Sunday, 8 December 2019

'Untold Suffering' a disturbing report by OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland (LACSS) as part of the REVIVE coalition

That maintaining driven grouse moors involves killing predators (and other creatures by accident) isn't news. However this new report reveals the vast numbers slaughtered in cruel and inhumane ways. It's depressing reading but the shameful reality needs to be known. Spring traps, crow traps, and snares are all used regularly. As well as targeted species they can catch other species too - the report mentions cats, dogs, raptors and badgers and shows pictures of a hedgehog and a pine marten caught in spring traps.

The Untold Suffering report has many grim case studies and discusses why current welfare regulations don't work. The report also calls on the Scottish government to take action and has these recommendations:

An independent review of the welfare implications of all traps, conducted by animal
welfare scientists

A ban on snares, stink pits, Larsen traps, the use of decoy birds and mountain hare culls.
Driven grouse shooting should end.

A system of mandatory proficiency tests and licences for all shooters

All wildlife management carried out in Scotland to conform to the Seven Principles for
Ethical Wildlife Control

This is an important report. That thousands of wild animals suffer in this way is a disgrace. Change is needed now.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Thoughts on Bothies

Two recent pieces on bothies has set me thinking about these basic shelters and just how important they are in the story of hillgoing. Mountaineer and mountain rescue expert @HeavyWhalley has written an interesting piece here. He mentions that there's a row going on about bothies online. I've managed to avoid this completely, which is a relief! I gather it's about how much bothies should be promoted and how much information should be available. Whatever the rights and wrongs of various opinions it's too late to go back to the days when it was harder to find out about bothies (though never that hard, you just had to join the Mountain Bothies Association, which I did well over thirty years ago). Heavy Whalley also reminisces about bothy days and nights and posts many pictures.

This is the time of year when bothies can be welcome. Bothy afficiando John D.Burns' 10 Tips for a Winter Bothy Visit is useful and entertaining, especially Tip 11! Bothies feature in all his books, one of them being titled Bothy Tales.

A classic on bothies is Dave Brown and Ian R. Mitchell's Mountains Days and Bothy Nights. Published in 1987 and with tales going back to the 1960s this is a fascinating book, well worth reading.

Here's some bothy stories of my own, taken from a piece written several years ago for The Great Outdoors.

My first introduction to bothies was during a Pennine Way walk one April long ago. Coming off Cross Fell in dense wet mist I found little Greg’s Hut and spent a warm night there after drying out damp gear in front of a fire. Since then I have spent many nights in bothies and have grown to love the individual quirks and designs of the many different buildings that have been pressed into service as shelters for outdoors people. Bothies are particularly welcome on winter trips, especially when the weather is stormy, as spending long hours cooped up in a small tent can become wearisome. I was reminded of this one February when I hiked the Southern Upland Way, a 13-day trip on which the weather was mostly wet and windy. My second day was spent in wind, rain and low cloud and by the time I reached the little wooden Beehive bothy amongst the dripping trees in Galloway Forest Park I was very glad of its shelter as I had a damp tent from the night before and the wet mist meant that any camp would be very soggy indeed. 

The next day the weather was worse, starting out with drizzle and finishing with several hours of heavy rain. And throughout I was in thick damp mist. Rather than camp I decided to press on to the next bothy, White Laggan, which I reached long after dark, having been out for 11 hours during which I sloshed some 42 kilometres. The bothy had a good store of wood and a stove, so I was soon sitting in the warm cooking my late supper feeling amazingly relieved just to be there. The next morning I stuck my head outside just as the first light was creeping over the land. My journal entry tells the story – “mist blasting past the bothy in wet waves. Very windy. No visibility”. I was glad I hadn’t spent the night in my damp tent.

Bothies are also a place to meet other outdoors people and share experiences. I have had many interesting conversations with walkers and climbers over a hot brew and a bothy fire. Of course sometimes bothies can be crowded – after an experience many years ago when fifteen of us crammed into little Corrour bothy in the Cairngorms, which was really only big enough for half that number, I have always carried a tent or tarp and been prepared to camp out if a bothy is full. The only exception was when I planned a TGO Challenge Route using bothies plus a few B&Bs the whole way across, including one high level rickety wooden hut that was blown down by the wind a few years later. On this trip I found another disadvantage of not carrying a tent – you have to reach the bothy regardless of conditions. Overall it was a difficult crossing – the hardest of the 16 Challenges I have done. There was still deep snow on the hills and the weather was windy and frosty. An ice axe was essential, and our route was changed a few times to deal with the conditions (we were blown back from an attempt on Ben Nevis). On reaching the Cairngorms we stayed in Ruigh Aiteachain bothy in Glen Feshie before crossing the Moine Mhor to Corrour bothy. The going was hard work due to the deep soft snow and it was late when we arrived on the rim of Coire Odhar high above the bothy. However, the snow on the steep upper slopes of the corrie was hard and icy and, having no crampons, we had to cut steps with our ice axes, slowly zigzagging back and forth across the slope until we reached easier ground. All the time we could see tents outside the bothy so we had the added worry that it might be full. In fact, to our great relief it was empty. If we’d had tents we’d have camped on the tops or found an easier way down.

Another attraction of bothies is the bothy book where visitors can record their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here you can learn about suggested routes in the area, weather conditions at different times of year, problems with river crossings and see how many people use the bothy and at what times of year. (There is one bothy in the Eastern Cairngorms – the Shielin’ of Mark – that has a sudden spike in visitors in the middle of May when TGO Challengers pass by and hardly any visitors at any other time.)

Bothies require maintenance if they are to remain safe and watertight of course. A wonderful volunteer organisation, the Mountain Bothies Association, does the work and deserves the support of everyone who ever uses a bothy. I joined it after my stay in Greg’s Hut and have been a member ever since. The MBA has an excellent website – – where the Bothy Code – sensible guidelines for using bothies – can be found.

What's in the January issue of The Great Outdoors

The January issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I review ice axes and crampons suitable for hillwalkers plus three Pertex/Pile tops. Testing the last reminded me just how good they are.

The opening spread is a stunning shot of An Teallach in the snow at dawn by James Roddie.

Staying with the winter theme Carey Davies has a look at Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and Helvellyn under snow, and there's advice on winter skills from Glenmore Lodge. Phoebe Smith makes a winter visit to  the remotest place in mainland Britain in the Fisherfield Forest in the Scottish Highlands.  In an article that made me shiver Sarah Stirling goes winter swimming in mountain lakes and rivers. Brrr! Across the North Sea Alec Forss goes ski touring in northern Scandinavia, a feature that brought back memories of my many skiing trips in the area.

Away from winter Hanna Lindon looks at the problem of route markers left after organised challenge events in Snowdonia. Roger Smith gets excited at the idea of 'footpath farming' - grants for farmers to maintain paths. There are book reviews of Alex Stainforth's Another Peak - Everest is Not the Only Summit by Alex Roddie and Nick Corble's Diagonal Walking by Roger Butler. TGO Challenge coordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden praise solo walking in an excellent piece. In his Mountain Portrait column Jim Perrin looks at my nearest Munro, Cairn Gorm, and finds much to praise despite the ski resort. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

If you're looking for an outdoor book or DVD for Christmas ......

My latest book or maybe one of my other books or a DVD.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

December begins with a monochrome day in the Cairngorms

After a brilliant sunny day, which I spent driving over to Aboyne on Deeside to give a talk on my Scottish Watershed walk at Hilltrek (whose new shop looks good), the clouds rolled in across the Cairngorms. With two days in Pitlochry at John Muir Trust meetings coming up I wanted some time in the hills anyway so I scraped the ice off the car and headed for Coire Cas from where I wandered into the Northern Corries.

The ground was frozen but only just and the burns were crashing down from the upper corries, their edges laced with pillars of ice. The sodden boggy ground was treacherous, barely holding my weight. I was lucky to avoid wet feet.

There were only a few other people around, surprising for a Sunday. Later in the day I did see several parties of climbers coming down from the cliffs, after what must have been mysterious climbs in the dense mist.

Once in the cloud I could barely see fifty metres. If there's been more snow it would have been a white-out. As it was there were enough rocks and patches of ice and pools of water not to confuse the ground with the sky.

The mist, snow and ice drained virtually all the colour from the land. The pictures above are not black and white ones.

Only at the end of the day was there a touch of colour above Meall a'Bhuachaille.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Environmental groups respond to SNH deer management report

Many deer, no trees

Overgrazing by deer is a major problem in the Scottish Highlands. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has just published a report on this. Here's what four conservation organisations have to say about it:

A coalition of environmental organisations have welcomed improvements in the functioning of deer management groups while warning that a step change is needed if climate and biodiversity targets are to be met.

The report suggests that there has been "significant progress" in deer management planning and evidence of improvements on the ground in reducing deer densities in some areas. The report, however also noted that three out of five key Scottish biodiversity targets are "unlikely to be delivered" because of high deer densities and that there has been "insufficient progress" in protecting and restoring native woodlands.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Chair of LINK Deer Group said: "We welcome the report's findings that the majority of land managers are complying with the basic requirements of the Deer Code, and acknowledge the positive leadership of SNH within the constraints of a voluntary system.

"It's also clear from the report that much more needs to be done. Across our upland landscapes in particular, high deer impacts and other grazing pressures are damaging peatlands and halting woodland regeneration and expansion. These issues are closely connected to meeting the obligations of the Scottish Government's climate emergency and halting drastic biodiversity decline.

"We need a sense of urgency to protect and restore our woodlands and peatlands and that means tackling the destructive impact of our historical legacy of unsustainably high deer densities. We look forward to the more wide-ranging report from the independent Deer Working Group and would like to see SNH given greater powers and resources to drive forward the scale of the change required."

The SNH study was commissioned by the Scottish Government to report specifically on the progress of deer management groups between 2016 and 2019. Among other conclusions, it states: "Three of the five Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) Route map 2020 targets in which deer management has a role are unlikely to be delivered. The native woodland condition and restoration targets show insufficient progress and should be a priority for future focus."

A separate review into deer management in Scotland is expected to be delivered to the Scottish Government shortly by the independent Deer Working Group.

This statement is supported by the following members of the Scottish Environment LINK Deer Group:

*        John Muir Trust

*        RSPB Scotland

*        Scottish Wildlife Trust

*        Trees for Life

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Video on gear for winter hillwalking

In the Cairngorms earlier this month

Earlier in the year I made a video on gear for winter hillwalking. Here it is -

I will be making some more videos soon!