Part of the BSPB team took part in the Endangered Landscape and Seascape Programme Knowledge Exchange visit to Cairngorms Connect, Scotland, between October 23 – 27, 2023, with a primary objective of fostering knowledge exchange among diverse ecosystem restoration projects. The visit’s central theme was anchored in exploring how science could effectively support large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts.

The visit embraced key themes, with a particular emphasis on addressing two fundamental questions: “What do we gain when we restore?” and “How should we best restore?” These inquiries delved into the measurement of the conservation impact through monitoring designs and techniques and the exploration of alternative restoration methods through trials and control-impact comparisons.

Participants engaged in a dynamic agenda that included field trips and discussions designed to provide a hands-on experience and stimulate dialogue. Activities ranged from monitoring species responses across trophic levels to experimenting with deadwood creation. The latter involved a visit to an RSPB-owned land where the abundance and diversity of deadwood beetles in former plantation forests were actively measured, comparing areas with and without active deadwood creation.

Another intriguing facet of the visit involved the translocation of Twinflower, a vulnerable species with a unique reproductive strategy, emphasising the importance of genetic diversity for long-term survival. This initiative sought to establish new populations within the Cairngorms Connect area and support existing ones, contributing to the broader understanding of genetic makeup and the reproductive dynamics of plant species.

The exploration continued with a focus on mountain woodland restoration. Genetic studies and translocations took centre stage, narrating a tale of resilience through the restoration of montane willows.

The visit further ventured into the Invereshie and Inshriach National Nature Reserve, where the dynamic interplay between woodland regeneration and herbivore grazing was examined. The control of deer numbers emerged as a critical element in encouraging natural spread, showcasing the delicate balance required for successful woodland expansion.

The visit reached its culmination with an exploration of experiments and trials. Participants witnessed firsthand the mimicry of ecological processes, from grazing cattle replicating the impact of extinct large herbivores to field-layer cutting emulating natural surface fires. The journey climaxed with a planting/seeding experiment above the tree line, symbolizing hope for the restoration of birch trees.

In conclusion, the ELP Knowledge Exchange visit to Cairngorms Connect provided a rich tapestry of experiences and insights into the science of large-scale ecosystem restoration. From monitoring biodiversity responses to experimenting with innovative restoration methods, the visit underscored the significance of collaborative efforts in overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities in ecological restoration across varying temporal and spatial scales.