The Cairngorms mountain landscape is one of the most distinctive and recognised in the country. There are 52 summits over 900m including 5 of Scotland's 6 highest mountains. Most of the land (68%) is over 400m, and 10% over 800m. It is the UK's largest area of high ground with its own severe climate which give the mountains their arctic character. The plateaux, steep-sided glens and deep corries were gouged by glaciers during the last Ice Age.
In the foothills of the mountains is one of the UK's largest areas of natural woodland which includes fragments of the ancient Caledonian Forest. The major rivers (the Spey, Dee and Don) and freshwater lochs and marshes have very pure water. Heather moorland covers more than 40% of the Park, derived from woodland scrub by grazing and traditional burning practices.
Together, these different landforms provide habitats for a wide range of wildlife and flora. These include the rare and protected capercaillie, osprey, golden eagle, ptarmigan, dotterel, red and black grouse, pine marten, wild cat, red squirrel, otter, the endangered freshwater pearl mussel and rare lamprey, the world's smallest tree (the dwarf willow) and a variety of wildflowers including the delicate pink twinflower.
Effective management of people and wildlife will ensure that habitats, birds, plants and other animals are protected.
The management of visitors is particularly important. There can be damage, such as erosion and litter, where visitor numbers are high and outdoor activities are not properely managed. Some activities which can cause damage including walking, riding, off-road driving, mountain biking and snowsports. The Cairngorms National Park Sustainable Tourism Strategy provides a framework to ensure that the volume of visitors and their lack of knowledge and understanding do not damage the very environment which attracted them to visit the Park.