- Written by David Duncan
- Category: Mountain
- Published: 22 August 2012
Human Impacts on the Northern Cairngorms by Adam Watson and A Snow book, Northern Scotland by Adam Watson.
For any serious student of the ecology of the Cairngorm Mountains these two books by Dr. Adam Watson are essential reading and should be on all school and public library shelves.
The volume, Human Impacts on the Northern Cairngorms, is in two main parts, the first being based on the scientific evidence which Dr Watson presented at the Lurcher’s Gully Public Inquiry, into the proposed westward expansion of downhill ski development at Cairn Gorm. The Inquiry followed objections by the then Nature Conservancy Council and other bodies, to the Cairngorm Chairlift Company’s proposals for new ski lifts and other facilities in Coir an t-Sneachda, Coire an Lochain and Allt Creag an Leth-choin (anglicised to Lurcher’s Gully) and for a new road into the Lurcher’s Gully.
Dr Watson’s evidence was based mainly on fieldwork carried out by him in 1981, but also on his long experience and knowledge of the area, both as a research scientist and as a recreational skier and mountaineer. This is the first time much of this information has been published and made available to the general public. Technical descriptions are given of the corries with details of geomorphology, snow lie, soil types and vegetation etc.
The second part of the book brings the story up to date with a range of topics such as an analysis of visitor counts, human impacts on soils and vegetation, flash flooding, habitat changes and impacts on bird and mammal populations. Most of this is again based on his own meticulous recording and observations but he also quotes other field workers and lists their published evidence.
Of particular interest here is the chapter on human induced erosion on Cairn Gorm where Dr Watson quotes examples of excessive human trampling and widening of paths, causing deposition of infertile grit onto the thin top soils and smothering the existing vegetation. Recovery of this vegetation by re-colonisation of such areas is usually an extremely slow process. The photograph on the front cover of the book taken in 1970 shows how bad things were then, after the bulldozing of the new pistes, the construction of ski lifts and new buildings.
There is another particularly interesting chapter (co-authored with Desmond Nethersole-Thompson) on the changes in bird populations at Glen More. The demise of the population of waders and other species from the area around Loch Morlich due to forestry drainage, close planting of non-native conifers and increased visitor pressure, is well documented. The early plantations of Sitka Spruce at canopy closure also killed much of the ground vegetation and reduced the value of the woods for the specialist pinewood bird species such as black grouse and capercaillie. However as a post script to this chapter Dr Watson does give credit to the Forestry Commission for a change in management practice since the 1990’s ‘to create a pinewood reserve in Glen More in order to forge a link between Abernethy and Rothiemurchus’.
It is almost 30 years since the first Lurcher’s Gully Public Inquiry and it is easy to forget that a whole generation of recreational hill users has grown up, perhaps unaware of the battles and debates of the past. We should all be grateful therefore to people like Dr Watson who has fought so tirelessly for the protection of the Cairngorms and who has made so much of the scientific information available to the public in this book.
The Cairngorm Mountains are the snowiest part of the British Isles and have been the subject of study by scientists and amateur observers for many years. Adam Watson’s interest in the snowfields was sparked by his schoolboy readings of Seton Gordon’s books on the Cairngorms. Seton Gordon’s observations on surviving snowfields began in the years before the 1914-18 War, but he documented the recollections of older local people on the subject whose memories went back to the mid 19th century.
Dr Watson has brought the story up to date by publishing his field observations from 1938 to the present day. He has also applied his methodical scientific approach and has analysed historical records from the Earl of Fife’s ‘Journal of Weather at Marr Lodge (1783-92)’ to more recently published papers and Met Office records. He also quotes local Strathspey people’s observations and recollections, such as the late Pat McLean of Nethy Bridge, Donnie Smith of Lurg and Carrie and Desmond Nethersole-Thompson of Whitewell.
The evidence shows that there have been significant declines in snow survival compared with the years up to the early 1930s and this trend has accelerated since 1990. The melting of the ‘Eternal Snows’ (as described by Seton Gordon) occurred only in 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003 and 2006. The recent snowy winters of 2010 and 2011 may well be an aberration.
A snow patch in Badenoch summer 2012.
There is a particularly interesting chapter where Dr Watson discusses the suggestion by some researchers that the colder climatic conditions of the Little Ice Age in the 1700s and 1800s may have resulted in the return of glaciation to the Garbh Choire Mor of Braeriach. Their theory was based on the age of the lichens growing on the rocky ridge below the snow beds of the inner corrie. Dr Watson considers this unlikely and suggests that these rocks are not of recent morainic origin but are probably a protalus rampart, that is rocks which have fallen from the cliffs above due to frost shattering.
There are also notes and photographs showing the use of snow by hill birds and mammals and some excellent photographs of snow features and snow avalanches.
This book is a must- read for all snow enthusiasts; for scientists or for the casual observer who wants to learn more of the snow fields of the Cairngorms which add immeasurably to the landscape value of our uplands.
Both books are published by Paragon Publishing.
- Written by Gus Jones
- Category: Debates
- Published: 22 June 2012
On 22 June BSCG discovered that a New National Park Plan with a a forward by Minister for the Environment and Climate change has been posted on the CNPA website.
The Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group has commented on this:-
"Responsible planning in National Parks should be one of the foremost methods by which landscapes, habitats and species are protected. The quality of Scotland’s natural environment is fundamental to people’s livelihoods and quality of life.
We are concerned that aspects of the consultation process were flawed, ignoring some serious concerns about safeguarding the natural and cultural heritage and giving insufficient attention to national interests. It is wrong if many of those making the effort to respond to the consultation end up concluding that the process was a ‘stitch up’ from the start, with short term thinking taking undue precedence. We do not see the minister’s expressions of approval for the consultation process as reflecting the experience of our community group.
We are concerned that this document is devoid of serious targets properly reflecting the statutory aims of the park and that this deficiency will open the way to further damaging development.
We and others have queried why the National Park Authority has launched into producing a new National Park Plan before the first plan had run its course or the out of date 2002 Cairngorms Biodiversity Action Plan has been updated. Certainly the second park plan with its shortened horizons appears depressingly devoid of tangible long term targets. Pretty pictures and fine words are one thing but for a key document like this to be thin on solid commitments cannot bode well for the interests of the public, our natural heritage or Scotland’s international reputation."
- Written by Gus Jones
- Category: Insects
- Published: 18 June 2012
The first meeting of Arachnologists in Scotland for many years is taking place in Perth Museum on August 25th. SAM 2012 , the Scottish Arachnologists’ Meeting, is free and open to all. It provides a great opportunity for anyone interested in harvestmen, pseudoscorpions and spiders t to learn from others. It is hoped it will encourage more people to get more involved with arachnid survey and ecological studies of these important predators in Scotland.
From house spiders and garden arachnids to harvestmen of the Falkland Islands there is a varied programme of talks with an optional field day.
From small mesh weaver to the extraordinary gallows or wood ant spider and a number of lively jumping spiders Badenoch & Strathspey & the Cairngorms area harbours a fascinating range of arachnids including some scarce and threatened species that have been overlooked on sites threatened by development. BSCG has for example documented the wood ant eating or gallows spider Dipoena torva on three sites proposed for new housing development.
Reflecting improved knowledge BSCG anticipates there will be further species of arachnid highlighted as conservation priorities in the forthcoming second Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan.
Information on SAM 2012 is being provided on the British Arachnological Society website. BSCG can also supply booking forms for the meeting.
A male money spider (Dismodicus) found recently in Juniper on a threatened site in Strathspey. The prominent head extension appears to accommodate secretory pits and may be associated with mating but we know of no detailed study of the function of such structures in spiders.
Spiders are important predators here a spider on a threatened site in Strathspey with a leaf hopper. In turn spiders provide food for birds and some birds exploit spider silk when constructing their nests as recently described on Springwatch that has been following the fortunes of the nest of a goldcrest through summer gales.
An arachnologist using suction to sample spiders in Scots pine woodland in Strathspey that is a habitat supporting many kinds of arachnids.
Gallows spider with wood ant prey at a threatened site in Strathspey one of several where BSCG has found this spider that is on the Scottish Biodiversity List.
- Written by Tim Ransom
- Category: Leaflets
- Published: 28 May 2012
Our leaflet on Ladybirds of Badenoch and Strathspey.