Two huge new National Nature Reserves (NNRs) have been given the green light by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) - Glen Coe and the Mar Lodge Estate, both key upland properties owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Each represents some of the finest mountain landscape in the country.
At 29,324.60 hectares, the Mar Lodge Estate becomes Britain's largest NNR, a vast area centred on Deeside which includes 15 Munros, and four of the five highest summits in Scotland - Ben Macdui, Braeriach, Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine.
The 5,625.06 hectare Glen Coe reserve runs west from the Glen Etive road, incorporating the high ground south of the glen and part of the northern side, and including the summits of Bidean nam Bian, Stob Coire Sgreamhach, the southern flank of Aonach Eagach and all of Buachaille Etive Beag and Buachaille Etive Mor. It seems likely to be one of the most visited NNRs, even discounting the 3 million car journeys made annually through the glen.
To make the declaration, SNH had to be satisfied that each area is being managed as a nature reserve, that they are of national importance, and that each meets the purposes of a NNR.
In practise, how will the designation influence management of the two reserves; and is it likely to change the experience of visiting? In advance of a formal launch in the next few weeks, we've asked the National Trust for Scotland to comment:
"What the term 'National Nature Reserve' stands for is what we are all about when we say we protect natural heritage" said Dominic Driver, Head of Natural Heritage at the NTS.
"Part of the point of NNRs is that they are not actually 'reserved' in the sense of excluding people or trying to stop anything changing."
"They are dynamic things, recognising that the best way of protecting the amazing value of nature is usually to work with natural processes to influence how they change rather than trying to stop inevitable changes, which nearly always fail."
"They are also welcoming things; it is all about welcoming people so that they have great experiences: wildlife, adventure, tranquillity, drama, beauty, exercise – whatever you want, provided it fits with the idea of responsible access. Adding Mar Lodge Estate and Glencoe to our other seven NNRs, makes us even more determined to protect our natural heritage in this dynamic and welcoming way."
Here's what the people who directly look after the properties have to say:
"I think the NNR status is a great accolade for the NTS in general and the staff that have been involved here at Glencoe over the years" said Scott McCombie, Property Manager & Senior Ranger at Glencoe & Dalness.
"We have gradually increased the events to get people involved in the mountains and our conservation work. We renewed the visitor [centre] in the early 2000s to improve the visitor experience, and are constantly maintaining the 60km of paths to aid access to those mountains."
"On the ground itself, we have constant monitoring going on of the birds, insects and plant life growing here. Not to mention the habitat management work to try to restore what we feel would have been here in times past."
The designation of Mar Lodge Estate is a recognition of the conservation work that the Trust has been engaged in here for years, most visibly in the restoration of native pine woods. David Frew, Operations Manager at Mar Lodge said:
"The declaration [...] as an NNR is hugely significant for the property itself and for NTS. At over 29,000 hectares MLE is now not only the Trust's largest property, but also the largest nature reserve in the British Isles.The estate contains a huge diversity of wildlife, and the accolade recognises the progress made over the last 20 years in managing the property to allow recovery and regeneration of the Caledonian Pine Forest, bringing benefits for wildlife and people alike."
"People are at the heart of what the estate is all about, and the NNR accolade recognises this. We are delighted to have received the accolade, and look forward welcoming many more visitors in the future, while continuing to manage the estate in such a way as to ensure recovery and expansion of the natural habitat that makes this a very special place."