Cairngorms site - INTERACT (International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic)

Short description:

UKCEH's site in the INTERACT network is the ECN Cairngorms site, the first ECN site in the UK's sub-arctic zone, which links to other upland ECN sites and to sites in the Alps and Pyrenees (GLORIA network) and in the Arctic (SCANNET network).

Major research issues/sites:

World attention is now focused on the Arctic because of its climate that is changing faster than elsewhere, and it is also experienceing changes in land use, socio-economics and globalisation of economies and cultures. In particular, geopolitical issues related to increased access to natural resources have alerted many nations to the growing importance of the Arctic.

The Arctic is so vast and so sparsely populated that environmental observing capacity is limited compared to most other latitudes. There is an urgent need to increase the capacity for environmental observation and research in high northern latitudesKey pre-requisites of improving environmental observation in the Arctic are to sustain the current observing capacity of existing infrastructures and their networking activities throughout the Arctic.

This project's main objective is to build capacity for identifying, understanding, predicting and responding to diverse environmental changes throughout the wide environmental and land-use envelopes of the Arctic.

UKCEH's site in the INTERACT network is the ECN Cairngorms site, which joined the ECN network in summer 1999. It is located high in the Cairngorms, near Aviemore in Speyside. The site lies on the western flank of the Cairngorms and is 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 in the Arctic (SCANNET network). 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 has been no significant regeneration over the last two centuries due to heavy grazing by deer, and burning. However,a reduction in deer grazing began nearly 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. There is also evidence of increasing windiness;
  • Hydrology - This is one of the longest recorded snow sites in the UK;
  • 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 300 m up to arctic-alpine vegetation at 1100 m.

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.

UKCEH and the James Hutton Institute (JHI) 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). The site is an integral part of the Cairngorm LTSER (launched 14 Nov 2013) and a hub for ecosystem service research.

Short technical description:

The site is a west facing granite catchment in the Cairngorms Mountains (57º 07' N, 3º 49' W), rising from about 350 m through the tree line at 700 m to the highest summit at 1100 m. The catchment area is 10 km2. The site has virtually no natural tree line due to past overgrazing but is now being extensively colonized by Pinus sylvestris.

Options and conditions for visiting scientists:

The INTERACT contract under FP7 has operated a Transnational Access programme providing access to 20 research stations in Northernmost Europe and Russia. Full details are on the INTERACT website:

Further details about the Cairngorms ECN site can be found on the ECN website: and on the DEIMS database:

centre running the infrastructure:

UKCEH - UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

type of facility:

Observatory / large-scale experimental field site , Research platforms


  • UKCEH - UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • Phone: +44 (0) 1491 692395
  • Email:

Jan Dick