The National Trust for Scotland | Managing Scotland’s Mountains – some questions

The National Trust for Scotland has over 74,000 hectares of land in its care, including many of Scotland’s most notable mountains and upland landscapes, for example Glencoe, Ben Lomond, Torridon, Goatfell, Kintail and Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms.

Under the following three headings are topics of concern for an organisation like the NTS which manages mountain areas.

These could be used to form the basis of a debate / discussion.

Conservation of Current Diversity
Deciding whether or not to intervene when managing ecosystems and species.

  • How much monitoring should there be of species and habitats?
  • What is ‘favourable condition’ of a habitat or species i.e. the desirable state of a feature at individual site level, rather than across a region or country.
  • What is the optimum grazing level?
  • Should the spread of bracken be controlled or should it be left to grow?
  • How can further erosion of peat bogs be prevented? Should old drainage ditches be filled in?
  • Are ‘alien’ species present and can they be controlled?
  • Should burning be used as a management tool for heather moorland?
  • What is the composition of the ‘natural landscape’? What is the natural balance between open ground and woodland? How much dynamism in ecosystems should ‘be allowed’?
  • How much tree regeneration is wanted?
  • Should rare plants at the edge of their range be maintained or left to their fate?
  • Relict scrub and woodland: should we plant or allow natural regeneration, fence off or control grazing?
  • EU Habitats Directive: this can be useful to help identify objectives, but is it too bureaucratic?

Restoration of Lost Biodiversity
Should there be targeted restoration of the full range of species and habitats eliminated by humans in the past, or should we allow natural colonisation over a longer time scale?

  • New native woodlands: planting or natural regeneration? Over what timescale? Trees only?
  • Tree-line restoration: a valid concept in Scotland? How would it be done? Over what timescale?
  • Animal re-introductions: Over what timescale? What conflicts might there be? All species?
  • What is a ‘natural’ grazing level?
  • How important is a knowledge of post-glacial history of the site to current landscape planning?
  • Is bracken a natural climax community?
  • Peat bogs: Do we restore the water table to increase the amount of peat bog? How much of the landscape would ‘naturally’ be peat bog?


Glencoe Managing as ‘Wilderness’
It is important to separate two key concepts of wilderness that are often confused:

Ecological – where nature is allowed to be wild and manage itself. There are no defined ecological outcomes, and there is an acceptance of natural dynamics, immigrations and extinctions.

Cultural – where there is a feeling of remoteness from human civilisation. There is apparently no evidence of human impact on the landscape.


  • Remoteness: there has been a major reduction in past years in core wild areas through increased access and artefacts – tracks, masts, fences etc.
  • Off-road vehicles: damage to ground from All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) use. There are conflicting demands of wild land and using vehicles for management.
  • Recreational conflicts: shooting and open access? Nature conservation and open access? Overcrowding reduces remoteness? Conflicts between peaceful and mechanical pursuits?
  • Wild rivers: conflicts between flood prevention/erosion control and letting rivers run wild.
  • Bicycles: are they acceptable or not?
  • Intrusion of fences: for woodland regeneration, woodland planting, grazing management.
  • Target setting for species and habitats goes against the principle of ecological wildness and ‘letting nature decide’. ‘Visions’ can conflict with ecological reality.
  • Mountain path repair: reduces wildness and eases access. Essential to prevent landscape damage.

    Ruined croft

  • Are the Scottish mountains an ecologically devastated landscape, a valuable semi-natural habitat or predominantly a valuable natural habitat?
  • How much management is acceptable/appropriate in a wilderness?


(These thoughts and issues are taken from a discussion paper by Dr James Fenton, Nature Conservation Adviser, Highlands and Islands region, The National Trust for Scotland).





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