The ECN Data Centre

Site Information: Cairngorms

Sponsoring organisation(s)

Scottish Natural Heritage & Natural Environment Research Council (through UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)

Network(s) this site belongs to
UK Environmental Change Network
UK Environmental Change Biodiversity Network

Site characteristics

Min Altitude 320m

Site boundaries are indicated with a black line.
Click map to enlarge.

Max Altitude 1110m
Area of Site 1000ha
Mean annual temperature* 4.7oC
Mean annual rainfall* 780mm
* calculated from the ECN Data Centre database
Information held about this site
View a list of datasets collected at this site
View a list of publications about this site


The Cairngorms site, which joined the ECN network in summer 1999, is located high in the Cairngorms, near Aviemore in Speyside. The site lies on the North-Western flank of the Cairngorms encompassing the catchment of the Allt a' Mharcaidh (a site in the ECN freshwater network). It is part of the Invereshie and Inshriach National Nature Reserve, within the Cairngorms National Park, and covers some 10 km2.

This is the first ECN site in the UK's sub-arctic zone and is an important link not only to other upland ECN sites but to sites in the Alps and Pyrenees (GLORIA network) and also to networks across the Arctic (SCANNET and INTERACT). The site is ideally placed to monitor changes in:

Tree colonisation - Mature trees (principally Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris) at the site are confined to a relatively small part of the lower ground and there had been no significant regeneration over the last two centuries due to heavy grazing by deer, and burning. However, a reduction in deer grazing began around 20 years ago and colonisation by saplings is now widespread;
Climate change - The site straddles the zones of increasing winter precipitation and decreasing summer precipitation whilst there is also evidence of increasing windiness. The specialised arctic-alpine plant communities found at the site can be used to provide an interesting early warning system for possible effects of climate change on habitats located further north in the arctic.
Hydrology - This is one of the longest recorded snow sites in the UK and is also a complete gauged catchment;
Pollution - Levels of air, water and soil pollution at the site are relatively low compared to other parts of the UK, and the site therefore provides a good control area;
Vegetation change - There is an excellent altitudinal sequence of communities, from Caledonian pine woodland at 300m up to arctic-alpine vegetation at 1100m.

The Cairngorms site has been used intensively for research since the 1970s. An Automatic Weather Station (AWS) has been operating at the site since 1984 and was used in the Surface Water Acidification Programme from 1984 to 1994. CEH and MI have used the site for long-term hydrological and snow studies for about 15 years. From 1997-1999 it was one of the ECOMONT (land use change in mountain areas of Europe) sites. Researchers at several universities and institutes use the site for vegetation, soils and nutrient cycling studies. The site forms part of the larger Feshie catchment in the NICHE programme (National Infrastructure for Catchment Hydrology Experiments).

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology


Related links

  • Photographic Archive of Cairngorms: Each week a digital photo of Cairngorms is taken and kept in an archive as a record of conditions at the site.
  • This site is part of the INTERACT Network of polar and alpine research sites.



Mr Chris Andrews & Dr Jan Dick

UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Bush Estate, Penicuik, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH26 0QB &

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