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Banffshire
Chapter 7. Natural History


In recent times—recent, that is, geologically—no sea separated Britain from the Continent. The present bed of the North Sea was a low plain intersected by streams. At that period, then, the plants and the animals of our country were identical with those of Western Europe. But the Ice Age came and crushed out life in this region. In time, as the ice melted, the flora and fauna gradually returned, for the land-bridge still existed. Had it continued to exist, our plants and animals would have been the same as in Northern France and the Netherlands. But the sea drowned the land and cut off Britain from the Continent before all the species found a home here. Consequently, on the east of the North Sea, all our mammals and reptiles, for example, are found along with many which are not indigenous to Britain. In Scotland, however, we are proud to possess in the red grouse a bird not belonging to the fauna of the Continent.

The physical conditions of Banffshire, with a coastline formed by rocky cliffs, and sand and shingle beaches, with ground rising in the interior to all elevations up to over 4000 feet, drained- by rivers such as the Spey, the Deveron, the Aven, and the Isla, and by innumerable small streams, and with every variety of soil and exposure, are highly favourable to plant life. Wild flowers abound everywhere, and ferns, mosses and other plants invite the attention of the botanist. The Banffshire Field Club has published a Flora of the county giving a list of over one thousand plants, and supplementary lists have been from time to time added, so that means are available for a fairly exhaustive acquaintance with the subject. Records of 23 species and varieties of ferns have been made, of 82 grasses and 28 sedges, and of 44 local mosses.

British plants have been divided into groups based on their relative distribution throughout the country. Banf shire has about five-sixths of the Scottish type and four-fifths of the Highland type; most of the British type are common, but of the distinctively English type there are few.

In some of the southern parishes with their large tracts of elevated moor, and containing some of the highest mountains in Scotland, great areas of heather make the hillsides glow in autumn in radiant colours, and provide food for large stocks of grouse. Extensive masses of whin and broom form a striking feature of the landscape in many districts. Avenside has lovely stretches of birches, and by the banks of all the streams there is in their season an abundant and brilliant show of flowering plants. The woodlands, the riversides, the coast, the hills and moors, and the roadsides all yield numerous subjects, and to those interested the county in its endless variety of native and imported vegetation provides a highly favourable field of study.

Particularly in the vicinity of mansion houses, many noble trees are to be seen. Remains of the primeval forest, which extended over a large part of the county, are to be found in some places, and huge trunks mostly of fir and oak are frequently dug up in the mosses from under deep "lairs," i.e. beds, of peat. Plantations consist for the most part of mixed hard wood and conifers. Ash trees, copper and green beeches, the elm, sycamores, gean, hazel, the Scots fir, larch, silver fir and spruce each provide magnificent specimens. In the Flora of Banffshire seventeen varieties of willow are mentioned. A silver fir in Duff House grounds, blown down in the winter of 1916, had about 140 annual rings and at a foot from the ground was four feet across. In this area and elsewhere there are many fine trees, of the planting of which the second Earl of Fife in 1787 wrote in the Annals of Agriculture, how, within a period of thirty years, "about seven thousand acres of bleak and barren moor had been cloathed with thriving and flourishing trees... it was generally believed that no wood would thrive so near the coast; I have proved that to be a mistake; my park is fourteen miles round, and I have every kind of forest tree from thirty years old, in a most thriving state; and few places better wooded." In the glen at Cullen House there is a Pinetum which was planted about 1865 and which contains many fine specimens. In some districts on the coast, trees exposed to the furies of the north wind are often bare on their northern side and bend their branches and tops towards the opposite quarter, good examples of which will be found in the Fir Wood, Banff, and in a plantation near the viaduct at Cullen, where the trees at the northern end have their projections turned southward by the blasting winter gales from the North Sea.

In many districts the mountain ash forms a beautiful feature of the winter landscape. Early in the last century much planting was done and if the necessities of the Great War led to cutting down on a considerable scale, large forest areas are left for the natural adornment of the country side and to act as an ameliorative influence on the rigours of the northern climate.

The fauna of Banffshire is wonderful in its variety. The different kinds of birds are reckoned to be 228 in number. In the corries of the mountains in Glenaven and the south, the golden eagle still breeds, although the white-tailed eagle has gone from the other extremity of the county, on the cliffs of Troup. Large areas of moors are the homes of the red grouse; the partridge is common; in a few places pheasants are preserved; black game are found in several districts, while on the Cairngorms and Ben Rinnes, particularly the former, ptarmigan are fairly abundant. The rocks and cliffs of Gamrie are the habitat of immense numbers of sea fowl, including the kittiwake (kittie), the razor-bill auk (coulter), the guillemot (queet), and. puffin (tammy norrie). In caves along the coast small colonies of the rock dove are to be found, and the carrion and hooded crow are very common. At least four species of owl occur, and probably the most common bird of prey is the kestrel. Cormorants are frequently seen along the coast in winter and there are several small heronries in the county. In spring and autumn large flocks of wild geese pass screaming overhead in their seasonal migration; lapwings (teuchats) are abundant, and the voice of the land-rail is heard all over the county where cultivation prevails, although in upland districts it is not so common. Few large birds are so numerous as the sea-gull, which seems of late years to have sought an inland home in ever increasing numbers. Vast numbers breed on the cliffs of Gamrie and Troup. The beautiful great northern diver is sometimes driven to the coast through stress of weather, and northern gales occasionally drive ashore isolated specimens of the little auk.

In the extensive forests.mostly above the 1000 feet level (Glenaven of 39,000 acres, Glenfiddich of 33,000) the red deer has its home. In the corries of the hills the fox also breeds, but he is kept in check because of his raids on sheep flocks. Otters are captured occasionally by the banks of streams. Badgers are rare but are sometimes found. The brown hare abounds in most districts, heavy bags of white hares are got in various parts of the uplands, and rabbits are numerous. Roe deer are found in several areas. The larger rivers yield excellent salmon and trout-fishing; and the brown trout is abundant in all the numerous mountain streams.


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