Response of moorland vegetation to 20 years of conservation management in two Cairngorm glens

  • David Welch Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
  • David Scott
Keywords: heather; plant communities; red deer; Scots pine; uplands; woodland regeneration


The response of vegetation to a large reduction in red deer numbers was assessed over a 20 year period in two contrasting glens in the Eastern Cairngorms. Monitoring was done in spring when the annual maximum herbivore impact accumulates on the heather. We estimated deer presence from pellet-group counts, and for heather we measured cover, height and shoot browsing. Deer numbers declined earlier in Glen Derry, and correspondingly heather height increased sooner. Trends in Glen Lui were related to plot wetness and distance from places where the deer were fed in winter; dry plots received much heavier usage from deer and rabbits initially, keeping the heather short and cover stable, whereas on wet plots usage was much lower and heather increased both in cover and height. Subsequently, as deer densities fell, the Lui heather thrived, and by 2013 heather height on dry plots had surpassed height on wet plots. Colonisation by pine saplings was very patchy, being virtually confined to plots within 50 m of mature trees and having heather swards less than 25 cm tall. Despite deer numbers falling, saplings still suffered browsing by black grouse, lagomorphs and voles. Annual increments were greatest on dry plots in Glen Lui. However, we estimate that another eight years of negligible deer numbers are needed for the present sapling crop to become safe from deer damage. A limited regime of burning near mature pines may assist regeneration.