2023 Restoration Round-Up

Winter is upon us and snowy views accompany us on our work across the Partnership as we take time to reflect on the highlights from 2023.

The Cairngorms Connect Partnership has seen noticeable progress in 2023 across all areas, from restoration delivery to communications and involvement, and science and monitoring. The scale of achievements has been remarkable, and a testament to the hard work by staff and volunteers from across the partnership in a wide range of habitats, altitudes, and weather.


2023 Restoration Round Up Stats_


For the first time, decades of data have been collated from the entire Cairngorms Connect Partnership to better understand the potential of forest regeneration in the presence of deer. This resulting research was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology in September 2023.


2023 Restoration Round Up Stats_3


As we continue to work intergenerationally to deliver our 200-year vision, 2023 saw the continuation and development of our work with schools and youth groups as well as a new initiative to involve 18–25 year olds with the creation of the Cairngorms Connect Youth Cohort. A group of nine local young people came together to learn about landscape-scale restoration and develop ideas for future youth involvement within the Partnership.


2023 Restoration Round Up Stats_2


Last, but not least, it was a real honour to have our work featured in the Sir David Attenborough-narrated documentary Saving our Wild Isles in March 2023 which has been watched by thousands of people across the UK. We look forward to continuing to drive forward this important work, and identifying opportunities to involve people of all ages, locally, nationally, and internationally.

– Cairngorms Connect Board


Cairngorms Connect Partnership Staff Reflections

We asked some Cairngorms Connect Partnership staff to share their 2023 highlights to shed light on the work behind the data.

Wildland Limited Conservation Assistant, Ronan Dugan starts us off. “2023 was a big year for some species on Wildland. However, I’d like to start by mentioning the small. One of our smallest mammals, the short-tailed field vole was in plentiful supply. A bumper year for them, thriving in the regenerating landscape it seemed. A delight to see them scurrying about as we went about our duties out on the land. Of course, many other species, particularly predators also benefited from the plentiful supply of voles. Of note, we recorded an unprecedented 11 pairs of hen harriers nesting successfully, fledging an estimated 40 chicks. We also recorded our first short-eared owls breeding successfully on Wildland Cairngorms. It certainly is wonderful to witness these species, big and small, thriving in the regenerating landscape of Wildland and Cairngorms Connect.”

Short-eared_owls_Wildland_Ronan_2023Short-eared owl chicks photographed by Ronan Dugan

Next up is Forestry and Land Scotland’s Glenmore Visitor Centre supervisor, Laura Nicoll. “My highlight has been working with our volunteers – be that at the Visitor Centre or out and about removing tree tubes, doing non-native removal, and path maintenance. A soggy day up Meall a’ Bhuachaille in July was particularly satisfying! Seeing folk so happy to give up their time to take care of the Cairngorms Connect landscape makes me optimistic about the future of this place and its local community.”

FLS_LauraNicoll_2023Forestry and Land Scotland Staff at Glenmore Forest Park by Laura Nicoll

This year Glenmore Forest Park celebrated 100 years of public ownership and over this time has experienced all the changes in the forestry sector – from the early years of forestry expansion to decades of technological and sociological change, and the current conservation focus. Forester Brian Duff and his colleagues have been working to expand the native Scots Pine forest and restructure existing non-native plantations.

“This winter will see the completion of all the non-native removal within Forestry and Land Scotland’s Glenmore and Inshriach Forests, which has been undertaken using both chainsaw and hand tools. This has been possible due to funding via Cairngorms Connect. Over the last three winters this restoration work has taken place across 2700 hectares. Given time these areas will once again regenerate into a native woodland forest. The area below was felled of non-natives in the 1990’s.”

FLS_Brian_2023Forestry and Land Scotland restoration site by Brian Duff

Partnership staff at RSPB Scotland’s Abernethy Reserve have also been working hard to restore and enhance native woodland. Forest Ranger Kirsty Pollard shared that her highlight from this year was “being involved in the plantation restructuring work at RSPB Scotland’s Craigmore Forest. From the outside, Craigmore appears a uniform pine plantation. A short foray into the woods, however, reveals flushes of birch holding their own amongst the pine; juniper craning for light; and the remains of large pines – hinting towards a more open, natural forest in days gone by. Over the past few months, work has been going on within areas of the plantation to create a more uneven, diverse, and naturalistic area of woodland which will benefit a range of wildlife. Clear-fells have been strategically created to facilitate regeneration – particularly of broadleaves – ensuring a forest which is diverse in age as well as species.”

A true high point of partnership working this year has been collating decades of data from the entire Cairngorms Connect Partnership to better understand the potential of forest regeneration in the presence of deer. NatureScot Nature Reserves Manager Ian Sargent reflects on this milestone. “The highlight for me this year was the Cairngorms Connect Science Team and partners achieving the publication of ‘Woodland expansion in the presence of deer’ in the Journal of Applied Ecology. A huge achievement by all involved! This applied science not only provides a strong evidence base for our work, but hopefully can inspire others to apply a similar approach elsewhere.”

Cairngorms Connect Project Scientist, Pip Gullett continues. “It was a real highlight to work with colleagues from right across the Partnership to publish this paper – and receiving the Editor’s Choice award was the cherry on top. This means that many more people will hear about this important work.”

Pip continued, “It’s been amazing to be back with the team this year after returning from maternity leave and every trip to the field has been an immense joy, especially seeing the little willows doing so well at Loch A'an!”

NatureScot_comparison_1_1973-2023_IanSargentFixed point photography from NatureScot's Invereshie Reserve, showing woodland regeneration between 1973 and 2023. Credit: Ian Sargent

Cairngorms Connect Monitoring Officer Ellie Dimambro-Denson received funding from the Future of UK Treescapes to spend three months this summer completing a research fellowship in Norway. “It was a great honour working alongside researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) to learn about mountain woodlands and the ways in which we might be able to restore this missing ecotone to the landscapes of Cairngorms Connect. Spending time amongst these lofty willows and birches, bearing witness to this landscape of transition and working through the rhythms of collecting data to understand montane willow establishment helped to open a window into what might be possible here at home, given only time.”

Norway_EllieDD_2023_v2Landscape in south-west Norway captured by Ellie Dimambro-Denson

Another year passed and another year closer towards our 200-year vision. These reflections offer a glimpse into the hard work of people from across the partnership and we’re already looking forward to progressing this work next year.

Click here to download our Highlights Report.



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