As glaciers melt and temperatures rise, the devastation caused by climate change can be found here at home… on these muddy slopes that should be covered in snow at this time of year.
I’m standing in the Cairngorms National Park, where two million visitors a year enjoy skiing, hiking among the snow-capped peaks and, until now, husky rides from Alan Stewart’s Cairngorm Sleddog centre.
But in April, 20 years after he and wife Fiona opened up near Aviemore, the centre will close its doors for ever because it just doesn’t snow enough.
Alan, 64, tells me: “Climate change has finished us off.”
His centre is the first business to shut in the area due to global warming. The writing was on the wall in 2014 when Alan’s pack of 20 Siberian huskies began moulting in winter as warm weather confused their normal cycles.
And this year, instead of snow, Alan says: “We just have mud.”
Alan, who has welcomed Sir David Attenborough and Bear Grylls to his centre, goes on: “We've got ospreys nesting close to us and I’ve seen them affected by the rain.
“I’ve seen flies in the middle of winter because the place is so warm. Craziest thing of all is I've got huskies moulting in the middle of winter – that tells you what nature is saying to them, to us.
“To train dogs professionally you need several months of snow but even in Europe you cannot get enough snow.”
The park, in the eastern Highlands of Scotland, has seen declining wildlife, putting endangered species at risk, because of the lack of snow cover.
The Cairngorm Mountains, covering 300 square miles, are losing snow cover at an alarming rate. Once encrusted in ice and snow for most of the year, a third of it has disappeared over the past 45 years. It could be snow free by 2080 if temperatures continue to rise.
A report by the Cairngorms National Park Authority says experts estimate there “is likely to be a substantial decline in the number of days of snow cover” by 2030.
It also warns of flooding and a loss in biodiversity.
I visited the UK’s last wilderness, the set for BBC’s Winterwatch, to discover the impact of ever-warmer winters.
Mountain tops have just a smattering of snow and conditions are more like spring.
The white pistes at Cairngorm Mountain ski resort, near Aviemore, are turning to barren slopes. To counter that, resort chiefs invested in a snow maker which spewed out almost 100 tonnes of artificial powder every day for more than a month before the season opened.
Snow and ice are also of great significance to the wildlife here.
These mountains are home to 25 per cent of Britain’s endangered species, like rock ptarmigans – a white game bird and relic from the last ice age – 508 pairs of golden eagles and 200 pairs of ospreys.
But this delicate inter-action of wildlife and plants is beginning to buckle.
The ptarmigan and mountain hare, both native species which change colour to blend in with the snow, are pushed further up the mountains to avoid being picked off by predators.
Another victim is the mysterious sparrow-sized snow bunting.
While thousands overwinter all around the UK from the Arctic, only 60 pairs are believed to now breed near the tops of the highest mountains in Scotland, making their nests at the edge of patches of snow to eat frozen larvae.
Conservationists want to protect the capercaillie – largest member of the game family and one of Scotland’s treasured birds.
Breeding has been hit hard by increasingly wet and erratic weather in spring and early summer.
Despite spending a morning dedicated to trying to spot one under the watchful eye of wildlife guide Duncan McDonald, we fail to find one.
erhaps not surprising as numbers have dropped to just over 1,000 from around 20,000 in the 1970s.
Speyside Wildlife is one of several operators which rely on tourists lured by the rich wildlife and the area’s whisky distilleries.
But even these have been hit – a heatwave in 2018 halted production as water ran dry.
There are also fears for another iconic Scottish species – the Atlantic salmon. Once abundant, 2018 saw a low of 37,000 caught across the country.
On the banks of Loch Morlich, Will Boyd-Wallis, head of land management at CNPA, explains: “This is an important habitat for the Atlantic salmon.
It’s a breeding space for them. If the water gets too hot then these eggs are not going to be viable and the salmon are not able to breed. It’s important we keep that water cool.
“One way this occurs is through the melting of the snow, which can last until June. With less snow, this is going to have a big impact.”
Ski workers literally see the effects of climate change up close.
Jim Coorfoot, who has worked at Cairngorm Mountain ski centre for 25 years, said: “Stormy weather is stripping away the snow. Last year was one of the worst on record.
“Normally there is a reliable source of snow at the top of the mountain but we have had to switch that to the bottom with the use of a machine.
“I worry it will accelerate quicker than we can mitigate against.
Typically at this time of year the slopes would be covered but the weather now is just so unpredictable.”
Temperatures up here this decade have been almost a degree warmer and five per cent sunnier than average.
Lee Schofield, of Highlands and Islands Weather, offers free forecasts to tourists.
He cited temperatures in Carrbridge – 3.5 degrees higher last month than in January 2019.
The rise mirrors staggering reports from Antarctica, where a record high of 20.750C was recorded this month.
Globally, the implications are huge – if the continent’s 74,000 square mile Thwaites glacier was to break up, sea levels could rise by two feet.
The good news in Scotland is that the CNPA is doing its bit to battle climate change.
Chief executive Grant Moir says: “There is much good work already being done, from woodland expansion and peatland restoration to new infrastructure for active travel and renewable energy development.
“But this needs to be scaled up to help tackle the climate emergency.”
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