In November there was national press coverage of concerns expressed by Adam
Watson, Roy Dennis and the RSPB about declines in the numbers of mountain hares
attributed to drives to reduce populations or eliminate them altogether on grouse
moors. The reason for the practice is the disputed notion that grouse densities
are affected by diseases carried by hares, along with the belief that eradicating
hares will reduce golden eagle populations in an area. Ironically, reducing
hare numbers is likely to increase risks to grouse as eagles will turn to birds
for prey. A particular concern is the effects of the tick-borne disease louping
ill on grouse and culling of hares has been undertaken as some believe that
this will reduce the disease in the birds. There is, however, no clear evidence
that this is an effective strategy*. Unsurprisingly, landowner lobby groups
deny that that culling is seriously affecting hare numbers. There has long been
alarm amongst conservationists that practices on many grouse moors are turning
them into biodiversity deserts.
Deer, or rather their numbers and the detrimental effects they can have on woodland, have, once again, bobbed up the political agenda. Conservationists point to deer numbers being at artificially high levels (very significant increases since the 1960s) which prevent the regeneration of native woodland; they insist that voluntary agreements to control densities have failed to solve the problem and statutory enforcement is now necessary. Many estate managers, unsurprisingly, take a different view, insisting that deer numbers are not a problem and that fencing is the answer to regeneration. Rumour has it that farmers well down Deeside are now having problems with red deer damaging their crops as numbers force the animals to extend their range. It should be noted that deer are not the only problem with regard to maintaining healthy ecosystems and sheep need also to be brought into the equation.
The arguments against extensive deer fencing are well rehearsed:
While the risks of fencing to birds can be mitigated to a degree (although with yet more expense), fencing does pose some hazards to other wild life. The effects of grazing animals, in particular deer, on the regeneration of woodland is underscored in a report by the Forestry Commission Scotland's Native Woodland: Results from the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland
The issue has been the subject of recent scrutiny by Holyrood's Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. The outcome of this is summed up in a quote from MSP Rob Gibson, the Committee's Convener:
" we need deer management groups to be effective and environmentally responsible, bringing in all interests and not just those of landowners. At the moment the picture is patchy and inconsistent. The committee decided that there is no definitive evidence of the need to introduce a statutory duty of sustainable deer management for deer management groups. However, if all 43 deer management groups do not get their act together, this committee will have no choice but to recommend further action."
Will this warning suffice? Where vested interests are so strong, the voluntary principle is rarely effective.
Out of these mountains,
Out of the defiant torment of Plutonic rock,
Out of fire, terror, blackness and upheaval,
Leap the clear burns,
Like some pure essence of being,
Invisible in itself,
Seen only by its movement. *
Nan's Shepherd's classic love song to the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain, will be on the book shelves of many readers of Mountain Views; what is less well known is that she also wrote three novels between 1928 and 1933 and then, in 1934, she published a book of poetry, In the Cairngorms. The latter has been out of print until now. At this point I should declare an interest. Robert Hyde, a publisher friend of mine from south of the border, is one of those English people who has long been in love with Scotland and we meet every spring for a weekend's hill walking in the Highlands. Having been captured by The Living Mountain, he discovered that Shepherd was also a poet of the hills and tracking down In the Cairngorms he obtained permission to republish it. Believing that the volume would be enhanced by the inclusion of pertinent sketches, he discussed the matter with me. I approached Sandy McIntosh, an excellent photographer and a member of the Cairngorm Club, to obtain photos which relate directly to specific poems. My sister-in-law, June Allan, is an artist and she then used Sandy's work as the basis for a series of sketches to augment the poems. Robert Macfarlane, the famous landscape writer, has provided an insightful foreword. The majority of the poems, written in both English and the Doric, grew out of Shepherd's experiences in the Cairngorms, although the volume does contain other lyrics, including a series of powerful love poems.
Nan Shepherd was not a mountaineer in the conventional sense, routes and peak bagging held little interest for her. It was the experience of being in the hills which brought her meaning. For her, plants and wildlife, rocks and burns had being and presence and, by allowing herself to be absorbed into the totality of the mountain, she reached both into herself to find her fundamental nature and out towards mysteries beyond. In this approach to the mountain experience she is a fellow traveller of W.H. Murray and the zen-like quality of some of her writing finds echoes in the work of her friend Neil Gunn. Those who appreciate The Living Mountain will find much to enjoy in Shepherd's poetry.
* used with permission of Galileo Publishers: In the Cairngorms © 2014 published in April 2014 by Galileo Publishers
Previously unreported in Mountain Views are 2 projects which have been funded by the Cairngorm Club. Firstly, path work with signage has taken place at the Pass of Ballater to reduce erosion caused by climbers approaching the western section of the cliffs. Secondly, additional fencing has been undertaken to extend Pipers Wood in Glen Ey, approximately doubling the size of the area fenced off in the late 1980s: the strategy is to "let things grow" without planting, and eventually it may be possible to remove the fences. The club is to be commended on these valuable environmental schemes.
Following the successful day at Mar Lodge a while ago, NEMT is hoping to arrange a visit to another highland estate in the autumn for members and friends. Full details will be sent out before the summer holiday period, but the anticipated date is Sat 13th Sep 2014, taking place in Glen Tanar. All welcome!
Two individuals raised separate issues which NEMT passed on to Mar Lodge. Firstly,
a walker had encountered the new fence on the eastern shoulder of the Corbett
Sgor Mor and expressed concerns that there was no obvious way over it. The estate
responded by saying that there are stiles but they would ensure that additional
markers are placed on the fence indicating where the nearest stiles are. While
this will prove helpful and will, potentially, prevent damage to the fence,
NEMT requested that these markers are not intrusive signs.
Secondly, an NEMT member reported that damage had been done by cattle straying up the Quoich. This proved to be something of a mystery to the Mar Lodge staff who do not know to whom the beasts belonged. Fortunately, the problem has not reoccurred.
NEMT contacted the Highland Council Access Officer for the Glen Shiel area when a member spotted the notice in this photo at the end of November. It was sited on the track leading south to Cluanie Lodge, close by the Cluanie Inn. At first glance it appeared to be moveable but was, in fact, permanent and had been spotted before outside the shooting season. Whilst we should all try to avoid disturbing field sports, such permanent notices are useless; they are likely to be ignored by hill goers and so serve little purpose for the estate. In addition, generalised notices, rather than those detailing requests to avoid specific areas on particular days, are unhelpful. This notice, on display outside the stag shooting season, was in clear breach of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
The Access Officer contacted the land manager of the estate who has removed the sign and replaced it with a notice highlighting the outdoor access code. He says that the original sign will only be erected when there are periods of shooting during the stalking season. He also said that there had been problems of temporary signs being tampered with in the past but that the estate does welcome visitors. This seems to be a satisfactory outcome.
Readers of Mountain Views should not hesitate to report attempts to restrict access without good reason by contacting the relevant local authority access officer (see http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/help-and-information/contact-la-officer/).
NEMT is keen to boost its membership. An increase would not only bring in some
welcome additional funding but would also strengthen our hand in campaigning.
It might also bring in people with talents who are able to support our work.
Can you encourage your friends to join? Do you know of any hill walking or climbing
clubs which might be interested? NEMT Council Members can visit club committees
to discuss the value of membership. A membership form is available at the end
of Mountain Views and information is available on the website or by email
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