Moorland & grassland

Across the Cairngorms area, the moorland zone starts, on descent, from around 750 m. Here, the plant and animal communities change as you pass on to a less rocky environment dominated by long ling heather (Calluna vulgaris). The point of transition depends on snow cover, exposure and parent rock, occurring between 600 and 900 m. The moorland zone generally extends down to the upper edge of enclosed agricultural land, around 300–400 m.

The transition is well seen in Glen Clunie, at the foot of Meall Odhar, or on the other side, on a shelf on the slopes of the Cairnwell, above the top car park. This transition is also marked by the change from red grouse to ptarmigan above.

Today, the moorland of upland heath is the most extensive habitat type in the Cairngorms, covering 41% of the area. Grasslands are less extensive and occur more widely on the richer schistose rocks. On the granite areas, grasses occur mainly where there is periodic soil enrichment.

Grasslands are expanding, particularly at lower altitudes. From the 1940s to the 1970s, considerable areas of heather moorland were altered to unimproved grassland (or conifer plantation) across the Cairngorms area.