The behaviour of Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd will be the focus of a new research programme designed to inform future sustainable reindeer tourism in the Cairngorms National Park.
Inverness College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, will lead the Cairngorms Reindeer Research Programme, in a partnership with the park authority, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forest Enterprise Scotland and the Reindeer Company, owners of the reindeer herd.
The research programme will investigate the ecological role reindeer play in the Cairngorms, focussing on their movements, behaviour and diet.
Dr Louise de Raad, Inverness College UHI research fellow, principal investigator and project manager, said: "The Cairngorms National Park contains some of the finest forests and mountain habitats in Britain and the park authority is seeking to maximise the restoration and expansion of these areas.
"We know the reindeer are a key visitor attraction, but despite being present for more than 60 years we know very little about their impact on the area.
"Studying their feeding and ranging behaviour will be a first step towards understanding their impact and this will help us make recommendations to ensure that the herd is managed sustainably and continues to make a positive contribution to the area."
As part of the behavioural tracking study, Dr de Raad will fit GPS collars equipped with cameras and accelerometer technology to a sample of reindeer within the 150-strong free-ranging herd to gather information.
Researchers at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will carry out a dietary study using genetic analyses of faecal samples to gain a better understanding of their seasonal diet.
The programme will include a socio-economic study exploring perceptions and attitudes towards the free-ranging reindeer in the park, and assess their economic contribution to the area and their cultural value as part of the landscape.
The study will lead to recommendations to enable sustainable reindeer management and the protection and expansion of designated habitats in the national park.
The first phase of the Cairngorms Reindeer Research Programme will get underway later this month and has been made possible through funding contributions of the partners.