Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2013 - 2018 Final Report

A special place for people and nature
25% of the UK's threatened animal and plant species
1,200 species of regional, national and international significance
25% of the entire Scottish resource of native woodlands
1.8 million visitors each year
The four aims of the Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2013-2018 were:
  • improve the quality and connectivity of woodlands and wetlands for biodiversity
  • implement priority actions for other habitats
  • conserve and enhance key species through focused conservation action
  • encourage, support and provide opportunities for people to realise the benefits from, and help to look after, nature
The Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2013 - 2018 described what we wanted the Cairngorms National Park to look like in 50 years. It built on the work previously done by the Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan. It was about THINKING BIGGER and taking a LANDSCAPE APPROACH to the work delivered in the Park, with the emphasis on PARTNERSHIP.
As we prepare to consult on the next Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2018 - 2023 in June 2018, this Report updates on the progress made over the last five years by partners and organisations throughout the Park. It presents some of the highlights and links to more information.
Andy Wells, Chair, Cairngorms Nature, reflects on the successes and achievements of the last five years ...
Grant Moir - Chief Executive, Cairngorms National Park Authority, looks ahead to the next five years of Cairngorms Nature ...


Bigger ... better ... and better connected!

A combination of planting and regeneration has delivered thousands of hectares of new woodland, which is well above the national average. But what is particularly special about the new woodland in the Cairngorms National Park is that much of the natural regeneration is without fences. There is also more woodland in good condition than anywhere else in the UK due to the high quality management.


The future looks bright for Mar Lodge Estate pinewoods

When the National Trust for Scotland acquired Mar Lodge Estate in 1995, there had been no pinewood regeneration outwith fenced enclosures in the previous 200 years, primarily due to browsing by high densities of red deer. In 1995 NTS began a deer reduction programme to lower browsing levels and encourage natural regeneration. The results have been very impressive - the estate now supports 885 ha of regeneration of pine and broadleaved species.

Click on the links below to find out more

Planning and encouraging woodland expansion

With a bold target of 5,000 ha of new native woodland for the period 2013-2018, there was a need to both identify where this could bring about the biggest ecological gains, and to encourage landowners and managers to make space for woodland creation.

Using various datasets relating to soil type, capercaillie activity, breeding wader birds, designated sites, watercourses etc, the Cairngorms National Park Authority created a Target Areas map, which identified those areas where woodland creation in the next few years could best strengthen a native woodland habitat network across the Park. It was agreed with Forestry Commission Scotland that native woodland creation in these areas would be incentivised by increasing grant rates by 12.5%.

  • Dark Green Existing Forests and Woodlands - all existing woodlands and forest
  • Dark Blue Preferred Areas - areas within which woodland creation of a range of woodland types would achieve multiple benefits - suitability for planting would need to be confirmed at a site level and may require surveys
  • Light Blue Potential Areas (with known sensitivities) - areas within which native woodland creation would achieve multiple benefits through restoration, enhancement and expansion of the existing woodland resources, but where there are known sensitivities, eg Natura designation, peatland habitat, and arable and improved grassland
  • Yellow Montane Woodlands - areas where there is potential for higher altitude woodlands consisting largely of low density birch, dwarf birch, montane willows and juniper
  • White Non Target Areas - areas where woodland creation is of lower priority, highly sensitive, inappropriate or impractical - however, even in non target woodland areas, even some small scale planting may be appropriate

Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) restoration

At one time the dominant ecosystem in Scotland, much native woodland has disappeared over the centuries. Remaining ancient woodland sites - our most biologically diverse habitats - are scarce, fragmented and threatened by plantations and by over browsing. The PAWS restoration project, led by Woodland Trust Scotland, is securing these sites and the remnant features within them, and improving their condition.

  • a four year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, aimed at restoring plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS)
  • almost 2,000 ha committed to the process of restoration within the Cairngorms National Park
  • engagement events for landowners and the public
  • training for environmental professionals
  • an audio trail installed at the Highland Folk Museum, which narrates the history and importance of pinewoods in Scotland
  • Woodland Trust Outreach Advisor alancrawford@woodlandtrust.org.uk
Click on the link below to find out more

Cairngorms Aspen Project

Working with landowners to secure the future of Badenoch and Strathspey's nationally important aspen stands

Aspen woodlands support many rare invertebrates and plants, and add a vibrant splash of colour to the landscape. With input from conservation specialists, local volunteers and agricultural advisors, the project has been helping to manage 38 aspen woodlands and monitor a further 66 sites. Over the last five years, the project has planted over 1,600 aspen trees and protected at least 4,000 more by managing grazing levels.

Aspen has been planted in fourteen sites throughout the strath. Although the number of trees is relatively small, aspen will sucker freely when conditions are favourable. In time, this process of regeneration can rapidly give rise to a substantial area of woodland. Priority has been given to planting in areas where aspen is absent. As new aspen woodlands become established in these gaps, they will provide 'stepping stones' to improve connectivity, and facilitate the dispersal of aspen-dependent species.

Because aspen rarely flower and sets seeds, growing sufficient aspen of local origin for planting is an ongoing challenge. Nurseries are producing limited numbers by collecting roots and propagating suckers in a misting unit. In a bid to increase the quality and quantity of planting material, the project is helping to establish several orchards to produce local-origin seed.

Click on the link below to find out more


The Cairngorms National Park is home to some very important wetland and natural floodplain sites, and the area is vital for farmland wading birds.

Actions within the Plan focus largely on floodplain restoration and river re-naturalisation. Outcomes in the Water Framework Directive and the Flood Risk Act have concentrated activity in removing man-made barriers, riparian planting, re-meandering and Natural Flood Management knowledge gathering.


Strathspey Wetland and Waders Initiative

Collaboration between agricultural advisors, conservation bodies and farmers helping to tailor land management to fit with the needs of both farms and the breeding waders they support

Over the last 10 years, over 30,000 ha have been managed for wading birds in Strathspey on over 100 productive farms, using agri-environment funding as well as funds from other sources. The work done by the farming community in Strathspey and Badenoch speaks for itself as wader populations have, on some sites, as much as trebled according to the data collected in the most recent survey.

The Strathspey Wetland and Waders Initiative (SWWI) works with farmers across Strathspey and Badenoch to help with on-farm management plans and provide funding for bespoke projects to benefit the wader populations in the Park.

SWWI has also run a successful equipment loan scheme which can loan a flail topper to improve swards and an aerator which can improve soil health. The equipment loaned on behalf of SWWI to farmers has been immensely popular and successful.

Click on the links below to find out more:

Cairngorms Nature Farm Award

This award recognises farmers and land managers who do their best - within the course of their business - to maintain and enhance the outstanding wildlife in the Cairngorms National Park.

The award is judged by a panel representing both Cairngorms Nature and the farming community. They look for a farm which has had a positive effect on the environment, whether by focused action for priority species or localised habitat management.

Previous winners

  • 2015 Gallovie Farm, Dulnain Bridge
  • 2016 Ruthven Farm, Tomintoul
  • 2017 Auchernack Farm, Nethy Bridge

Riparian planting in upper catchments

Pearls in Peril - securing the future of the freshwater pearl mussel in Great Britain

This innovative project has:

  • worked with farmers and land managers to implement habitat enhancement to benefit freshwater pearl mussel and salmonid fish, host species for part of the mussel's lifecycle
  • been responsible for riparian tree planting in upper Dee catchment to mitigate rising water temperatures from climate change by providing shade; creating leaf litter and stabilising banks - over 68 km of riparian tree planting implemented, comprising over 110,000 trees
  • completed in-stream river restoration work at sites in the Dee, Spey and South Esk catchments, improving habitat for freshwater pearl mussel and Atlantic salmon by removal of croys, embankments and other man-made features
  • created water margins and managed riparian tree planting along 17.5 km of banks of the river Spey
  • overseen 16 ha of riparian tree planting along 5.4 km of the banks of the South Esk river in Glen Clova
Click on the links below to find out more

Glenlivet Distillery development

New Glenlivet Distillery development to benefit waders and wetland wildlife

In 2015, works started on a new processing building at Glenlivet Distillery. This involved demolition of old warehouses and construction of a new building, access road, new SuDS (sustainable drainage systems), tree planting and landscaping.

The grazing around the distillery is used by wading birds such as lapwing, oystercatcher, snipe and curlew. An area of 9 ha will be managed specifically for waders including appropriate grazing, wildflower seeding and low nutrient inputs. In addition, four wader scrapes have been constructed with a clay liner.

The surface water collected from the road and buildings will be fed through a new SuDS scheme comprising three linked ponds that have been planted up with native wetland species. The ponds are designed with varying water depths and shallow edges to provide maximum benefit for wildlife.

Spey Catchment Initiative

Two innovative river restoration projects have been working to restore centuries of river channel straightening that were affecting river functioning and impacting on natural processes

Allt a' Mharcaidh

Restoration of an artificially canalised watercourse, the Allt a' Mharcaidh, was undertaken in 2014 in association with peatland stabilisation in the immediate catchment area and wet woodland regeneration on the reconnected floodplain.

Allt Mharcaidh post restoration

Allt Lorgy

By similarly the morphology and habitats of a 1 km stretch of the Allt Lorgy - a tributary of the Dulnain river near Carr-Bridge - this innovative restoration project has also kick started natural processes in order to allow the river to re-establish its own natural equilibrium.

Click on the links below to find out more


The Cairngorms are synonymous with mountains and the upland environment. These upland areas provide some of the most exceptional aspects of the Park's biodiversity.

Work within the Action Plan over the five years has focused heavily on peatland restoration, with the Peatland Action Fund providing vital funding to address degradation in these areas. Work has also focused on collaboration with landowners to improve biodiversity in the uplands and understand more about the potential for our montane region.


Peatland Action

Peatland Action is primarily about delivering on-the-ground habitat restoration. In the last four years, we have helped to put peatlands back on the road to recovery by:

  • undertaking work on eight estates in the Park, covering 779 ha
  • blocking 19 km of drains with peat dams
  • revegetating 94 km of peat hags and eroded gullies
  • initiating revegetation on 27 ha of bare peat
  • employing one full time project officer in the Park

Further work will be needed to bring these current sites to a near natural state, and further restoration projects will be delivered across the Park.

Click on the link below to find out more

East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership

Innovative moorland collaboration set up to improve diversity in the uplands

In a unique partnership the Mar Lodge, Mar, Invercauld, Balmoral, Glenavon and Glenlivet estates are working with the Cairngorms National Park Authority to demonstrate that it's possible to deliver both public and private interest outcomes by successfully integrating sporting management with other land uses.

Working together on an unprecedented scale, the partnership will trail techniques and explore new ways of working to carry out species conservation, peatland restoration, woodland expansion and demonstrate more sustainable moorland management.

Click on the link below to find out more

Montane scrub restoration

South west Norway - a parallel universe for the Cairngorms?

Close climatic and geological similarities have been identified between the Cairngorms and south west Norway which is helping land managers gain a better understanding of the ecological potential of the landscape in the core of the Cairngorms National Park. This is helping develop the vision for montane woodland in the area.

Baseline surveys of montane species are being carried out in the National Park and Wildland Ltd, one of the partners of Cairngorms Connect, has started restoring montane woodland on the ground.

Click on the links below to find out more


Whilst most action is directed at the landscape scale, certain species need targeted action to address their specific conservation needs. Focused action is taking place for 17 of 23 priority species.


Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms

Led by a partnership of agencies and charities (CNPA, RSPB, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and SNH), this project is focusing on six species of insect for which the habitats of the National Park are critically important and are in urgent need of conservation action:

  • small scabious mining bee (Andrena marginata)
  • shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus)
  • Northern silver stiletto fly (Spiriverpa lanulata)
  • Kentish glory moth (Endronis versicolora)
  • dark bordered beauty moth (Epiona vespertaria)
  • pine hoverfly (Blera fallax)
Click on the link below to find out more

The Scottish wildcat is the UK's only remaining native cat. It is critically endangered through hybridisation with domestic cats, disease and accidental killing because distinguishing wildcats from hybrid or feral cats can be difficult. Recent data collected by Scottish Wildcat Action indicates that there may be fewer than 100 wildcats left in the wild. Hybridisation is such a problem that it's likely all remaining wildcats have some domestic ancestry. Recent genetic data indicate that the captive Scottish wildcat has very low domestic ancestry.

Scottish Wildcat Action is a partnership project of 20 organisations including leading Scottish wildcat experts. The project works in five priority areas, two of which are located in the Cairngorms National Park, to conserve the remaining wildcats, alongside establishing a viable population that can be used for releases in the future. Work includes:

  1. neutering and vaccinating feral cats and obviously hybridised cats
  2. encouraging cat owners to neuter, vaccinate and microchip their pet cats
  3. public education on Scottish wildcat conservation issues
  4. encouraging wildcat-friendly land management practices

Over the course of the work to date, the project has neutered 40 feral and hybridised cats, within the two priority areas in the National Park, and has created artificial den sites in the Angus Glens, which will be monitored for use by wildcats. We encourage people to report possible wildcat sightings to us via the project website.

Click on the links below to find out more

Speyside Fields for Wildlife

Working with farmers to create species-rich wildflower meadows for birds and insects on agricultural land, this group of independent conservation-minded local people was set up in 2016.

The single hectare of wildflowers along the Speyside Way has provided feeding habitat for well over 1,000 bramblings, chaffinches, linnets, reed buntings and yellowhammers, as well as countless insects.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has committed a further £10,000 over the next five years to support more sites.

Click on the link below for more information

Capercaillie Framework

Around 90% of the UK capercaillie population is found in the Cairngorms National Park

2015 saw the publication of the Capercaillie Framework which pulled together all the information relating to capercaillie distribution, the pressures they face and the current management measures being undertaken. This is being used to make decisions about their future conservation management across the entire National Park, so that work, which includes habitat expansion and access management, can be directed to where it's needed most.

In April 2018, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project successfully secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop and, if successful with the next stage, to deliver a large-scale, Park-wide, five-year project, the objectives of which are:

  • to build support for capercaillie conservation, helping people to understand and value their natural heritage, the benefits it can bring and how their actions can affect it
  • to work with communities in the National Park to develop sustainable approaches to recreation, meeting residents' and visitors' needs whilst minimising negative impact on capercaillie
  • to develop a programme of conservation action to support the long term survival of the species
Click on the links below for more information


Key to the success of Cairngorms Nature is inspiring and raising awareness, both locally and further afield, about the successes and challenges of conservation work in the National Park. Communities are encouraged to engage with, and have a say in, the management of their local natural heritage, and to get out and about and get involved.


Volunteer Cairngorms

This three year pilot project is providing opportunities for people to benefit from looking after nature across the National Park through volunteering. This exciting programme of work has got off to a flying start and is improving volunteers' skills including path maintenance, tree planting, species surveying and much more!

Fourteen volunteer rangers, along with other volunteers, have already given over 1,000 hours in the first seven months, and there has been over 60 opportunities to get hands on with nature!

Click on the links below to find out more

Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter

With a real need to inspire the next generation and engage them with nature, this innovative competition was designed to get children and their parents actively involved in Cairngorms Nature

  • the competition has run for three years in partnership with the RSPB and Speyside Wildlife
  • it has been featured in RSPB's kids magazine (200,000 members); National Geographic Kids (190,000 readership); The Week for Kids (80,000 readership) - combined with social media coverage, the total reach is over a half million!
  • it aims to raise the profile of Cairngorms Nature and partners
  • it aims to identify a number of young folk who we can work with to help us reach their peers
  • entrants submit a short film of themselves talking about nature, with a shortlist drawn up by a panel of judges
  • the winner is chosen by public vote via social media
  • the winner spends 5 days on a Speyside Wildlife holiday in the Park, spending one day with TV naturalist Iolo Williams

Meet Aiden Curlewis - winner of the 2018 Cairngorms Nature Young Presenter competition

Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend

Starting out as a gathering of tents in Aviemore in 2013, and renamed in 2017, the Cairngorms Nature BIG Weekend is a key date in the calendar for nature lovers. With dozens of events and activities each year, the BIG Weekend attracts thousands of residents and visitors alike to experience the outstanding nature of the Cairngorms National Park.

Over the years we've welcomed Nick Baker, BBC Landward, George Monbiot and Mara the sea eagle to the event. The weekend is a vital part of our outreach work; connecting with communities, getting people involved in volunteering and offering guided experiences for the 'new to nature' audience to try.

Schools Art Competition

This competition is a highlight of the BIG Weekend and attracts hundreds of entries from schools across the Park. We invite the shortlisted children to attend a special event where the overall winners are announced.

In 2018, the theme was 'mountains' and CairnGorm Mountain hosted the event for 31 children and their families to ride the funicular to the top of the mountain for refreshments and an art workshop. For some it was the first time they'd made the trip and it gave them an entirely new experience of the Cairngorms National Park!

Cairngorms Nature social media activity

Social media is a vital communication tool in the 21st century and Cairngorms Nature has very active Twitter and Facebook accounts.

@CNPnature is our Twitter handle and, to date, has 3,286 followers, equally split between the genders. 96% are under 54 years of age, with 10% under 25. In 2017, Cairngorms Nature tweets were distributed approximately 250,000 times with an average engagement rate of 5%.

The Facebook page has over 11,000 likes! In 2017 posts reached 1.6m individual Facebook accounts and had an average engagement rate of 10%. Our Facebook audience has slightly more females (57%) and an older demographic than twitter, with 83% being under 54 and 8% being under 25.

Click on the links below to find out more

What next for Cairngorms Nature ...

We are now about to embark on the next five-year step along the way towards fulfilling Cairngorms Nature's 50-year vision first described in 2013. It is important that we all build on the excellent progress achieved across the Cairngorms National Park during the past five years of working together. The need to meet ambitious climate change targets and deliver public benefits, all the while halting and reversing the decline in biodiversity, means we should continue to look after, and indeed strengthen, nature by thinking and working at an ambitious, landscape scale. Those species whose populations cannot be protected simply by safeguarding their habitat, will continue to be prioritised for more specific conservation action. Furthermore, the need to involve people, residents and visitors alike, in helping look after the nature of the Cairngorms, has never been greater.

The public consultation on the draft Cairngorms Nature Action Plan 2018 - 2023 is now open and runs from Wednesday 20 June to Friday 14 September 2018, and we encourage you to let us know what you think.

Photo credits: Pete Cairns/2020VISION/CNPA; Cameron Cosgrove; CNPA; Desmond Dugan; Jakub Iwanicki/VisitScotland/CNPA; Mark Hamblin/2020VISION/CNPA; Linda Pitkin/2020VISION/CNPA; PiP/DDSFB; Ellie Rotheray; Rupert Shanks

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