A Winter Update on the Cairngorms Wild Plants Project

Gwenda Diack

Gwenda Diack

Cairngorms Wild Plants Project Officer

11th December 2017


Snow in the Cairngorms

As snow storms whistle over the mountains and through the highland glens of the Cairngorms National Park, I thought I'd take a look at what has been achieved in 2017 on the Cairngorms Wild Plants Project.

As I write this, outside the skies are dark with snow and the wind is whistling through the pine trees and rattling the windows. It fills me with admiration for the animals and birds living in the arctic alpine zone of the Cairngorms National Park or, for that matter, living with a blanket of snow in the Caledonian pinewoods. I will write again on how they and the wild plants have adapted to survive such harsh cold winter weather. But for now, here are a few reflections on Plantlife Scotland’s project in the Cairngorms.

One of the main ways of conserving the flora of the Cairngorms Important Plant Area is through providing training for land managers. This year, four training events have been held. The first two in the summer were aimed at The Mountains & The People apprentices, Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland volunteers and Plantlife’s Flora Guardians. In October, two more events were held, one for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) ecosystem and biodiversity advisory staff and one for third year University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) Scottish School of Forestry students. Each event was designed with the audience in mind and have been well received. Here is a snippet of feedback that I received from Sarah Smyth who was the group organiser of the SNH event:

“Thank you so much for a perfectly pitched event for the SNH unit meeting – folks were really enthused by it, actually getting hands on doing some practical conservation was very satisfying as we frequently sit in our offices and feel removed from the actual conservation work that got us hooked in the first place. The plant survey was great and set up for some great reminiscing later on of student days (long ago!) And a colleague was incredibly excited to have seen Twinflower – so much so he was going to join plantlife after being really impressed by the knowledge and passion of all 3 of you. I think also the practical reminders of how to communicate to landowners was invaluable – as without the land manager on board we will lose the battle.”

Thanks Sarah! I have always felt that one of the benefits of direct experience with wild plants and wild places is to lift the spirits, renew positive energies and increase motivation to conserve these beautiful places. This feedback reinforces that view and in turn gave me a boost! It’s great to think that the event has inspired people who through their advisory work, have the potential to make a difference for these wild plants. Thanks must also go to Davie Black and Flora Guardian Michelle Green for their help on the day, the event couldn’t have run without them.

Snow on trees in the Cairngorms

Alongside these training events, Cairngorms Wild Plants aims to foster this desire to help wild plants by engaging volunteers, Flora Guardians. So far the project has signed up 10 volunteers who come from all walks of life. Some come to the project with specialist knowledge of plants, some are beginners with bags of enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. But all have been keen to help out where and when they can.

The investment of my time to meet new volunteers, train and get each person up and running is both one of my favourite parts of my work and one of the most important. It will hopefully lead to a lasting legacy both very personal to each Flora Guardian but also for the Cairngorms sites and communities.

This year Flora Guardians have volunteered at six events, written blogs (read Alison Cram’s blog here) and have monitored some key pinewoods sites which are incredibly important for twinflower and one flowered wintergreen. Together we have delivered 33 volunteer days! Andy, Anne, Alison, Alex, Carol, Caroline, Chris, Erszi, Karen and Michelle, a big thank to you all for being the first few to sign up to the project and volunteer your time and energy! I am pleased to say that I have been working behind the scenes with land managers and ranger services to line up some more projects for you in 2018 both in Caledonian pinewoods but also for the arctic alpine plants. Hope you are as excited about that as I am!

Cairngorms winter landscape

Finally, I wanted to say that this project would not happen without the support of our funders (LEADER, CNPA and SNH), members and supporters who have donated to the Cairngorms and the National Park staff, ranger services, land managers and volunteers who have embraced the project. My sincere good wishes to you all.

Keep in touch via our e-newsletter. Follow the project on Facebook #CairngormsWildPlants. To support our work, donate here or Join Us. If you live in the Cairngorms and would like to get involved locally in the project, I would be delighted to hear from you. Contact me on Gwenda.diack@plantlife.org.uk.

Find out more:

Cairngorms_Pinus_sylvestris_treeline 1 (c) Peter Mulligan under Creative Commons.jpg

Cairngorms Wild Plants project

Building on the work of the Cairngorms Rare Plants Project, our new Cairngorms Wild Plants Project - covering both arctic-alpine flora and Caledonian pinewood – aims to secure the future of these habitats.

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