I was scraping away a covering of snow from some of the heathers on our island bed at the front of the hotel and I thought to myself I have seen other animals that do this. Reindeer and bison work away in other regions of the world to reveal heather, grass shoots, lichens frugal food resources.
There is a herd of reindeer on the Cairngorm mountain range just south of Aviemore; and in Tomintoul they are farmed by Tillie Smith. We have had quite a number of nightly visits from the local red deer who tend to grab and uplift some of our plants. Reindeer however have soft mouths with which they are able to hoover off birch leaves from young saplings without damaging the stems. I was fortunate to visit Sweden in 2003, doing some work for Reforesting Scotland at the request of communities in the far north of the country. Sami reindeer herders and settled Swedish mountain people wanted to try to work together to manage their wilderness areas for a shared eco-tourism benefit.
On the wild road heading north eventually to Russia we came across small groups of reindeer and later in the mountain village of Armanas, just south of the Arctic circle, I was able to try reindeer meat.
I pruned back our autumn flowering heathers to keep them compact and low spreading and increase flowering. Heather shoots provide vital food for grouse too and our more prolonged snow covering in the hills has forced many grouse off the moors in search of food elsewhere. Grouse unlike pheasants are entirely wild birds and in recent years have suffered equally from mild wet winters and springs. The iconic heather clad hills are an important wildlife resource and our heather should flower nicely later this year too.
Image credit: Photo by Biillyboy – http://flic.kr/p/75RmFf