Cairngorms reindeer

Gwenda Diack

Gwenda Diack

Cairngorms Wild Plants Project Officer

6th February 2018

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Cairngorms reindeer © Lindsey Randall

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Cladonia rangiferina © Laurie Campbell

The Cairngorms is not only home to some of the UK’s rarest and hardiest wild plants and lichens – it’s also home to Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd who have lived here since 1952. On first observing the terrain, the founder of the herd said “"Looking across Rothiemurchus Forest to the Cairngorms from the railway bridge at Aviemore on a cold morning in April 1947, I was instantly reminded of reindeer pastures in Lapland… species of ground, rock and tree lichens, which are elsewhere the chief food of reindeer, were plentiful and of little use to other animals.”

Indeed, the Cairngorms reindeer feel quite at home in the stark wilderness of the Cairngorms, they can cope with the extreme climate due to a super insulated coat, clever ways of conserving energy in winter, and also because of the plentiful supply of Reindeer moss – their main food. Reindeer Moss, also known as deer moss and caribou moss, is actually a lichen, Cladonia rangiferina. This lichen is extremely cold-hardy and enjoys the Cairngorm climate, where it grows in between the rocky outcrops of the Cairngorms. In fact, many lichens live abundantly in the higher ground of the Cairngorms, and the range of different species, some indicative of low-lying northern climes adjacent to ones more readily found in high alpine peaks makes this assemblage unique in Europe and so are exceptionally important.

Reindeer moss is characterised by a shrubby, bushy structure made up of many fronds, otherwise classified as a “fruiticose” lichen.

For information on what Plantlife Scotland are working towards in the Cairngorms on our Cairngorms Wild Plant Project Page on our website:

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