Reindeer were re-introduced into Scotland
in 1952 by a Swedish Reindeer Herder, Mikel Utsi. Starting from
a few reindeer, the herd has grown in numbers over the years and
is currently held at between 130 and 150 by controlling breeding.
Living in their natural environment out on the Cairngorm Mountains
and the Cromdale Hills, this is a fantastic opportunity to encounter
an animal living freely.
Mikel Utsi F.R.A.I
Mikel Utsi and his wife
Dr. Ethel Lindgren were the co-founders of the Reindeer Company
and introduced the reindeer into the Cairngorms back in 1952.
Mr. Utsi devoted his latter years to the practical day to day
management of the project, and it was his own zeal and devotion
to reindeer that really made the project a success. Dr. Lindgren
supported him throughout and continued his efforts after 1979
when he died until her death in 1988. Below is an account of the
introduction of the reindeer into Scotland written by Mikel Utsi
"Looking across Rothiemurchus Forest
to the Cairngorms from the railway bridge at Aviemore on a cold morning
in April 1947, I was instantly reminded of reindeer pastures in Lapland.
Travel in the Highlands showed that many species of ground, rock and tree
lichens, which are elsewhere the chief food of reindeer, were plentiful
and of little use to other animals. Red deer and domestic livestock were
grazing on grass and plants less important to reindeer. Later, I heard
that, according to the Orkneyinga saga, red deer and reindeer were hunted
together in Caithness by the Earls of Orkney about eight centuries ago.
I also learned that small groups of reindeer had been introduced by landowners
into northern parts of Britain in the last two centuries, but had soon
In 1952, I brought some of my Swedish
mountain reindeer to Scotland as an experiment, to show that they could
live and breed in these surroundings. Official difficulties which had
caused delay were overcome mainly through the interest shown by the Press
and the influence of the Reindeer Council of the United Kingdom, an advisory
and research body which my wife Ethel Lindgren and I founded in 1949.
The Reindeer Company Limited was formed to finance the project and was
registered in Edinburgh. The main office of both bodies is in Cambridge. [Note 2]
first consignment was released in June, after quarantine, on 300 acres
near Aviemore, kindly let by the late Lt-Col. J. P. Grant, M.B.E.,
of Rothiemurchus. The Company had erected two miles of additional
six-foot fencing to ensure the isolation which the authorities required.
More reindeer followed, some of the forest type, and in 1961 I brought
eight from southern Norway. "Kivi", a fine young bull from
Whipsnade Park, introduced in 1972, was the off-spring of a Russian
Mikel Utsi with
his favourite reindeer
1953, the Forestry Commission allowed the herd to graze on a 70
acre plantation, enabling the Company to demonstrate that there
is no noticeable damage to conifers by reindeer. Further pasture
was granted in 1954 by the Commissions North Conservancy throughout
5900 acres of higher ground in the Glenmore Forest Park, south of
Loch Morlich, stretching up to the summits of CairnGorm and Cairn
Lochain. By then, the animals were permitted to graze freely like
hill sheep, although there are some fenced enclosures.
Utsi in Native Lap Costume
The Department of Agriculture for Scotland
recognised at the end of 1956, that the project had grown beyond the
experimental stage; reindeer breeding could take its place among local
forms of livestock rearing. In 1971, the northern Cairngorm slopes were
acquired by Highlands & Islands Development Board, which confirmed
the Reindeer Companys lease, extending it to 1985.
The growing herd soon settled down in
its Highland home. "Sarek", the wise, mysterious reindeer ox
born on Mount Sareks slopes in arctic Sweden, was three years old
when he came with me on that first journey by road and rail from Murjek
to Norrbotten to Narvik. We came across the North Sea on the SS "Sarek"
to the Clyde and he led the Scottish herd for twelve years. When reindeer
are allowed to graze unfenced on a new ground where there is suitable
pasture and nothing frightens them, they centre there, moving slowly further
out. If some Cairngorm reindeer stray and are not retrieved by herders,
they often turn back of their own accord, guided by their homing instinct
and the attraction of mineral licks.
Most calves are born in May and June.
Some reindeer are very friendly and a few may follow people about, even
searching their rucksacks! In the October rutting season, however, bulls
may behave in a threatening manner and are normally de-horned or fenced
during that period.
One man can look after a large herd alone
for much of the year if there is no outside interference. In Lapland, dogs
always help with the herding, but at Glenmore, the reindeer are controlled
by a voice they recognise or by tit-bits of special food they have learned
to like. The more tractable reindeer may wear a bell and around them others
tend to collect. In the Arctic and Sub-Arctic, many herds come down for
shelter in the winter, whereas at Glenmore the reindeer often move upwards
to drier ground.
In 1953, the herd,
while still fenced on relatively low land, suffered from insects on a
series of hot, damp summer days and there were losses through ensuing
infections. An insect repellent suited to reindeer was finally selected,
in consultation with a chemical firm, and a system of spraying worked
out which has been successful since 1955.
Groups of animals are brought down to
a corral for treatment in the few periods of warm weather, from mid-June
to the end of August. There are no "reindeer warbles" to lower
the value of the skins because I removed, this parasite from all the imports.
Dogs, which their owners claim to have
"under control", are sometimes a serious menace to reindeer,
as to other livestock. A strict rule to keep dogs on a lead throughout
this area would go far towards safeguarding the herd. The Reindeer Company
Limited insures the animals for a substantial sum and the owner of a dog
which chases or in any way injures a reindeer is liable to reimburse the
Why have reindeer in Scotland? They are
useful in many ways. The meat is delicious; the animal is bred for meat
and can be slaughtered in the right way and at the right time. In 1951-1952,
about 400 tons of reindeer meat from Sweden sold quickly in London. When
available at Glenmore today, by order, it fetches a good price. The live
weight of a mature reindeer bull may be 160 kg and a bulls clean
carcass weighs up to 80 kg. Clothing made of the skin or well-tanned hide
is worn even in temperate climates. Reindeer hair has been imported into
Britain for weaving into expensive dress materials and for upholstery.
Antlers are carved for crafts. Trained
reindeer oxen can pull goods or people on sleds or carry packs. Children
may ride them too. Research into the composition of the cream-like reindeer
milk, the digestion, skin, antlers, physiology of breeding and other research
topics have been aided by the Reindeer Companys directors and staff
and the Councils archives. Artificial insemination with both fresh
and frozen semen has been achieved by the experiments I have carried out
in collaboration with the Cambridge scientist Dr. Hector M. Dott.
Herds descended from reindeer imports
into new areas have done well. The Alaskan introduction is the best known
example. South Georgia, in the Antarctic, has benefited by a herd several
thousand strong, bred from about eleven Norwegian reindeer. In Canada,
thousands have pastured near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and tame
herds are increasing, for instance, in Greenland. Nor need reindeer live
far north. In Norway, there are fine herds at the same altitude as the
This well-adapted, accessible herd should
be maintained in the Cairngorms, with its traits from Swedish mountain
and woodland reindeer, the south Norwegian type and the larger Russian.
By the summer of 1975, the Glenmore herd consisted of 100 animals, although
culling and live sales had proceeded for years. Over 500 reindeer have
been born in Scotland, 1953-1979. Fine specimens have been sold to parks
in England and Scotland, breeding successfully in some of their new homes.
In the early years, the growth of the
Cairngorm herd was slow, as four weeks quarantine in cramped quarters
in urban air is hard on far-ranging animals. Scandinavian reindeer are
well-known as healthy stock and all those I brought in were covered by
Swedish or Norwegian veterinary certificates before embarking. The great
advantage in keeping reindeer is that they find their own basic food,
even under snow, and require no shelter." back to top
||Mikel Utsi died in l979. Dr.
E. J. Lindgren, his wife, continued to manage the herd until 1988.
In August 1989, Alan J. Smith, the reindeer keeper for the previous
11 years, took over the Reindeer Company with his wife, Elizabeth.
||Since August 1989, the office
of the Reindeer Company has been based at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre
in Glenmore. The Reindeer Council has been disbanded.