We replied to a consultation on RSPB plans to plant montane scrub along Strath Nethy and around Loch Avon. The letter is self-explanatory and is set out here.
I am writing on behalf of the North East Mountain Trust (NEMT) in reply to the above consultation. You may know that NEMT is a voluntary body (Scottish Charity SCIO 008783) based in the Grampian area, representing hill-goers and those who enjoy visiting Scotland’s finest natural heritage. NEMT membership, comprising both individual members and twelve hillwalking and climbing clubs, totals about 1000 people. Indeed, many NEMT members are also longstanding RSPB members.
We are not generally in favour of planting, preferring to see natural regeneration wherever possible. Steven and Carlisle (1959), when classifying native pine woods made a clear distinction between natural regeneration and planting, which has helped form the current view that native pinewoods should be expanded via regeneration rather than planting. Indeed, your own senior conservation scientist, Ron Summers in Summers and Cavers (2021) has stated that “allowing the natural establishment of native trees, while rigorously controlling large herbivores, is the best way” and “there is a strong case for accepting that planting should not be part of the management of Caledonian pinewoods”. This is sound advice. The same argument applies to montane scrub species.
We believe that any attempt at woodland expansion must be based on controlling deer numbers. It is unfortunate that you should incur the penalty of poor deer management on some of your neighbouring estates. However, both Mar Lodge and Glenfeshie have come to terms with the need to cull deer entering from neighbouring estates and have achieved remarkable results. We suggest that RSPB needs to accept that culling of deer from the estates to the northeast is similarly necessary. Unless deer numbers are controlled, planting will only have limited success.
We strongly support the work and aspirations of the Cairngorms Connect partnership and do accept that, in some cases, where there is no viable seed source, limited planting of montane scrub might be necessary. However, we note that Shaila Rao said, concerning the reestablishment of montane scrub, “Thank heavens, we didn’t rush in and plant”. The first thing to do is to rigorously check that there is no longer any viable seed source. We are not convinced that the checks have been sufficiently rigorous. Several of our members report seeing heavily grazed scrub species, hidden in the heather, cracks, etc. in both Strath Nethy and Loch Avon basin. Have you consulted with Shaila Rao to see if, based on her experience at Mar Lodge, she agrees with your conclusions? We understand that Wildland Ltd, a fellow partner in Cairngorms Connect has surveyed trees in the Gaick and found totally unexpected quantities of potential seed sources. Have you checked with them? The proposal talks of the need for trials to find the best way of achieving forest expansion. We think that the proposed plans for planting in Strath Nethy need to be put on hold until these trials have been completed and also an acceptable way of controlling deer numbers has been found.
We suggest that the whole area allocated for planting of montane scrub needs to be thought of as two separate areas: the northern part of Strath Nethy and the Loch Avon basin, due to their very different landscape values. Limited planting might be acceptable in Strath Nethy if convincing evidence of a lack of viable seed source can be provided. Any planting would be unacceptable in the Loch Avon basin, which is a prime example of a pristine wild area that should not be disturbed. It is a very special place, free from much human interference and should be kept that way. We would be pleased to see native species establish themselves in this area due to reduced deer numbers.
The impact assessment needs to give more details on issues such as access tracks and protection of the young seedlings from herbivores such as hares. Is the existing footpath through Strath Nethy adequate for the proposed planting? We would strongly oppose creating any new paths or tracks or the widening/ upgrading of existing ones, both would have very undesirable landscape effects.
In summary, we believe that
- No planting should be undertaken in the Loch Avon basin.
- Planting in Strath Nethy should only be considered after deer numbers are reduced to the levels obtained at Glenfeshie and the regeneration zone at Mar Lodge for a number of years and a thorough survey of existing seed sources carried out.
- Any work undertaken should not involve creation or upgrading of paths and tracks.
Painting, A. (2021) Regeneration The Rescue of a Wild Land, Birlinn, Edinburgh.
Steven, H.M. and Carlisle, A (1959) The Native Pinewoods of Scotland
Summers, R. and Cavers, S. (2021) The past, present and uncertain future for Caledonian pinewoods, Scottish Forestry, Vol. 75, No.2
Consultation on the regular 5 year update to the CNPA Partnership Plan has started and our reply will appear in the next issue.
In addition, a Scoping Report has been submitted to Highland Council for a pumped storage scheme east of Loch Ericht. This will destroy an area of pristine wild land but will contribute to our efforts to decarbonise our electricity supply. The scoping stage is too early for comments but determining an NEMT position will not be easy.
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