Comprising most of the United Kingdom’s high-altitude terrain, Cairngorms National Park in northern Scotland is the largest park in the British Isles, and an example of successful sustainable development and conservation working together. Home to several endangered or rare animal and plant species, many types of ecosystem, and 18,000 human residents, a lot of careful management has to take place for business and the natural environment to both thrive.
Unlike some of the other parks featured in this weekly post, Cairngorms (4528 sq km) is what you might call a “mixed use” park, where agriculture and other natural resource extraction such as logging, fishing, and hunting all take place. While in many national parks around the world, people are not allowed to live within park boundaries, here that is not the case, and in fact, according to the Cairngorms official website, 75% of land ownership is private, 15% belongs to charities, and 10% public bodies. All of which makes the park an impressive display of cooperation among community members to make the area successful in its multi-faceted mission.
No matter the season, this region of Scotland is great for visiting. There are three downhill ski centers, as well as a plateau area for cross-country skiing. The four tallest mountains in the UK are found here, with spots for ice-climbing. Moorlands provide habitat for red grouse, which are hunted in the fall, and peatlands, which are very important carbon storage ecosystems, create fantastic vistas of moss that grows as little as 1mm per year. A quarter of Scotland’s native forest lies within the Park, and animals like the endangered red squirrel and Golden Eagle, as well as a threatened plant called twinflower, live here.
There are hundreds of miles of paths and trails, so you can hike, bike, or ride horses for miles, or canoe down rivers and fish for salmon while keeping an eye out for otters. You can also see a good number of old castles, including one owned by the royal family, Balmoral (the Queen’s private residence). There are plenty of areas to camp in, but also dozens of hotels or bed & breakfasts throughout the Park.