A moor covering almost 2,000 hectares of The Cairngorms National Park is being transformed into an exemplar natural capital project including a new large scale native woodland afforestation scheme, peatland restoration and habitat creation. It will be one of the largest of its kind undertaken in the UK.
Muckrach Estate near Granton on Spey has been owned by Calthorpe Estates, a progressive property investment and development company based in Birmingham in the Midlands, since the 1960s. Haydn Cooper, Chief Executive of Calthorpe Estates said: “Our vision is to create exceptional places and our environmental strategy is focused on providing vibrant and sustainable spaces for people to live, work and enjoy, while striving to reach net zero carbon across our operations. Our work at Muckrach is an important part of our net zero journey and it is a privilege to be part of this landscape-scale project, contributing to mitigating climate change while creating a diverse habitat, all within the Cairngorms National Park”
Muckrach has been managed relatively traditionally with farming, forestry and residential property as its three core businesses. As the appreciation of the role of natural assets in helping to mitigate climate change grows, Calthorpe Estates were keen to recognise the importance of responsible management of the natural environment as part of its objectives, and their journey to becoming carbon neutral. Being based in Birmingham, Calthorpe Estates appointed Savills natural capital team to provide an audit of the moorland, so a strategy could be developed. Calthorpe Estates ESG agenda is centred around their core values of Community, Sustainable, Excellence and Connected, drawing on their family values and 300 year heritage. Faye Gonzalez, Rural Director based in Inverness said: “We identified that while this former grouse moor was not sufficiently fertile for agriculture or commercial forestry, there was considerable potential for native woodland tree planting and the creation of a diverse natural habitat. We have developed a landscape-scale scheme which is focused on new native woodland creation and peatland restoration in order to achieve carbon capture, natural regeneration, and biodiversity enhancement.
“This is balanced with the aim of creating connected open spaces so that the local community and visitors can enjoy the landscape. Part of the design process has been identifying routes throughout the new forest with stunning vistas south to the Cairngorm mountains and across the site”.
Native Woodland Creation
A total of 619 hectares will be planted with predominantly native woodland, the majority of which will be native Scots pine and upland birch. A further 124 hectares will be created by natural woodland regeneration from seeds dropped from trees already on site. Up to one1.0 million trees will be planted, storing an estimated 263,000 tonnes of carbon in their lifetime. This carbon capture will contribute to carbon neutrality for Calthorpe Estates as part of the journey to net-zero for the property portfolio.
Ewan Reid, Director and Head of Forestry for Savills in Scotland, who led the planning process said:
“ Working closely with Calthorpe Estates, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Scottish Forestry and our valued suppliers, we are proud to have co-developed a woodland expansion project with truly cross cutting objectives. Muckrach forest will not only make a significant contribution to Scottish Government and National Park tree planting targets, in time it will become a valuable native woodland habitat that will provide multi layered benefits to wildlife, the environment and society for generations to come”.
Andy Ford, Director of Nature and Climate Change for the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “We’re excited to see such a diverse and large-scale native woodland being created right here in the Cairngorms National Park. As part of our new National Park Partnership Plan we’ve targeted a minimum of 35,000 hectares of new woodland cover to be created by 2045, and the scheme at Muckrach Forest will make a significant contribution to this, improving habitat connectivity and helping achieve collective net zero targets.”
Savills and Calthorpe Estates facilitated a partnership, involving Muckrach Estate, Cairngorms National Park Authority and Peatland ACTION. In the initial phase local firm Taiga Upland has restored 177 hectares of peatland, achieved by re-profiling over 12km of drains. . This will re-establish natural water flow pathways and raise the water level across the site, creating the habitat to enable important peat-forming species, such as bog-mosses, purple moor-grass and heather, to thrive.
In addition a further 900 hectares of mixed wetland and open moorland habitats will provide vital homes and breeding grounds for a wide range of birds and other wildlife, as well as preserving heritage features and healthy freshwater habitats that feed the river Spey. Not only will this lock up carbon that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere, but it will restore biodiverse habitats that threatened wader populations rely upon, as well as slowing the run-off of water into the river Spey catchment, improving freshwater habitat conditions.
The project has been developed with public consultation and diverse expertise of various individuals and organisations to ensure that it delivers the best possible outcomes for the community, wildlife and landscape at Muckrach. Key partners include Calthorpe Estates, Scottish Forestry, NatureScot, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Historic Environment Scotland (HES), Highland Council, Spey Fisheries Board, Dulnain Bridge, Carrbridge and Grantown-on-Spey Community Councils, Estate residents and tenants.
Calthorpe Estates are delighted that their Muckrach Estate is contributing significantly to both carbon capture and environmental improvements that local communities can experience.