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BELOW: a woman hugs a Scots pine in Cairngorms National Park. The park, which receives around 1.4 million visitors a year, has some of the most extensive remaining tracts of Caledonian Forest, with seminatural woodland covering an area of about 40,000 hectares; ABOVE RIGHT: a selfseeded Sitka spruce on a felled plantation near Dundreggan, Inverness-shire. Like Scots pine, Sitka spruce trees can live for up to 500 years, but they reach maturity much more rapidly. About 70 per cent of Britain’s plantations are Sitka spruce
As he shows me around, Dugan describes the most surprising facet of the RSPB’s practices. ‘We have grouse shooting here,’ he says. ‘It’s an agreement with a former landowner, and it helps our credibility with forest regeneration. The RSPB has shooting on many of its reserves – it always surprises me when people are shocked to hear that, but our practices are integrated, just like we want our woodlands to be. Our goal is a “wooded landscape”: thicker woodland in low-lying areas and sparsergrowing trees as the land spreads upwards into the moors. Bogs with perhaps ten trees per hectare and some knolls with 1,000 trees per hectare.’
Once again, Fraser has a different take. ‘It’s all very well planting trees up on the hill, but then you lose moorland birds, and we’re not just talking grouse: there’s golden plover, curlew, lapwing, redshank, hen harrier,’ he says. ‘And heather’s an endangered species itself; we’ve lost half of it since the Second World War.’
But the thorniest point in the treesversus-moorland debate is how to manage raptors, which perch on trees in open spaces in order to target and strike prey. The past 20 years have seen more than 450 illegal poisonings of buzzards, eagles and other hawks in Scotland, allegedly being carried out by gamekeepers keen to conserve vulnerable grouse numbers, or by farmers wanting to protect lambs, although to date, there have been very few successful prosecutions. The Scottish Gamekeepers Association has lobbied without success for legislation that would allow its members to control raptors, which it says could help to curb illegal persecution.
‘Forestry companies rarely control predators,’ says Fraser. ‘But the Langholm experiment [a ten-year project to demonstrate sustainable methods of managing grouse moors for both raptors and red grouse] has proved that if you don’t control predators, they wipe out key species.’
‘These used to be sole playgrounds of the rich – they’re everyone’s playground now, and that’s the baton that I want to hand on to my family’
42 www.geographical.co.uk january 2011