Location: East of the A9 Perth - Inverness road, south east of Aviemore.
Grid Reference: NJ 004 013
Cairngorms IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Heaths with alpine and boreal vegetation;
High altitude wet seepage areas;
Blanket bogs (extensive areas of peatland);
Open grasslands on heavy metal rich substrates;
Mountain and upland screes on base rich rock;
Calcareous rocks with crack & fissure vegetation;
Ungrazed upland cliff ledges on calcareous rocks;
Juniper scrub on heaths and calcareous grasslands;
Old oak woodlands with holly;
Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
Hard water springs;
Acidic alpine grassland;
Acid rocks with crack & fissure vegetation;
Acidic montane scree;
Species rich acid, montane grassland;
Sub-Arctic willow scrub
About the Cairngorms
The Cairngorms are the largest mass of high land in the British Isles, covering over 300 square miles and with four summits exceeding 4,000 feet (1,220 metres). Their height and distance from the sea produces low winter temperatures, encouraging the most arctic vegetation anywhere in the UK.
Derek Ratcliffe compiled A Nature Conservation Review in 1977, using a list of 118 characteristic montane vascular plants to assess the richness of mountain areas. The Cairngorms came second only to the Breadalbane hills in Perthshire, with 77 of those species present.
To catch most plants in prime condition plan a visit in late June or early July (and be prepared for snow and bitter winds on the high tops). If possible, plan on spending a week here.
Your first day might be spent exploring the pinewoods of Glen More. The next day you might venture higher, using the bus from Aviemore to the ski area and walking into the Northern Corries. The rough path into Coire an t-Sneachda (it means ‘snow corrie’) will reveal many arctic-alpine species, including spectacular groups of globeflower and roseroot.
Some of the best cliff and scree flora in the Cairngorms is found high up in the magnificent cliff buttresses, ridges and deeply indented gullies of the Northern Corries. A number of rare species grow here including alpine saxifrage, Highland saxifrage, hare’s-foot sedge, curved wood-rush and green shield-moss.
On another day, weather permitting, you will want to get higher still to explore the vast expanse of the high tops; head for some of the late snow patches to see the important moss and liverwort communities they support.
The flora of high-altitude screes in the snowy corries includes parsley fern, alpine lady-fern and rare wavy meadow-grass. If you are an experienced hillwalker, you might venture into Coire Garbhlach, where schistose rocks provide a refuge for lime-loving species, such as mountain avens, that do not occur on the granite rocks elsewhere, or the nationally rare alpine fleabane.
Another day you might climb above the treeline in Creag Fhiaclach to see the best surviving montane scrub in Britain. A drive round to Glen Shee and a hard walk up The Cairnwell on one side of the A93, or Ghlas Maol on the other, will guarantee more arctic-alpine plants.
Image: Cairngorms IPA © Bob Gibbons/Plantlife