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! 

Wednesday 27 November 2019

The Return of the Waist Pack (aka bum bag, fanny pack, lumbar pack, front pack)

With a waist pack on the Continental Divide Trail in 1985

A recent trend in long-distance hiking in the USA is to use a waist pack to carry small items so they are quickly accessible. This isn’t actually a new idea, though I’ve seen it presented as such. I used to carry such a pack regularly because, as I wrote in the first edition of The Backpacker’s Handbook in 1991 “with a really heavy pack access to all the little odds and ends that are needed during a day’s walk can be difficult, especially when all you’re wearing is shorts and a tee-shirt. Taking off the pack every time you need to check the map, apply sunscreen, nibble some trail mix, is simply too much of a chore and requires far too much energy.”
Waist pack (on the left), on my walk the length of Norway and Sweden

I said much the same in the second edition in 1997. However, by the time I wrote the third edition (2005) I’d stopped using a waist pack due to “ the lightening of my load, which made it easier to take the pack off, but, more importantly, …. hipbelts with pockets”. Mesh side pockets accessible while wearing the pack were also a factor. All the small items I might need during the day were now to hand without need of a waist pack.

Waist packs never went away of course. Runner still used them. But I hadn’t seen a backpacker with one for many years until this summer in the Colorado Rockies. Why they’ve come back I don’t know – I find it curious - but they have and many makers of ultralight gear now offer them. I have one, the Mountain Laurel Designs Burro, which I’ll be testing on my next trips. Maybe I’ll be reconverted.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Recent Online Reading No.12

Carn Ban Mor. November 18

Here's what I've enjoyed reading online in the last three weeks.

Walking for Mental Health: A Summit Camp on Sgur na Stri
A solo camp on Sgurr na Stri is redemptive for Sarah Jane Douglas.

Cairn Gorm: A Vision For The Future
I can see Cairn Gorm from my house so I have a personal concern for the future of this abused mountain. Here George Allan looks at the proposals from a group of five voluntary organisations (I'm a member of three of them) for its restoration.

Scottish Salmon's dark secret 
John D. Burns (author of Sky Dance, which I review here) looks at the environmental and animal welfare problems of fish farms.

Expert Tips for Walking Further and Faster
Dan Bailey asks three big route pros for advice.

Climate change - lessons from Australia?
On a visit to Australia Parkwatch Scotland's Nick Kempe writes about travel and climate change.

 'We want to keep our forest' - why Guyana's wilderness needs visitors
More on travel in the age of climate change. Kevin Rushby visits Guyana.

The Camera Needn't Lie
Interesting thoughts on realism in landscape photography.

The Landscapes Review - The Future of National Parks is in Our Hands
Paul Besley considers the Glover Review, the first official appraisal of England's National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Earth Does Not Speak In Prose
Thought-provoking conversation between Charlotte Du Cann and Paul Kingsworth about writing in times of catastrophe.

Listening to Nature: The Emerging Field of Bioacoustics
Adam Welz looks at a fascinating new remote-sensing conservation tool.

Tending Soil 
Emma Marris explores our ancient kinship with soil.

Down the Rabbit Hole with James Roddie and Mike Webster
Alex Roddie writes about his brother James Roddie and his complicated relationship with mental health and the outdoors and the new film by Mike Webster about this.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

A Glorious November Day on Sgor Gaoith

Lone walker crossing the Moine Mhor

November isn't noted for clear sunny days or for deep snow in the hills but both do occur and when they coincide a November day can be wonderful. Monday the 18th was one such day this year. The forecast looked good, the day was even better as it was less windy than predicted.

Sgor Gaoith 

I decided to head for Glen Feshie and climb high above the always inspiring regenerating forest to Carn Ban Mor and Sgor Gaoith. Strapping snowshoes to my pack I took the long track above the Allt Fheamagan to Carn Ban Mor. On reaching the snow I donned the snowshoes and followed the wide tracks of a snowcat and wondering what this vehicle was doing up here.

View across the Moine Mhor to Beinn a'Ghlo

Once I reached the vast expanse of the Moine Mhor the snowshoes were really useful as the snow was ankle to knee deep and soft under a thin crust. Two walkers on foot had left a line of deep holes as they headed for Sgor Gaoith. They passed me later, returning the same way. I only saw one other person, heading out across the Moine Mhor.

The views were extensive and astounding, distant hills crystal clear under a blue sky. The snow crunched  and crackled under my snowshoes. When I stopped the silence was profound. The air was chill but there was only a light breeze.

On Carn Ban Mor

Beyond Carn Ban Mor a waft of cloud passed over me. The world suddenly shrank to a ten metres or so. In many places I'd have needed to take compass bearings and to walk carefully in such minimal visibility. Here I could just see the edges of the broad ridge leading to Sgor Gaoith and anyway I had the line of boot holes to follow. It was a reminder though that the weather can change very quickly and should never be taken for granted. This can be a challenging and hostile place.

Buttresses on Braeriach appear out of the mist

The mist cleared in a few minutes and soon I was looking at the cornices building up on the steep eastern edge of Sgor Gaoith. Far below shadowed Loch Einich was a black hole in the snowy whiteness. Braeriach rose above, massive, buttressed, enormous, one of the great hills of the Cairngorms.


Returning to Carn Ban Mor I turned to see the clouds turning peach pink over Sgor Gaoith. The snow had a blue tinge. The short hours of daylight were fading.

Sgor Gaoith at dusk

Monday 18 November 2019

In Praise of Snowshoes

Snowshoes on Sgor Gaoith

Today was my first day out in unbroken snow in the hills this winter. I took snowshoes as I knew from reports that the snow was quite deep high up and walking could be arduous. I could have taken skis but I didn't feel like carrying them to the snow or walking in ski boots. I suspected too that lower down the snow might be too broken or shallow for skiing, as turned out to be the case.

Snowshoes tracks (mine) and boot tracks today

Making travel in deep snow easier is the main reason for using snowshoes. Of course skis do that too - and I love ski touring - so why do I sometimes use snowshoes?

  • Snowshoes are lighter than skis for carrying
  • Snowshoes are easy to strap on a pack - no long waving skis catching you in the back of the legs or snagging on branches.
  • Snowshoes can be used with your ordinary boots - no need for ski boots or bindings.
  • Snowshoes can be worn when crossing areas on thin snow or even bare ground - no need to keep taking them on and off. I have waded streams in them!
  • Using snowshoes is easy, just remember to keep your feet wider apart than usual. No need to take courses or learn skills.
Snowshoes on my pack today

I wrote a longer piece about snowshoes and skis a few years ago - The Snows Here? Skis or Snowshoes. I reviewed the snowshoes I used today for The Great Outdoors two years ago.

Saturday 16 November 2019

What's in the December issue of The Great Outdoors

The December issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I review nine hats and ten pairs of gloves - there's been plenty of suitable weather for testing these!

I also review the Sprayway Torridon Jacket, a modern take on a classic Gore-Tex jacket. Elsewhere in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six women's insulated jackets.

The theme of this issue is how to love British mountain weather. I have a love/hate relationship! Beautiful autumn weather with a cloud inversion is shown in the lovely opening picture spread of Dyffryn Mymbyr and the Snowdon massif by Alan Novelli. It's impossible not to love  weather like this.

The climate is undergoing long-term change of course, and not in good ways. Hanna Lindon looks at eight ways this could change our mountains.

Sticking with the month's theme Carey Davies writes about how to endure or even enjoy our ever-changing weather, including tips for large amounts of cake and visits to the pub! Paul Beasley crosses Dartmoor despite ferocious winds and possible thunderstorms.

I never thought I'd see an article on commuting in The Great Outdoors but there's one in this issue, and very interesting it is too as Neil Adams undertakes different ways to get to his work in Lochaber. including kayaking, swimming, skiing and walking the Lochaber Traverse over the Grey Corries to Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. Now there's a commute!

In the Lake District Ronald Tunrbull goes in search of the sublime in the footsteps of the Romantic poets and suggests three walks from Wasdale.

Far away in the Colorado Rockies Andrew Terrill goes backpacking with his ten year old and learns much.

Elsewhere in this issue Roger Smith writes about positive environmental news in his column; TGO Challenge organisers Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden praise the volunteers who make the event happen; Jim Perrin visits Errigal in Donegal; and there are reviews of three excellent books - David Lintern's The Big Rounds, Alan Rowan's Mountains of the Moon, and Andy Howard's The Secret Life of the Cairngorms.

Testing hat and gloves in the Cairngorms

Wednesday 13 November 2019

After the rain - frost and mist

After two days of rain and low cloud - the sky solid grey, the land drenched, the air sodden - today came with frost and mist and glimpses of snow-capped hills.

Wandering in the local fields I stopped abruptly, realising I could see nothing beyond the frosted grass stretching out all around. No walls, no fences, no trees, nothing. Once I'd looked round for a few minutes, staring hard into the mist trying to discern something, anything, I realised I'd lost any sense of direction, something I wouldn't have thought possible here in these familiar fields. I knew I wouldn't have to walk far before the edge of the field appeared but for a few seconds it was disconcerting. On a mountain I'd have been using map and compass. Here I just walked for five minutes until a well-known tree appeared

Late in the afternoon the mist rose and fell, thinned and thickened, revealing hazy bands of pink and orange in a blue sky far above. The forest was mysterious and insubstantial, magical.

The frost lasted all day, decorating the reeds and grasses, beautiful and fragile. A touch of wind and it would be gone.

As the light faded I ambled home after a quiet meandering walk.

Saturday 9 November 2019

Along the Divide: Upcoming talks on my Scottish Watershed walk

On the Watershed in the Fannichs

This month I'm giving two illustrated talks on my Scottish Watershed walk and signing copies of my book Along the Divide.

The first talk is at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries on Friday 22nd at 7pm.

The second talk is on the 30th at Hilltrek in Aboyne between 1pm and 4pm.

Everyone welcome!

Friday 8 November 2019

Snow arrives in Strathspey

Last night snow fell. Today the world is white. There have been light snow showers before this autumn but they thawed within a few hours, temporary glimpses of winter. This snow has stayed.

During the morning the snow fall faded away though the sky remained dark and overcast, the clouds low. Walking in the woods and fields, I watched mist drifting across the land, enjoyed the crisp feel of the frosty air, and relished the last dull gold of birches and larches. Soon there will be little colour.

The air was still, thick and hazy. There was no sound. A few rabbits scuttled back to their burrows as I approached. Nothing else moved. No birds crossed the sky. The landscape felt mysterious.

Thursday 7 November 2019

Drifting clouds, snow and cold on Cairn Gorm

Coire na Ciste

An overcast sky solid with dense grey cloud didn't seem to offer much for a mountain day as I headed for Coire na Ciste and the north side of Cairn Gorm. Typical November. Dark, damp and cold. But up high there was said to be snow and I wanted to see it.

Swirling clouds

Arriving at the car park  I looked up Coire na Ciste. Hazily, through shifting clouds, I caught glimpses of rugged mountainsides fading in and out, mysterious and insubstantial. But to the north there was blue sky above the mists shrouding Strathspey. Bands of cloud drifted across the forest below Meall a'Bhuachaille.

Meall a'Bhuachaille and Loch Morlich

A muddy path led upwards. It was soon spattered with white and then faded away as the snow cover grew more extensive. Pools were frozen, the air chill. Frost feathers decorated the grasses. This wasn't the monochrome of deep winter though. The last colour in the grasses still glowed. The land was dull gold as well as white.

The higher summits remained in the cloud. I entered it as I approached the summit of Cairn Gorm. The weather station emerged from the mist in its winter coat, as familair and eerie as ever.

There would be no sunset. I didn't linger long. As the sky darkened I set off down past the forlorn empty Ptarmigan Restaurant, waiting for a train that may now never arrive again. It's over a year since the last one. Beyond Meall a'Bhuachaille mist covered Strathspey.