This year’s summer solstice marks 21 years since the Trust began caring for Ben Nevis. It’s been a busy couple of decades explains, our Nevis Conservation Officer, Nathan Berrie.
Since Duncan Fairfax-Lucy handed over the title deeds of the Ben Nevis Estate on 21 June 2000, the Trust has worked tirelessly to care for this special place. In the early days, the activity was largely administrative but since the establishment of the Nevis land team in 2006 the work has accelerated considerably.
One of the Trust’s main aims is to enable opportunities for people of all backgrounds to connect with nature. It’s an objective that the Nevis land team has fully embraced, with a whirlwind of engagement opportunities over the years, not least the volunteer work party programme. Since it began, more than 1,000 days of volunteer time have helped keep the paths around Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis maintained and litter free.
As well as volunteering, the team has created opportunities for young people to engage with nature through outdoor events and an annual wild poetry competition that has seen around 4,000 entries from more than 20 schools throughout Lochaber.
This year also marks another exciting engagement initiative for young people with the launch of our Nevis Junior Rangers programme that will create opportunities for the next generation of conservationists to learn more about our work.
One thing is certain: the Ben is as popular as ever. A record 160,000 visits were recorded in 2018, with almost 1.2 million in total since 2010. While such numbers have created challenges, our close relationship with the Nevis Landscape Partnership has enabled us to work meaningfully with landowners and stakeholders in Glen Nevis to encourage responsible access and achieve collective goals.
One project, working alongside Ordnance Survey, resulted in a historic revision to the record books, with Ben Nevis found to be a metre higher (1,345m) than first thought!
Biodiversity is another key focus at Nevis. For the past decade and more, the team has undertaken annual monitoring of a whole range of species – from butterflies to birds, bats and water voles – as well as increase its understanding of how browsing animals influence habitat quality.
We have actively managed deer populations in a bid to encourage natural regeneration of areas of ancient native woodland around Steall. Although we have seen a year-on-year increase in seedling height, a step change in deer management is needed if we are to achieve the kind of transformative change we would like to see in terms of the spread and extent of native woodland cover.
As such, and since the start of the year, we have significantly increased the annual cull to further reduce browsing pressure on the woodlands and maximise the carbon storage potential of the land.
We are also exploring greater community involvement in our deer management. Much like the old Highland land ethic tuath, we believe everyone should have access to the land, not just for recreation but also to gather venison for the pot. In future, we plan to increase these opportunities for any community member who wishes to be involved in deer management.
Overall, our vision for the Nevis area is for it to be recognised as a world-class visitor destination, complete with a restored natural tree line and wildlife-rich native woodland. To that end, we are working closely with the Nevis Landscape Partnership to improve interpretation and infrastructure and to create a base in the glen which will act as a focal point for visitor engagement.
And over the next 21 years and beyond, we will continue our work to future-proof the area from the threats of climate change, biodiversity breakdown and the pressures of increased tourism. In doing so, we hope to lead by example and create further opportunities for the community to participate in caring for a mountain that is such a vital asset for both the local and national economy.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of the John Muir Trust's Members' Journal. Photo at the top shows an alder in Glen Nevis by Nathan Berrie
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