Sunday 2 July 2023

Meall a'Bhuachaille, forest regeneration, and the power of photography

View over Ryvoan Bothy from the lower slopes of Meall a'Bhuachaille, April 2004

Visiting the same locations year after year you can’t help but notice changes. How great these are may not be apparent though. I’ve walked through Ryvoan Pass and climbed Meall a’Bhuachaille in the Cairngorms several times every year for over thirty years. It’s a great hill for a half day, for bad weather, to show other people the area. The views are superb, and the walk takes you from the forest to a bare summit, a journey through the Cairngorms in miniature.

View over Ryvoan Bothy from the lower slopes of Meall a'Bhuachaille, June 2023

One of the many joys I find in this walk is seeing the regeneration of the forest, seeing the trees spreading and advancing across the landscape. This year I went up Meall a’Bhuachaille on the last day of June, a muggy day with mist and drizzle. The land was green and lush. I took photographs as usual, mostly as a record as the light was flat and hazy. Such record shots can be significant though.

Back home I was looking for an old image on my computer when I came on ones of an ascent of Meall a’Bhuachaille in 2004. I was immediately struck by how bare the landscape looked. Where were all the trees? I hadn’t realised just how much had changed, just how much the forest had spread. The photographs are a powerful record of this.

Looking over the plantation to Loch Morlich, July 2007

Looking through other photographs I found ones showing the large plantation that lay south of the mountain, the bare ground after the plantation was felled, and, from my recent trip, the regeneration now springing up. The land has gone from a dense regimented tree farm to bare ground to a new forest in a little over a decade.

The felled plantation visible in the centre of the image. Note the block of pines left standing. April 2013.

Felling may have removed the mature spruce trees of the plantation, but their seeds of course remained and many young spruce trees are springing up. However there are pines, birch, rowan, and juniper as well. The new forest won’t be the same as the old pine forest that was there before the spruce, but it will be a far more diverse, natural forest than the plantation.

Regeneration on the site of the plantation around the block of pines. June 2023

Photographs convey all this far more than words or charts or facts and figures. The changes are clearly visible. I’m glad I’ve always taken photos even when conditions weren’t promising. I just wish I’d taken more.

Another view over Ryvoan Bothy, April 2004

Similar view to the one above, June 2023


  1. I agree with you Chris, it is heartening to see this natural regeneration. As well as Meall a'Bhuachaille, I visit Glen Feshie a couple of times a year. The changes there in just the last six or seven years are remarkable and show how quickly nature can recover once deer numbers are reduced and muir burn is stopped.

    1. Glen Feshie recovery is amazing. I go there several times a year too.