A National Nature Reserve since 1986 Creag Meagaidh straddles the west and east Highlands and is a popular summer visitor destination. With well-marked paths, picnic areas and a lively information shelter it has a lot to offer. A range of exciting species including golden eagles, dotterel, red deer, dragonflies and small pearl-bordered fritillaries are a genuine summer lure. Arguably less well-known is that the reserve is a bit of a winter magnet too, as Rory Richardson explains.
Winter hill-walking attracts good numbers to the area. Good high-level walking, three Munros and the impressive Coire Ardair are serious winter delights. Of course they aren’t without their winter dangers. The Scottish Avalanche Information Service is housed here (daily Avalanche Information Reports are issued from the 5 operational areas Lochaber, Glencoe, Creag Meagaidh, Southern Cairngorms , Northern Cairngorms.) and from this time of year through to March they issue daily reports on the likelihood and location of avalanches. For hill walkers and climbers this is one of the most valuable services they can tap into.
The Coire Ardair path winds its way through woodlands and onto moorland before finally offering up a glimpse of the iconic Creag Meagaidh ‘window’. This remarkable physical feature gives access to the vast plateau area. As visitors approach the window they will see a veritable ‘wall’ to their left and down through the years this has proved a popular spot for ice climbers.
Ice is a welcome challenge for some but a different proposition for our staff when it interferes with the new Hydro Scheme’s inlet pipes. To prevent icing up the system is checked on a daily basis.
As well as catering for people visiting the reserve staff arrange for contractors to come in and see to the feeding needs of the Highland cattle and Soay sheep that live on the reserve. Other welcome guests on the reserve are the enthusiastic volunteers who monitor the winter migrants that fly into the reserve.
Our poly tunnel at Creag Meagaidh allows us to source our own seeds to bring on young trees to be planted in areas which we have zoned off specifically to nurture the next generation. Red deer are the most common deer on Creag Meagaidh and keeping the numbers in balance with woodland regeneration is the main management we need to carry out. Deer numbers are continually monitored on the reserve and we cull their numbers according to our detailed habitat assessments and in liaison with the Deer Management Group.
Other tasks that occupy staff in winter are more mundane but nevertheless vital if others are to enjoy the reserve. Snow ploughing in the car park for example and clearing the lower paths remain a priority as is keeping the bird feeders around the Alderwood Trail and the An Sidhean path feeding stations.
Education is an important aspect of our work on the reserve. We are training gamekeepers from Thurso throughout the year, and pupils from Kingussie High School attend a Rural skills programme at Creag Meagaidh every Thursday, which comprises path work, drystane-dyking, deer larder work and many other familiar estate work duties. In addition to the young gamekeepers and school pupils we have regular visits from universities and local communities throughout winter.
Clearly winter is another magical season around this increasingly popular reserve.
Find out more about Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve @ http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/creag-meagaidh/