Sunday 24 February 2019

An encounter with elderly pines and black grouse

Some few thousands of years after the end of the last ice age (10,000 bp) a great wood extended across Scotland from the valleys of the Cairngorm plateau to glens of Lochaber in the west. The climate was warmer and drier, soils were better drained and less acid. Pine trees thrived.

Trees of many ages and open spaces
As the current inter-glacial period progressed precipitation increased, soils became more acid and peat began to form. The pines retreated, neolithic farmers used fire and stone then iron axes to clear the forest. More recently two world wars took more of the pines.

Today we have about ninety remnants of the great wood scattered from Glen Nevis and Ardgour in the west to Glen Tanar in the eastern Cairngorms. Among the biggest and the best remnants are Rothiemurchus and Abernethy where I've been today. This a favourite walk of mine from Loch Morlich over the pass of Ryvoan to the valley of the river Spey it's an encounter with the, "Great Wood" it's trees, shrubs , birds and some of it's mammals, no wolves or lynx unfortunately.

Huge, gnarled ,elderly heavy limbed  "Granny Pines" 300 - 400 years old and their offspring of many ages predominate mixed with birch and alder in the wetter places. In the absence of sheep and with  deer control the forest seems to be self-sustaining, a microcosm of the Great Wood.

Loch an Uaine (The green loch)

Apart from this encounter with the old trees I had a second reason to visit. I wanted to see if a black grouse lekking site that I first discovered about twelve years ago was still in use.Black grouse are very loyal to these places.

The grass was short and green, beaten down and fertilised by the grouse. I found black body feathers in the longer grass to windward and grouse scat on the ground. The site is still in use between dusk and dawn.

Black grouse conservation in the Alps

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