Creag Meagaidh

Large-scale regeneration in Scotland proves that reducing deer numbers can produce spectacular results

Creag Meagaidh
Creag Meagaidh shows the importance of reducing deer numbers to forest regeneration. Photo by Mark Hamblin/

Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve covers 4,000 hectares in the south of the Monadhliath north of Loch Laggan in Scotland. This was one of the first places in Scotland to take a serious approach to reversing centuries of land degradation. The aim was to enable the natural regeneration of woodland and forest by reducing the numbers of deer without planting new trees.

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Large-scale sheep farming and high deer numbers had devastated Creag Meagaidh. Trees weren't growing here. Instead, dying remnants of gnarled and twisted trees, bonsai height rowans and junipers lay strewn alongside bare hills. The area was then threatened with mass commercial Sitka spruce plantation. Following a heated public campaign to stop this, Creag Meagaidh came into public ownership.

This state-owned rewilding project drew heavy criticism and hostile objections from surrounding sporting estates. They didn't want any culling of deer, keen to keep numbers high for their shooting sport. The drive and determination of the late Dick Balharry, the conservationist who led the project, saw it through.

It proved to be a resounding success. Trees are now regenerating naturally over a large area of Creag Meagaidh, creeping up the mountanside. It’s amazing to walk through the growing woodland and hear birdsong on the way to the dramatic Coire Ardair rockface. And it’s all thanks to a radical new approach taken 30 years ago.

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