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A Month at Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service

Natural Retreats recently appointed Chris Taylor as new Senior Ranger for the Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service. Here he tell us a bit more about his first month on the job!

“Well nearly a month to the day, I took over the lead of the Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service from Nic Bullivant ,who had been with the Ranger Service for 20 years. This was initially quite daunting but thankfully Nic left the service in really good shape and the Ranger Service comes with another brilliant person Ruari who also has 20 years experience on the mountain.”

Ruari leading a Wilderness Walk looking over the Lairig Ghru.

“I have recently been working on the slopes of Lochnagar for Balmoral Ranger Service and before that with the RSPB on a remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic, called Gough (www.chrisongough.blogspot.co.uk). Here I was carrying out surveys on various species of albatross and penguins. On Balmoral, I was carrying out classic Ranger duties including birds of prey surveys, footpath work and guided walks.”

Lochnagar, my old stomping grounds has hopefully put me in a good place for this role.

Gough Island, where the scenery could sometimes feel familiar, a combination of Scotland and Iceland.

“So what was I thinking, on my first day, when I was first driving up the snow road to Coire Cas? It was actually an amazement at the number of small trees growing at a high altitiude. This is most likely due to reduced grazing pressure from Red Deer and the fact that since the 1940s there has been no burning of the heather (a traditional method of grouse moor management to encourage new growth). Additionally the recreational use also kept deer numbers low supplemented with planting in some areas. The trees continue, albeit in stunted forms way up into the surrounding hills. I regularly see Dwarf Juniper, Dwark Birch and Least Willow whilst walking about.”

Scots Pine trees on the snow road, continue up the hillside getting smaller as the conditions become more severe.

 

I soon became to realise that the vegetation is pretty special at this time of year. Bell Heather growing among the Common Heather.

Starry Saxifrage sitting among various species of Sphagnum Moss in a nutrient rich wet flush.

Berries of Dwarf Cornel, a subarctic specialist growing off a main path on the Cairngorm Estate.

“After I reached the car park, within 20 seconds of getting out of my car, I was answering a question about the best route to Ben Macdui.  I answered the best I could, which later turned out to be generally accurate. This, I have come to understand, is one of the major parts of the Cairngorm Mountain Ranger Service – giving advice to users of the hill. Coire Cas is a popular starting point for many walks. The car park is at a height of just over 600m so I can see why it is a popular starting point. One of my first jobs was to get out and explore the landscape so that I can answer questions confidently. Whilst out on these walks, I also managed to get to grips with the other main aspects of the job – footpath maintenance. Highlands and Island Enterprise have invested a lot of money in these paths over the last few years and without maintenance they would soon be back to square one. Maintenance involves cleaning the drainage bars and ditches to prevent them becoming clogged. We also repair drainage bars/steps that need immediate attention. I have had a lot of people comment on the quality of the paths “these days”, which is testament to a lot of hard work during the building and subsequent maintenance.”

A drainage bar in need of a bit of a clean. We aim to get around each path on the estate once a month. “A stitch in time saves nine

“If you are interested, I am looking to get more people involved in helping to look after the hill environment. Some jobs, especially with the footpaths, rely on the phrase “many hands make light work”. The first event is the “Real 3 Peaks Challenge” – an organised litter pick of Ben Nevis, Scrafell and Snowdon on 7th October. The national event is being expanded to include other famous peaks, now including Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui. If you are interested in coming along, we are looking for competent hill walkers, who will walk with a smile. More information and how to book can be found on the “Real 3 Peaks Challenge” Facebook Page. I am also looking to developing a regular Friday Footpath Club in 2018, once a month – much better than going to the gym.

For now I need to keep learning the ropes, learning the ground and seeing how things work. I am meeting neighbouring estates managers and Rangers and getting to know some of the regular hill characters. There is also office based work to do including getting to grips with very important documents about the management of the Cairngorm Estate.

So if you are passing the Ranger Base, do feel free to pop in to have a chat, a Ranger can usually be found there before 10pm and after 3.30pm.”

Cairn Gorm viewed from Loch Etchachan, with the deep vally of Loch A’an in the middle.

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