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I m a g e s light brown or dark – and they have distinct personalities. “Some love to be around people, others are more shy,” Brooks observes. “You can even see the characteristics go down family lines.”

Brooks admits she has some favourites. “Olympic [who was born in 2012, the year of the London Olympics] loves to be around people. I really like Gloriana as well, she’s quite shy but has gained confidence over the years. Berlin is also a lovely tame boy.”

Although reindeer are native to the UK, their natural habitat is now quite small. As the last sub-arctic ecosystem in the country, the Cairngorms is the only place in the country where reindeer can range freely. To keep them from overgrazing the area, the herders keep the size of the herd at around 150 by controlling how many cows are allowed to run with bulls during the breeding season, which falls in the autumn.

The run-up to Christmas is a busy time for the animals and staff alike. The reindeer go on tour, visiting children and pulling Father Christmas on his sleigh. Each animal only does a couple of weeks’ work, however, before returning home to the mountains.

Meanwhile, Brooks is responsible for writing letters to supporters who have adopted reindeer. “We have some incredibly enthusiastic adopters who adopt up to about eight reindeer and know almost everything there is to know about them,” she says with a smile.

Despite the love many have for reindeer, the climate crisis is putting them under threat. The population of wild

“ You can easily walk among them – you’d be surprised how relaxing it is”

reindeer in the Arctic has declined by more than half in the last two decades, to around 2.1 million animals.

Last year, some 200 reindeer – an unusually high number – were found dead from starvation in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, according to the Norwegian Polar Institute, which suggested the climate crisis was to blame. The fact that this Scottish herd is thriving may bring a degree of hope to lovers of these majestic animals.

Despite the job satisfaction, being a reindeer herder can be hard work, with early starts, lots of walking, and the need to haul heavy sacks of food up the mountains. It’s also a lifestyle choice. Brooks lives with four other herders.

“From my bedroom window I can see lots of mountains. There are also beautiful lochs, so we are lucky to be able to swim, run, cycle, climb, bike and ski, all from the doorstep. I’ve seen the reindeer walk across the ski slopes before.”

Living closely together means the team has to get on well. “We all live very communally, taking turns to cook. It’s a lot of fun.” Throughout the summer, they are usually joined by a different volunteer each week. Despite the challenging work and remote location, volunteers are usually very interested and hard-working, Brooks reports. And for herself, she has no plans to give it up for an office job any time soon.


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