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Volunteers wanted to bag soil from mountain tops in Cairngorms National Park

By John Davidson

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The study will look at fungi in the soil on the Cairngorms plateau. Picture: Alistair Whyte
The study will look at fungi in the soil on the Cairngorms plateau. Picture: Alistair Whyte

Hill walkers are being asked to take more than just photographs at summits in the Cairngorms this summer.

Plantlife and the James Hutton Institute are calling on hikers to climb one of the 58 Munros in the Cairngorms National Park – all in the name of science.

As well as taking in the spectacular Cairngorm scenery and breathtaking views, volunteer walkers are being asked to focus on the ground beneath their feet by collecting four small teaspoon-sized soil samples from a range of special montane habitats characterised by mosses, grasses and beautiful arctic alpine wild flowers.

These tiny ‘summit samples’ will help the partnership learn more about the fungi that lie beneath the surface of the Munro landscape and paint a picture of how fungal diversity varies across the mountains, of which little is currently known.

Plantlife hopes it will help uncover information about the impacts of climate change on the special and threatened plant and fungal communities of the Cairngorms.

Many of Scotland’s montane species are already living on the edge of their natural range, devastated by air pollution and climate change and, with nowhere else left to go, these species are most at risk of extinction. In harsh environments such as these, fungi have a crucial role to play in helping arctic-alpine plants obtain the essential nutrients needed to survive.

Over the next three years, Plantlife’s National Lottery Heritage Funded Cairngorms Rare Plants and Wild Connections project will be monitoring these fragile mountain-top habitats to inform conservation action. Thanks to new DNA sequencing technology and analysis undertaken by the James Hutton Institute, this summer’s study will provide a vital snapshot of the entire National Park mountain range.

Those looking to enjoy a walk with purpose can register to participate in the study at any point between July and September, as long as they are able to complete their survey by September 30.

Survey packs will be supplied to volunteers, containing a sampling kit and detailed information on where and how to collect samples and return them for analysis.

For more information about the study, visit www.plantlife.org.uk/scotland/our-work-scotland/projects-scotland/cairngorm-wildflowers-project

To volunteer, visit https://bit.ly/3ik8EbS

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