Hello everyone! My name is Megan, and I have joined the Visitor Team to assist in the running of the newly refurbished nature centre here at Abernethy. I have been visiting the Cairngorms for as long as I can remember. It felt like a second home here, and now with my parents having moved up to the area, it feels even more so. The Cairngorms has been very influential in shaping my views of the landscape, especially as I could compare it to where I grew up in the Midlands. They have that sense of vastness and wilderness, enabling you to feel part of the environment rather than a burden on it. Gnarly ancient Scot’s Pine, glimpses of red squirrels scampering over the forest floor, lush blaeberry and lichen galore create a wonderful atmosphere of solitude and serenity as you wander the pine needle laden trails. Although Scotland’s wilderness has been found to be amongst the most degraded in the world, there is so much potential for restoration enabling both wildlife and people to thrive.

To further engage with the natural world, I chose to study Physical Geography at the University at Lancaster with a study abroad year in New Zealand. During my time in New Zealand, I felt a similar connection to nature that I feel in the Highlands of Scotland. New Zealand has also undergone vast deforestation but still retains the sense of wilderness, heritage and connection to the lands and seas, especially with the spirit of the indigenous Maori population. Being in natural places like these, you find yourself in awe. This powerful emotion strengthens our reverence and gratitude for the beauty, complexity and resilience of the natural world.

Since graduating last year, I have volunteered at both Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and then more recently at the Haweswater Reserve. The Haweswater reserve has similar goals on a smaller scale to the Cairngorms restoration projects, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to assist the warden for a few months and gain a better understanding of this type of work. Living and working outdoors each day at the reserve was so valuable in developing my understanding of upland landscape management, increasing my knowledge of bird and plant species, and fuelled a deeper connection to my surroundings. Upland tree planting, bird surveys, fence removal, drystone walling and squirrel monitoring made up much of the work completed as well as assisting with tree nursery tasks. The central aims of nature restoration are being addressed within a farm setting, which brings its challenges. But with a large proportion of the UK being attributed to farmland, showing the progression of rewilding alongside more sustainable farming is hugely valuable.

I was surrounded by a breadth of wildlife; roe deer and foraging red squirrels from my window, badgers, hares, and foxes wandering the farm by dusk. Pied flycatchers, redstarts, tree pipits, cuckoos, and warblers expanded the bird biodiversity as they arrived for the summer enriching the orchestra of bird songs even more. Moving up to Abernethy, I still see many flickers of bushy orange and white-tip tails about the forest, roe deer and hares in the fields. Then, something I haven’t seen before, a chestnut brown coat with a beige bib and a sprightly run through the undergrowth. Having two sightings of the elusive pine martin over the last few weeks has brought so much joy! It ignited that sense of wilderness that the Cairngorms is known for. The forest can sometimes be a quiet place, often only hearing chaffinches and wrens or the warm willow warbler in the summer. But the forest feels so enchanting, both in its current state and for its secrets and potential.

Then there is the osprey, the humble beginning of the Abernethy reserve. Although there aren’t any nesting at the centre this year, I have visited a few nest sites around the area to see that many nests are occupied and doing well. As much as the osprey has been the central figure for the conservation work here, I am thrilled to be supporting the transition to focusing more on the large-scale restoration project, Cairngorms Connect. I have been exploring both new and old areas of the Highlands since arriving and have so much excitement for witnessing the continual restoration of the landscape. Creating larger areas of lush and diverse habitats to support more wildlife, sequestering more carbon in the soils and vegetation, and providing expanses of truly rich landscapes that inspire and fuel our intrinsic connection to nature.