April 2002

Prince seeks sanctuary in mountain bothy

Prince Charles sought sanctuary in a remote bothy in the Grampian Highlands following the death of his beloved grandmother, the Queen Mum. After the funeral service in London, the Prince of Wales escaped to Balmoral where he spent a quiet week with his partner, Camilla Parker Bowles, and son, Prince Harry. During that time he visited Lochcallater Lodge in the hills to the south of Braemar. There he enjoyed a whisky with climbers and members of the Braemar Mountain Rescue Team who use the former shooting lodge in Glen Callater as a base. One member said, ''He popped in and enjoyed a whisky by the fire. He had a Laphroaig, his particular favourite. ''He had been busy personally signing letters of thanks to various dignitaries who attended the funeral service and said he needed to get away from it all for a bit,'' he added. Lochcallater Lodge sits on the Invercauld Estate, which borders the Royal Balmoral Estate. It is just a few miles from the summit of Lochnagar, one of the prince's favourite mountains where he spends much time walking during trips to the family estate. The lodge, a Mountain Rescue Post, sleeps 18 although conditions are spartan. Next door sits the Mountain Bothies Association open bothy, Callater Stables. Just hours after committing her body to a royal tomb at Windsor, Prince Charles and his youngest son, Prince Harry, flew from RAF Northolt to Aberdeen and then travelled through Royal Deeside to Birkhall, his grandmother's Balmoral residence. Charles and Camilla spend time at Birkhall each year during the spring and the Prince is understood to have been determined not to miss his nostalgic visit. During his stay at Birkhall, the Prince of Wales attended a Sunday service at Crathie Church where he was accompanied by Camilla. Crathie minister the Reverend Bob Sloan said said Prince Charles must have been "pretty drained" spiritually and emotionally following the death of the Queen Mother, but at church he appeared to be in good spirits.

Glen Affric nature reserve launched

A new National Nature Reserve at Glen Affric in Inverness-shire has been officially launched at a ceremony in the nearby village of Cannich. The event was hosted jointly by Scottish Natural Heritage, the organisation responsible for National Nature Reserves in Scotland, the Forestry Commission, which manages the land, and the Strathglass Community Development Group, which will represent the local community in the reserve's future management. Glen Affric is a national asset owned by Scottish Ministers and managed by the Forestry Commission. It has been a Caledonian Forest Reserve since 1994. The area supports a wide range of nationally important animals and plants including red throated diver, golden eagle, crossbill, and crested tit. The status of National Nature Reserve has been awarded by Scottish Natural Heritage in recognition of its internationally important natural heritage, the importance of the glen for recreation and public enjoyment, and the sensitive management of the glen by the Forestry Commission over many years. Almost all of the 15,000 hectare reserve lies within the Glen Affric National Scenic Area, and the reserve is representative of the high quality natural environment of the Strathglass area. SNH chairman John Markland, said: ''National Nature Reserves are exceptional places where the outstanding natural heritage of Scotland can be managed and promoted for the enjoyment of people and for the conservation of nature. Glen Affric is one such place. ''The declaration of the National Nature Reserve is an accolade earned by those who have managed Glen Affric over many years. And like so many other Reserves, Glen Affric is valued greatly by local people, who recognise its contribution to the quality of life and its economic value as an attraction for visitors. ''I am particularly pleased that the declaration has in part led to the formation of the Strathglass Community Development Group. It is only right that the community has a part to play in the management of the new Reserve and SNH looks forward to a continuing positive partnership with this group in the years to come,'' he added. Chairman of the Forestry Commission, Lord David Clark, said: ''Everyone that visits Glen Affric is struck by its stunning natural beauty it is truly an amazing place to visit. The Glen has an international reputation with nearly half its visitors coming from overseas. It is this very attraction which is bringing in benefits to the local communities who live and work near the glen. It has taken nearly ten years of hard work by Forestry Commission staff and its partners to make Glen Affric the Highlands jewel in the crown. We are all delighted to achieve National Nature Reserve status.'' Walter Forbes, chairman of the Strathglass Community Development Group added: ''I believe that the new National Nature Reserve status could and should bring benefits to the local community. The natural environment of Strathglass is a great asset and one which is valued greatly by local people. ''We look forward to working with Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage and others to ensure that there is meaningful input from the local community in the longer term management of the new NNR, and that potential benefits for the local community are identified and pursued." Glen Affric boasts one of the most important native pinewood remnants in Britain. Restoration of the native pinewoods has been going on in Affric since the early 1960s, giving it the longest record of such work of any of the Caledonian Forest remnants. Nearly 1,500 hectares of non-native trees have been removed to allow native species to flourish. This has created an environment for some rare Affric ants, plants like the Twinflower and one of Britain's rarest dragonflies - the brilliant emerald. Scots pine is dominant, with birch widespread, along with some alder, hazel and aspen. Glen Affric is both well known, and widely promoted, for its natural heritage and informal recreational value, and is visited by around 70,000 people each year. It is a popular destination for public enjoyment of a range of facilities such as forest walks and tracks, car park and picnic sites. There are leaflets and interpretative boards to interpret the natural heritage, provided by Forestry Commission with help from LIFE, a partnership initiative using European funding. The Commission also employs a full time recreational ranger. Forestry Commission has been working to restore the Caledonian pinewoods and conserve tree species in Glen Affric, and as a result the future of the endangered Aspen is now looking brighter. The local community is becoming more involved with the management of the Reserve through consultation. Local school children have planted seed from the reserve in the school's own nursery and then transplanted these seedlings back into Glen Affric. Other important conservation efforts include the removal of 58 km of deer fencing to safeguard capercaillie and black grouse, and foresters have erected specially built platforms for Ospreys and Divers. Over £1 million has been spent on making Glen Affric the highlands' jewel in the crown with £320,000 of this coming from Forestry Commission. In declaring the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve, Scottish Natural Heritage acknowledged the Forestry Commission as an 'Approved Body' to manage the site due to its good work in enhancing the glen. It is hoped that the new National Nature Reserve status for the Glen will increase the chances of accessing external funding sources, with potential to further enhance conservation and recreational management of the site. There may also be grant applications for local tourist related ventures as a consequence of increased visitor numbers.

Rum land release

Some land could be released on the island of Rum for residential or business development, if recommendations being considered by the board of Scottish Natural Heritage are accepted. Rum is managed by the government agency as a National Nature Reserve and over the past five years efforts have been made to stimulate social and economic development. Despite short term population increases, progress has been slow. Almost all of the housing on Rum is owned by SNH and to tackle this issue a series of policy recommendations have been developed by Andrew Thin, a member of SNH's North Areas Board in consultation with management and in principle agreed by the islanders. It is an important step in the long running process of establishing a more sustainable and independent community on the island, SNH say. If the proposals are approved, some land around the village of Kinloch could be released for sale or long term lease, to both private individuals and public sector agencies depending on the circumstances. 

scottishoutdoors.com creator dies

Alan Matheson, the driving force behind scottishoutdoors.com and one of Scotland's leading Internet journalists, has died following a tragic accident at his home in Dundee. He was  42. A native of Wick, Alan's first job after leaving school in 1977 was in Dundee with D.C. Thomson & Co Ltd. There he worked in the children's magazines department on publications including the Beano and Jackie. He later moved to the new Sunday Post magazine before being offered a job with the fledgling Scotland Online where he created an outdoors channel to harness the enormous interest in outdoor sports in Scotland. He was a keen climber and mountaineer.

Cairngorm access call

Tourism minister Mike Watson is under pressure to scrap restrictions on the new Cairngorm mountain railway which prevent walkers getting on or off the funicular at the top of the mountain. Passengers are not allowed to exit the Ptarmigan station in the summer under strict guidelines drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council and CairnGorm Mountain, which runs the railway. But it has also emerged that walkers who have made it up the mountain under their own steam are forbidden from entering the station to use the cafe, shop and toilets. The restrictions are contained in the Visitor Management Plan (VMP) and were put in place because conservationists and the European Commission feared the projected increase in visitors from 67,000 to 200,000 per year would seriously damage the Cairngorm plateau. But Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, said: "This latest revelation that walkers and climbers are locked out so they are prohibited from entry to the Ptarmigan top station, even to use the facilities or have a meal, shows how ludicrous the VMP restrictions are." CairnGorm Mountain believes most of the passengers on the funicular, which is due to be formally opened by Watson on June 7 but is already operational, would have no intention of walking beyond the footpath network already in the ski area. The company's marketing director, Tania Adams, said walkers could use facilities at the Ptarmigan in the winter but that a closed system would operate in the summer. She said: "If we let walkers in we would be obliged to let them out again and that creates a management issue for those who have used the Cairngorm funicular train to reach the Ptarmigan and who would feel entitled to be allowed out on to the plateau as well." The new £14.8m Ptarmigan station will have a Cairngorms exhibition, restaurant and shop. The closed system prevents access on to the Cairngorm plateau except in specific circumstances set out in the VMP such as an emergency evacuation and for maintenance work.