Modern Highland

Nature of the highlands

The highlands of Wester Ross are well known for the rough and isolated heath land covering the alternating peaty, rocky ridges and tops of the Mountains.
The combination of pinewoods, native birch and oakwoods give high botanical interest to this region.
The stunning scenery is dominated by the peak of Slioch, 981 m above sea level.
From early spring until October you can find many species of wild flowers. In March and April there is an abundance of lesser celandine, snowdrops and white and yellow daffodils around the houses and in the banks.
In May the delicate yellow primroses, bluebells, wild strawberries and yellow pimpernel are colouring the lower parts of the slopes, the riverbanks and the deciduous woodlands.

One can also find the wood anemone and wood sorrel with their white flowers. In summertime there is a dense vegetation of fern. Bracken grows five feet high, but in spring the stems reach only two feet, exhibiting the miraculous forms of young leaves at their tops. With their fragrant, yellow, starry flowers the asphodels lay a golden glow over the moorlands, turning into dark orange as they mature, showing a richness of orange spiky fruits in autumn. During every season all kinds of small flowers may be discovered between the heath bushes and in the moors. Among many others: cat's-foot (so named because of the woolly bracts), lousewort, tormentil, common butterwort and common milkwort.

Forest Dwellers at Letterewe

Bryophytes and lichens at Letterewe
Well over 300 bryophytes and the same number of lichens have been recorded at Letterewe. Bryophytes include the mosses and liverworts and belong to the plant kingdom relying on photosynthesis for growth. Lichens are a symbiosis (more than one organism living in close association with each other) between a fungi and an alga and/or cyanobacteria. The fungi involved must come into contact with the appropriate alga in order to grow and form a thallus (what we see as the body of the lichen) but the algae concerned may be free-living. The algae are able to photosynthesise but the fungi cannot. Therefore, the fungi get energy from photosynthate produced by the alga in the lichen symbiosis but the algae benefit from the relationship by being able to grow in places that would otherwise be uninhabitable without the protection conferred by the fungi. This interpretation of the lichen symbiosis is mutualistic with each partner benefitting.
Letterewe has some rare and fascinating bryophyte and lichen communities. Few guests will fail to notice a rather black “velvety” looking moss that often grows in dense cushions at the edges of many flushes in the open wet heath. Under a lens the leaves look like badger or bear hairs rather than leaves. Sometimes the cushions are so big you could cuddle them. One guest declared that he would rather like a pair of trousers made out of this bear moss. It has the scientific name Campylopus atrovirens (the specific referring to the black-green nature of the leaves). The most important bryophyte community at Letterewe occurs on the north-facing slopes above about 300m. This is the mixed Northern Atlantic hepatic mat comprised of large and colourful liverworts that grow below a canopy of heather and amid rocks and boulders. It contains species that have a very disjunct world distribution and is threatened by burning and too much grazing. As members of this community are unable to reproduce sexually it has limited powers of dispersal and once eradicated may be lost forever from a site. It is an internationally important liverwort community. Woolly-fringe Moss (Racomitrium lanuginosum) dominates the vegetation on some of the summits at Letterewe but can also grow elsewhere and has even been recorded from the bonnet of the Estate tractor!

A rather exciting nationally scarce lichen, found in just two localities at Letterewe, is the Norwegian Speckle Belly (Pseudocyphellaria norvegica). It is an indicator of ancient and undisturbed woodland and hangs on in just a couple of special places since the Letterewe woodlands have had a long industrial history. The policies around Letterewe do still have a magnificent population of more common members of the Lobarion lichen community. One of these is known as Tree Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) so named because the underside of the lobes resemble the alveoli of lungs and was even used to treat tuberculosis. On many acid rocks and old birch bark you may encounter the lichen known as the Cudbear Lichen (Ochrolechia tartarea) which was prized for orchil dye – much sought after for its purple colour. Fortunately, other dyes have been discovered so that rocks and trees are no longer stripped bare for this precious commodity.

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Plants and trees

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The Animals

At Letterewe Estate many red data birds can be found, including golden eagle, merlin and peregrine, dipper, golden plover and dotterel. In the upper heathlands there are small numbers of red grouse and ptarmigan.

The tranquility of the estate provides an ideal environment for a variety of mammals like, badger, red fox, otter and pine marten.

Stalking on Letterewe Estate is still managed in the traditional manner including the use of ponies to carry out the deer. We sell our venison to the local butchers. In June 2002, after three years of research, a book "a Highland Deer Herd and its Habitat" was published in order to assist with the effective future management of Letterewe Estate. Deer have an important role in the rural economy, providing an income from hunting and venison.