The Scottish Highlands’ greatest lost chance?

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If left to its own devices, an estate in the Highlands that belonged to the Queen may be an ecological gem in the crown, finds Sandra Dick

In the heart of the Cairngorms, Delnadamph Farm, purchased by the Queen in 1978 for about £ 750,000, occupies 6,700 acres, just eight miles from Balmoral Castle, near the source of the Don River and a stone’s throw from the Lecht ski slopes.

The rolling moorland, the glistening river and the lack of woodland epitomize a classic Highland estate to the untrained eye.

In reality, viewers of previous episodes of the new “The Crown” series may have seen the fictional royals trudging through just such a setting on their way to butcher a wounded stag, enjoying their wild and apparently untamed Balmoral’s hunting and shooting opportunities.

However, for others, Delnadamph’s vast grouse moors reflect a glaringly overlooked opportunity that could become the jewel in the crown of Highland estates if given a chance.

While some neighboring estates are busy creating a modern vision for the Highlands by wilding the landscape with lush new woods, adopting new methods of managing grouse moors and pursuing ambitious projects to restore wildlife, peat bogs and plants, it is argued that Delnadamph, part of the Queen’s Balmoral Estate, has nothing to show for what would appear to be ideal conditions for

Conservationist Nick Kempe, who recently visited Delnadamph on foot and reported on his Parkswatch Scotland blog how he found it almost devoid of woodland and wildlife other than black grouse, has called on the Prince of Wales, who is president of the WWF-UK conservation organization and has long supported ecological and conservation causes, to intervene to ensure that it meets his vision for the conservation organization

The regulated burning of heather, gorse bushes and grassland is at issue, which promotes heather growth and increases hunting grouse populations, while destroying habitat for other birds and preventing the establishment of young trees and shrubs.

Kempe has also raised concerns about the possible disruption to valuable peatlands that are carbon-binding, with some areas apparently cleared of vegetation to create grouse areas or scoured by off-road vehicles.

Meanwhile, on the farm, grouse food dispersion stations were also reportedly set up, which he feared could contain medicated grit by cutting blocks off the turf, leaving the peat exposed to degradation and erosion.

Despite the vastness of the region, Kempe said that a handful of sheep and grouse were the only wildlife he saw during his hike. A snow hare was seen by another member of his party, but the sound of gunshots nearby and a carefully camouflaged trap raised concerns.

Kempe, who walked the property in October in the hope of evaluating the effect on the property of grouse management activities, claims his findings indicate that the practices are at odds with the conservation objections of the Cairngorms National Park and the well-publicized proclamations of Prince Charles on conservation, nature and climate change security.

He added, “It’s about time this was addressed, and one would hope that Prince Charles, given his oft-stated commitment to conservation, would be willing to do so.”

The property was bought at Balmoral by the Queen to improve grouse shooting opportunities, and was supposedly donated after their 1981 wedding to Prince Charles and his new wife Diana.

But his new bride reportedly found the estate’s lodge uninviting, considering the Prince of Wales’ love for the Highlands.

The two-story, 10-bedroom lodge was instead gutted and used for demolition exercises by the Royal Engineers before being completely demolished in 1987, in need of substantial repairs at the time.

The estate remains in the possession of the Queen and is part of the wider Balmoral estate, according to Buckingham Palace.

However, though modern approaches to grouse moor management and “rewilding” the land have been embraced by some neighboring properties, Kempe notes that there is evidence of “muirburn” being carried out at Delnadamph.

The method of burning bog land in order to produce conditional conditions

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