Cairngorms National Park estates providing a boost for twinflower conservation

Twinflower on the Abergeldie Estate (photo: Ann Miles)Twinflower on the Abergeldie Estate (photo: Ann Miles)
Twinflower on the Abergeldie Estate (photo: Ann Miles)
A delicate and rare plant is the focus of conservation efforts in eastern areas of the Cairngorms National Park.

Populations of twinflower – a woodland-floor plant confined to isolated sites primarily in the north-east of Scotland – are at risk due to habitat fragmentation. Plantlife Scotland and the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership – a group of six estates, including recently joined Abergeldie Estate, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority – are working to ensure that this relic of the Ice Age can thrive in the future.

The plant is identified by its two pink bell-like flowers on a slender stem and below, thicker stems, with pairs of tiny, round evergreen leaves, which creep along the ground, forming small mats of twinflower. Habitat loss and changes in the way that woodlands are managed are thought to have resulted in a reduction in twinflower since the 1930s, so that it is now only found in around 50 sites.

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Over the last three years, Mar Lodge Estate, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, have established six new twinflower populations, with eight different clones each, and are augmenting existing colonies with new clones, to increase their genetic diversity, using donor material from elsewhere on Mar Lodge and neighbouring estates.

Their Conservation Manager, Shaila Rao, said: “It is fantastic to be working together to give this charismatic pinewood species a lifeline. We reached an important milestone last year when translocated plants flowered for the first time on the estate and hopefully as the woodland expands, twinflower will be able to flourish alongside.”

Twinflower – or Linnaea borealis – occurs on five of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership estates. As well as Mar Lodge, colonies are present on Abergeldie, Balmoral, Glenlivet, and Mar. Although thought of as a typical pinewood species, twinflower can occur on north facing, partially shaded, slopes. Three of the Mar colonies were surveyed in Spring 2022, with two found to be suitable donor sites, having spread significantly since the last survey in 2011.

Cuttings from Mar and other donor sites including Balmoral, Mar Lodge and Abergeldie have been collected to establish a Deeside twinflower clone bank at Balmoral, which now has 22 different clones. Cuttings are being propagated in the Balmoral Castle gardens for future translocation.

Glenlivet Estate is propagating twinflower cuttings from the north and west of the Park for translocation in that area.

Plantlife Scotland Project Manager, Sam Jones said: “We’ve been glad to aid these estates in their keen support for such a beautiful and, sadly, declining pinewood plant. With increasing attention being drawn to the unique and precious nature of Scotland’s Caledonia pinewoods, we will continue to see the recovery of twinflower and the reconnection of long isolated populations.”

Jos Milner, East Cairngorms Moorlands Project Officer said: “It is really encouraging to see some positive results for twinflower and partnership working across multiple landholdings, with the support of Plantlife Scotland. The sites will be monitored closely in the coming months as the weather warms up and the flowers start to appear. Hopefully, twinflower will once again become a more common sight in our native woodlands.”