Glencoe: How one of Scotland's most precious landscapes is being protected for future generations

It is one of Scotland's most breathtaking landscapes and precious in its scale, beauty and history.
A balance is being struck in Glencoe to balance the popularity of the iconic landscape with the need to keep human impact at a minimum in order to preserve it for the future. PIC: NTS.A balance is being struck in Glencoe to balance the popularity of the iconic landscape with the need to keep human impact at a minimum in order to preserve it for the future. PIC: NTS.
A balance is being struck in Glencoe to balance the popularity of the iconic landscape with the need to keep human impact at a minimum in order to preserve it for the future. PIC: NTS.

Now the future of Glencoe - and how our children get to experience its mountains and natural wonders in years to come - has come into sharp view.

Tens of thousands of people head to Glencoe every year to roam its peaks and valleys. However mighty the landscape might look, its remains vulnerable to pressures created by both the number of people visiting the glen and the stark reality of climate change on the species nurtured in this unique environment.

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National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which owns 14,000 acres of Glencoe, is working to insure the beauty spot, which is a designated National Nature Reserve, withstands these very modern challenges and insure it is protected for future generations.

Emily Bryce, operations manager for Glencoe and Glenfinnan at NTS said: "It takes a lot of work for Glencoe to look this wild.

"The way I tend to explain it is that Glencoe spans 14,000 acres - or 9,000 football pitches worth of landscape.

"An enormous effort goes in to keeping that healthy and in good shape."

Arriving in Glencoe from the south and the view is awe inspiring as Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag come into view.

In total, National Trust for Scotland owns eight Munros in Glencoe and 60km of footpath which winds through the mountains in the range.

NTS bought part of Glencoe in the 1930s after it was put on the market by Lord Strathcona, a Scottish-born Canadian financier who wanted to own a piece of home.

The land was previously owned by the McDonalds of Glencoe, who lost more than 30 men women and children in the infamous 1692 Massacre of Glencoe, until 1894.

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When it was put up for sale by Lord Strathcona, the Scottish mountain community "really got behind" the campaign to buy the land, Ms Bryce said.

Percy Unna, then chairman of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, led the fundraising campaign that would allow NTS to purchase Glencoe. A substantial donation made by a mystery benefactor allowed the sale to go ahead.

The secret donor was Percy Unna himself, with this great lover of the outdoors setting out a number of restrictions - known as the Unna Principles - to preserve the wildness he so loved.

Ms Bryce says: "Unna was all about keeping minimal human impact on the landscape and I think we stand by these principles today."

Unna wanted unrestricted access to Glencoe with no deer stalking, no mechanical transport on the hills and nothing that would make the mountains easier to climb.

But with 150,000 people going up Glencoe's mountains every year, some management, however, is required to keep the landscape in the condition Unna wanted given the need to balance people's enthusiasm for the glen with a need to protect it.

A ranger team of three is out in the mountains using footpath counters to track numbers coming into Glencoe.

Then, a large piece of work is carried out to keep the mountain paths well maintained, which in turn limits the impact of visitors on the fragile biodiversity of the glen.

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Ms Bryce said: "Our aim is to insure that the footpaths are as natural as possible. We don't want pavements going up the mountains - we want them ultimately to do as little damage as possible.

"These paths are a real art form to maintain and repair with the path designed to look like part of the landscape. Every piece of rock look like it is in its natural place . The team are real artisans in their field."

There are now plans to bring native woodland back to Glencoe with hopes to have the iconic Three Sister planted with trees in the next 10 years.

Similar tree planting schemes have been successfully completed at West Affric, which is also owned by National Trust for Scotland, where birch, oak and rowan can now be found.

Like West Affric, it is hoped that new tree cover in Glencoe will create healthy new habitats for native Scottish species.

"I would like to see us bring back nature back into this wonderful landscape," Ms Bryce said.

She added: "We know how trees can mitigate climate change and we would like there to be more natural tree cover in Glencoe.

"That is a bit of a challenge when there are lots of deer who munch away on the saplings.

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"But we tend to find if you exclude some of the deer and reduce their numbers, native trees start to regenerate naturally. This will give us a real patchwork of different habitats."

Ms Bryce said Glencoe was an "incredible landscape for nature" despite the road which slices through the land.

Nesting sites for golden eagles and rare Alpine plants find a natural home here.

But changes to the environment have already been noted as the impact of climate change starts to show itself.

Ms Bryce said: "We know that climate change is having an impact at Glencoe. Some of the species that we usually having coming in April or May are now coming out in March. Our spring species are coming earlier.

"There are several species of plant and moss that are starting to come forward."

On how Glencoe will look in the next 10 years, she added: "I think it is fair to say that quite a bit is unknown, particularly the impact of climate change on what is a very wet landscape.

"Perhaps we will see a different range of species here in the future."

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The pressure of people on Glencoe is also becoming harder to ignore, with anti-social behaviour an ongoing concern for rangers.

Ms Bryce added: "Anti-social behaviour has become and issue, with fires and litter dropping a problem, particularly in Glen Etive.

"It is a shame. We do litter picks and really try and get the message out there to encourage people to really respect the landscape and take home what they brought with them.

"We really want to inspire people to be mindful about the impact they can have in if they are not following paths of leaving litter behind - or parking in places they shouldn't be parking."

Guided mountain tours, Range Rover safaris and trekking paths for all abilities are designed to steer people towards the best experience possible at Glencoe.

For families venturing out on one of the many trails from the new-improved visitor centre, little rucksacks are handed out that hold walking guides and nature spotting packs to help visitors get the very most out of this wonderful environment.

Meanwhile, archaeological work in the glen that has traced lost settlements that were occupied during the time of the 1692 massacre will lead to a traditional turf house being reconstructed at the visitor's centre to help increase understanding of how people once lived in this wild and empty glen.

"We always say, if you like what we are doing at Glencoe, then become a NTS member," Ms Bryce said.

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"Supporting an investment in us will support our efforts to look after this landscape.

"All the money raised supports what we do, even down to the £4 you pay in the car park .Every penny goes back into what we do for the landscape.

"We want to keep Glencoe in great condition, both now and for forever."

-Win a five night stay at some of Scotland's most treasured spots for you and your family with National Trust for Scotland. Two adults and up to two children will get to enjoy luxury accommodation, private tours, a thrilling Land Rover Safari with a one-year family membership with National Trust for Scotland included in the prize.

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