Restoring forests in the Cairngorms one burger at a time

Posted: 1st September 2022

Photo: Cairngorms Connect

Cairngorms Connect has launched a new project marketing venison, to share the story of forest expansion in the Cairngorms.

Scotland has seen its once-expansive Caledonian pine forest drastically reduce in size and become disconnected over the centuries, largely due to human actions. Today, only 1% of Scotland’s original pine forest remains.

A key factor holding back native forest restoration and expansion in Scotland is grazing pressure from deer. Whilst red and roe deer are part of Scotland’s ecosystem, a human-induced absence of predators means their numbers are artificially high giving native woodland little chance to recover.

An aerial photograph overlooking a sweeping landscape of pine forest and low mountains rothiemurchus forest. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

Woodland recovery in Scotland is slow, partly due to grazing pressure. Photo: Cairngorms Connect.

Native woodland provides a home to rare species such as capercaillie and Scottish crossbills and is vital in the face of the climate crisis, locking up carbon in their leaves, trunk, branches and soil. To restore native woodland, land managers use deer management to control deer numbers and to keep them moving across the landscape. Deer control also helps manage the dynamic of the population, by removing older and weaker deer so they don’t suffer during harsh winters.

Necessary deer management for habitat restoration also produces venison – a local, accessible and environmentally sustainable source of high-quality protein.  Through a new initiative “Cairngorms Connect Venison”, Cairngorms Connect hopes to share the story of Scotland’s recovering forests, and enable local people and visitors to benefit by increasing access to local venison.

A packet of venison mince sits on a tree stump on a sunny day in a forest.

Locally produced venison can have environmental and health benefits. Photo: Cairngorms Connect.

In addition to its environmental credentials, venison has approximately a third of the fat found in beef and is significantly lower in cholesterol, whilst at the same time containing more protein and essential amino acids. Produced and processed locally, Cairngorms Connect Venison has low food miles, a low carbon footprint and is 100% leadfree.

Jack Ward, Cairngorms Connect Deer Stalker, said “As a 200-year project, Cairngorms Connect needs local people to be at the heart of the habitat restoration vision. At a time when people are becoming more conscious of their consumer habits, venison provides an exciting opportunity to involve new audiences in our habitat restoration vision.”

A man wearing a blue polo shirt and grey shorts stands smiling next to a fridge.

Local people are integral to the success of Cairngorms Connect’s 200-year vision. Photo: Cairngorms Connect.

Still in the early stages of the project, Cairngorms Connect has so far partnered with Lynbreck Croft, who butchered and sold Cairngorms Connect Venison, selling out in 10 minutes, and with ‘Scotland: The Big Picture’ who served Cairngorms Connect Venison at their Rewilding Retreats.

Wendy Sylvester, Scotland: The Big Picture Hospitality Manager, said: “Healthy, locally produced food is good for people and climate. Working with Cairngorms Connect, we can serve our guests nutritious food grown within just a few miles of my kitchen.”

Cairngorms Connect Venison is now available for purchase at the RSPB Loch Garten Nature Centre shop and is exploring partnering with more local businesses and restaurants as the project develops.

Poll cards sit on a desk at a visitor centre next to RSPB catalogues.

People are becoming increasingly conscious about the environmental impact of their food. Photo: Cairngorms Connect.

Fergus Cumberland, Visitor Operations Manager for RSPB Scotland said “We have been really excited to be able to tell the full story of habitat regeneration and be able to give visitors the chance to try local sustainable produce. The venison has been really popular with visitors to the RSPB Loch Garten Nature Centre, and what better way to restore a habitat than one sausage at a time.”

Funded by the Endangered Landscapes Programme, Cairngorms Connect has ambitious aims to restore forests – based on mapping by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the partnership of land managers hope to double the forest in size over 200 years.

A packet of venison mince placed on a tree stump in a forest.

Deer management over the decades is slowly allowing forests in the Cairngorms to regrow. Photo: Cairngorms Connect.

Following decades of deer management, Cairngorms Connect partners can now see the positive impact – there are more young trees visible on the forest edge, and the slow march of native woodland is now visible on the slopes of the Cairngorms. Looking beyond the partnership boundary, the Cairngorms National Park Plan charts commitments to managing deer sustainably across the whole the National Park, bringing numbers down to benefit wider ecological restoration efforts.

This article was originally published on the Cairngorms Connect website

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