Sunday 22 August 2021

A Visit to BrewDog's 'Lost Forest'

There is much woodland on the lower part of the estate

Earlier this year it was widely reported that brewing giant BrewDog had bought the Kinrara estate in the Monadh Liath hills just outside Aviemore with the intention of restoring a ‘lost forest’. This being a fairly local place and one where I’ve walked many times I decided to go and have a look at it with thoughts of a ‘lost forest’ in mind.

An estate track known as the Burma Road runs up the centre of the estate over the watershed between the rivers Spey and Dulnain. The smaller southern section is in the Cairngorms National Park and this is where I went, adding the short ascent of Geal Charn Mor to my walk and descending the same way.

I was just about to leave the parking area when a walker greeted me. It was Gary Hodgson of Tarmachan Mountaineering. He’d been up the hills photographing mountain hares, something he does regularly here. He posts great photos of these lovely animals on social media and on his blog, They’re well worth a look. 

After we’d chatted about the future of the estate and more, I set off, noting that under the old Scottish Rights of Society sign a smaller one had been added with a link to find out more about the proposed new native forest. At least the proposals aren’t being kept secret. 

A fenced forest along the Burma Road

Initially the Burma Road runs through healthy-looking birch and pine forest – no lost forest here. A network of fencing protects the trees, looking as though it’s been erected at different times over the years. In places one of the problems with this approach can be seen. Young trees crowd against the fence while on the other side is open treeless moorland. 

A lone pine on the hillside above the Burma Road. The pale area is old muirburn.

As the track climbs higher a pattern found in too many damaged Highland glens can be seen. Strips of woodland run down the sides of burns where the steepness of the slopes protects them from grazing. On the hillsides above a few old pines are all that’s left of what must once have been a magnificent forest. 

Young pines, old pines 

There are signs though that the forest could return. All the way up I saw tiny pines, birches, willows, and rowans poking up through the heather and grass. Not many, but they were there. The forest is trying to return, and maybe is returning, albeit slowly. Even at the top of the road at nearly 700 metres there were a few little pines. Remove enough deer to stop overgrazing and cease heather burning – areas of dead white heather show this has taken place not so long ago – and the trees will return. The forest isn’t lost. It’s just waiting to come back.

How big will these little pines be able to grow?

It’s a steady pull up the Burma Road and it’s a favourite test piece for mountain bikers. Not for the cyclist who passed me though. He wasn’t pedalling, just sitting there letting his electric bike do the work. I plodded on, very briefly envious but not really. I prefer the world at walking pace. And I do wonder when an electric bike becomes motorised transport rather than an aid to cycling.

A tiny pine at almost 700 metres

From the top of the road I took the eroded path over the moorland to the summit of Geal Charn Mor. This is a splendid viewpoint for the Cairngorms but today clouds hung low over the tops, those over the Glen Feshie hills looking quite ominous. Rather here than there, I thought.

View to the Glen Feshie hills from Geal Charn Mor

Walking back down I pondered the future of the estate. Just what will BrewDog do with it? Whatever it is it’ll almost certainly be better than keeping it as a shooting estate. The potential for rewilding is exciting.

This forest could expand. Looking back down to Strathspey from the Burma Road

Back home I had a look at the proposals on the link from the notice and also read Parkwatch Scotland’s detailed posts on the subject. The first thing I noted is that the plans have been drawn up by Scottish Woodlands, which is basically a commercial forestry management company. As Parkwatch Scotland says BrewDog would have done better to talk to those with expertise in native forest regeneration and restoration such as Wild Land Ltd, who own the neighbouring Glen Feshie estate. As it is, the proposals do talk about encouraging natural regeneration and also about ‘expansion of ancient woodland sites through creation of appropriate woodland types and species mixtures’. However, Parkwatch Scotland has looked at the detailed proposals, not just those in the graphic from the link on the notice, and says the plan is for mass planting and fencing. This might do something quickly – look at all our new trees! But it’s not the best way to restore a natural forest. Regeneration may be slower but as the seed source and even some infant trees are there it might surprise BrewDog at how effective it is. A forest requires space to spread naturally too and not be confined inside a fence.

To really allow the forest to return deer numbers need to be reduced and heather burning and grouse shooting stopped. Then patience is needed. Just wait. The forest will emerge.


  1. Without wishing to be too critical, the problem seems to be that Brewdog talk about planting trees for the beers you drink therefore I guess they need to be seen to be actively planting trees. But I couldn't agree more with you that natural regeneration and patience is definitely the way forward. Love your posts, thanks.

    1. That's a good point. Planting trees is doing something, waiting for trees to regenerate seems passive. Of course detailed scientific surveys of the plantlife and wildlife along with deer removal would actually be doing something.

  2. This generally sounds sensible Chris. One question; if a landscape had suffered from heavy grazing for decades could it be that the sources of natural regen propagules is limited in terms of area and species diversity. For example where would aspen and elm come from if so depleted? Then boost planting in areas could be beneficial.

  3. That's a good point Barry. A survey would show what species were once there. Aspen I'd expect but not elm. Whatever the species if there's no on site seed source then boost planting to create a seed source could be done, as the RSPB are doing at Abernethy.