On Monday, it was announced by the BBC, that this year’s Autumnwatch would be based at a location that has become my second home over the past few years. The Aigas Field Centre is set within an eighteen acre estate, centered around an old Victorian hunting lodge. Surrounding the house that has been built as a result of a series of extensions to the hunting lodge, are a formal garden and arboretum, looked after lovingly by Lady Lucy Lister-Kaye, who also runs the kitchen and serves high quality food, along with the kitchen staff. These gardens are bordered by the log cabins where most guests stay and they are frequented by the resident red squirrels and the odd pine marten and badger.
Beyond the house and gardens are where it starts to get really interesting however. Climb uphill and you reach the education centre that was opened by the late Sir Magnus Magnusson and has been designed to be as ecologically friendly as possible. Keep going though and you enter the Caledonian pine woods, where Scottish wildcats have been seen and pine martens and badgers wander, along with foxes and small mammals. Set within these woods, there is a small loch, where a family of beavers lives. These beavers were originally introduced as a pair, as a demonstration project showing that beavers can live within the British Isles, without causing serious damage. Studies of these beavers have shown a regeneration of the deciduous woodland at the far end of the loch, with natural management (by the beavers) of the wetland area. This has increased biodiversity and proven that trees aren’t killed by the action of the beavers, but are in fact effectively coppiced. Any trees or wood that need to remain, are protected by the simple application of chicken wire.
To the left of the loch, a path continues up through the pine woods towards a tree-top hide, that overlooks the valley below, giving good views of any raptors that may be flying. The path continues on through upland moorland towards a hill-top fort, passing some hut circles along the way, where roding woodcock can be seen after dusk during the spring months. From the fort, the views are spectacular and even the Beauly firth is visible to the east. To the west, the peaks surrounding Glen Cannich, Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Affric are just visible.
While The Aigas estate is large for an estate, there are probably very few estates with such a diverse range of habitats in what is essentially a small area. As a result, there is a very diverse range of wildlife, with many migratory birds arriving in Spring and Autumn and many more resident birds and mammals, not to mention herpetic fauna. This of course makes it ideal for its use by the BBC for its series of Autumnwatch programmes, starting at the end of October.
- New season for BBC nature show (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)