Our exploration of the Cairngorm National Park and this landscape was
just beginning and after an ascent across the Cairngorm Plateau to the
summit of Sgòr Gaoith we descended off the peak of the Munro,
undoubtedly one of the most thrilling outdoor experiences you can have,
before reaching the tree line just below 600m. From the hills you get a
real perspective of the glens below, in all directions. With only a
fifth of Scotland’s forests now native and 4% of Scotland’s land area
being covered by semi-natural woodland the view would have no doubt
looked very different in the past. The situation is improving with
forest cover increasing from 4% to 19% in Scotland over the last 100
years - whether this is the right cover begs a bigger question.
As you approach the tree line in Glen Feshie, you’re met by the first
sight of the Green Soldiers - young pines marching up and out of the
valley floor. These are the proud infantry in the rewilding army,
forging a new future and returning the landscape to its former self.
They’re the heroes of this story and support aims to reach targets of
woodland cover in Scotland of 21% by 2032 among other vital targets to
rebalance and restore such landscapes.
As we ride among these Green Soldiers we meet up with Ronan Dugan, an
ecologist working within Glen Feshie. Mountain biking has always been a
pastime of Ronan’s but it’s his passion to help restore the natural
environment within the Cairngorms and play his part in fighting the
climate crisis that shines. The rewilding of Glen Feshie is part of a
long term vision backed by owner Anders Povlsen. The work is part of the
wider Cairngorms Connect project which has a 200 year vision aiming to
enhance habitats, species and ecological processes across a vast area
within the Cairngorms National Park - we use the term rewilding
carefully here as it can be interpreted in many ways.
Sometimes it takes someone with grand visions and bravery to steer
things in the right direction. Anders Polvsen is steering the future of
Glen Feshie in a really exciting way.It seems like Glen Feshie is
representing a pivotal opportunity to return the lands to what they once
were - letting nature take over and managing the access and connection
that outdoors users have with it. Humans have always intervened with
Nature but sometimes leaving it to do its own thing is important. The
Feshie continues to carve a new path through the Glen.
As we venture deeper into the Glen, discussions turn to how
recreation and tourism can work to support these regeneration efforts.
Over coffee with Ronan, we consider our impact as riders and hill users
but also acknowledge the opportunities attracting people to the area can
have. Visitors generate income which allows estates the kind of
continued investment that enhances and maintains their scenic locations.
Currently this estate and surrounding owned by Povlsen are reportedly
subsidised to the tune of £1.6m per annum, something which ultimately
As individuals, we can enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits that
come from accessing and exploring the wilderness. Whether we visit on
foot, bike or even horseback, our visit to Glen Feshie has put into
question what our relationship with our surroundings should look like
and how we can contribute to their protection while still benefiting
from them. It’s through following the example of forward-thinking
landowners like those involved with the Cairngorm Connect project that
our true wilderness will return.
Ending our ride
and our time in Glen Feshie. Seeing the work that’s ongoing and
educating ourselves has been enlightening. Our relationship with nature
is a complex one and a holistic approach is needed to recover it while
as a user still being able to access it responsibly.As the warm evening
sun dipped over the horizon, we completed the last of our descents
through this stunning and fragile landscape and had time to reflect on
how we as riders access land responsibly. How can we support projects
focussed on improving biodiversity and what should our relationship with
nature look like? While the debate is ongoing we figure a good start is
choosing to stand firm among those Green Soldiers forging on with the
frontline work. We’re excited to return in the future to see the pines,
birch, rowan, willow and other species support a rich habitat with
This article and feature would not have been possible without the
support of FUNN components, a partner of The Contour Collective.
For more information on the conservation projects mentioned in this
article, visit the links below as a starting point and join the