Wednesday 12 August 2020

Beinn Bhan: Conservation - the good and the bad


Walking in the NW Highlands I'm always struck by the scarcity of trees. In the Cairngorms I'm used to walking through forests to the hills. In the NW this is rare, even though many walks start at sea level, unlike in the Cairngorms.

This lack of trees was especially noticeable on my recent camp and walk on Beinn Bhan in Applecross (see last post). Setting off from the River Kishorn just before it meets the sea I walked along a track through boggy ground with just two or three small willow and rowan trees poking through the heather. Once I started to climb there were no more trees, just heather, bog myrtle, bog asphodel, and coarse grasses. The reason was easy to see - there were deer tracks everywhere.  Now extensive woodland is unlikely on the blanket bog that makes up most of the ground below the summit ridge but the high numbers of deer ensures that overgrazing prevents even a scattering of trees appearing.


Climbing up to the ridge from my camp I looked up to see a herd of twenty-five or more deer watching me. Long before my sweaty ascent was over they'd moved away, just leaving fresh tracks and droppings in the mud. 


Near the end of my trip I could see woodland on the far side of the River Kishorn but on the slopes I was descending there was not even a bush. 


Other than overgrazing I saw no damage on Beinn Bhan. No bulldozed roads, no off-road vehicle tracks, no litter, no signs of anyone camping. I doubt anyone had ever camped where I did and I doubt anyone could find the spot once the flattened grass had sprung back. I'm not sure I could! The lack of human signs was pleasing. Even the summit was free of bits of litter stuffed between the stones of the low wind shelter.

The walking on the long summit ridge itself is easy and a relief after the bogs. The terrain is dry with areas of short grass and flat stones. It is a joy to walk along.

The view from the ridge is of sea and hills all around with little to mar the scene. Down in the glen the road to Lochcarron can be seen and to the south-west a communication mast is visible on the lower top of Sgurr a'Chaorachain. Only one thing really jarred - an ugly bulldozed road up a glen to the east.

Apart from the deer I saw little wildlife. Low down there were meadow pipits and a few wheatear. Higher up a raven called. Other than that the hill was quiet and still. 

Compared with many hills Beinn Bhan is unspoiled. Fewer deer would be good though.


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