies can also be found here, but


they are famously elusive and their numbers in Deeside have been declining. Spotting one is a rare treat indeed, so


eyes must be kept peeled. Outside the forest, birds also abound at Mar


Lodge and there are plenty of species to spot on a walk across the estate. Te montane heath covering the Cairngorms plateau is one of the largest continuous areas of high- altitude land in the UK – a sometimes harsh but always delicate Arctic-alpine


Places to look for red squirrels: Sunny south-facing slopes,paths , trees of cone bearing age and mixed woods are best, or hazel bushes in the autumn, conifers in late summer and when the cones are ripening.


When to look: First and last light is best. Summer - any time of day. Winter - at noon (warmest time of the day). Autumn is best as they are foraging and hiding food!


34 SCOTTISH HOSTELLER 2012


Spot them


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