Reindeer have lived here in the Cairngorms National Park since 1952, where the herd are permitted to graze on over 10,000 acres upon the mountainsides. The company’s founders visited the area whilst on their honeymoon and very quickly identified the Cairngorms as an ideal place for reindeer to be:
“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… species of ground, rock and tree lichens, which are elsewhere the chief food of reindeer, were plentiful and of little use to other animals.”
Mikel Utsi, where it all began…
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.
It may seem a rather far-fetched idea to re-introduce reindeer but the species is native to the UK, as Mr Utsi found that “according to the Orkneyinga saga, red deer and reindeer were hunted together in Caithness by the Earls of Orkney about eight centuries ago.”
Although the last record of wild British reindeer is from around 800 years ago and there has been much climate change since this, the unique sub-arctic qualities of the Cairngorms provide a perfect home for reindeer – in fact this is the only place left in the UK able to support such an animal.
“The great advantage in keeping reindeer is that they find their own basic food, even under snow, and require no shelter.”
On the 12th of April 1952, Mr Utsi “brought some of [his] Swedish mountain reindeer to Scotland as an experiment, to show that they could live and breed in these surroundings.”
The first consignment of reindeer was a group of 2 bulls and 5 cows who travelled over on a Swedish ship called the S. S. Sarek; they had by all accounts a slightly rough crossing to then spend 28 days in quarantine at Edinburgh Zoo before finally being released here in the Cairngorms.
Over the subsequent years a further 18 reindeer made the voyage from Sweden to join the Scottish herd. In more recent times we have seen small consignments of Swedish reindeer joining our herd to diversify the gene pool.
Initially the herd grazed in an area known as Moormore to establish whether their grazing affected conifer growth, but by 1954 the Forestry Commission granted Mr Utsi the use of 1,100 acres on Airgod-meall (Silver-Mount) on the northern slopes of the Cairngorms. This is an area where we still take most of our hill visits to in the summer months. Along with this, the reindeer enjoy an additional 6,000 acres of free-range grazing on the mountain tops.
As the herd thrived, the daily hill trips began by appointment only but by the late ‘60s the 11 o’clock hill trip was firmly established into the daily routine of the herders, as it still is today.
As the years passed by, Mikel Utsi was less able to get out onto the hills with his beloved herd and the centre was increasingly run by his herders. After Mr Utsi’s death in 1979, his wife Dr. Lindgren oversaw the running of the herd from her Cambridge home – she was quite particular and when a young Alan Smith arrived in the 1980’s she quickly saw his dedication to the herd’s welfare, even if she did disapprove of his admin skills!
In 1981, Elizabeth “Tilly” Dansie came to the herd as a summer volunteer and by 1983 had become Mrs Smith! Mr & Mrs Smith became a capable team who continued to manage the daily running of the Reindeer Company for Dr. Lindgren and following her death in 1988 the couple purchased the herd.
In the 1990s the front room was converted to our shop and the paddocks and exhibition were created. Our adoption scheme began, which has now been going for over twenty five years and has over 1,000 supporters from both the UK and Worldwide. As for the reindeer, since the 1990s we have actively split the herd between the Cairngorms and the Cromdale hills near Glenlivet which makes management of breeding and prevention of disease transmission much simpler.
The herd is now as strong as ever with over 150 individual reindeer, who certainly keep us on our toes!