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    Comparing National Parks: Cairngorms and Yellowstone

    By Jonathan Willet
    More by Jonathan

    On the face of it, these two National Parks have little in common.

    But, are they so different? I was fortunate enough to visit Yellowstone last month. So here are my thoughts on the Cairngorms and Yellowstone: Comparing National Parks.

    One in Scotland, the other in America. One full of Bear and Bison the other with all the large mammals save the Red Deer extinct. One full of geysers, the other with a stunning range of mountains at its centre. One just over ten years old and the other the first and oldest National Park in the world.


    Bison grazing in Yellowstone


    Well, they both attract a huge number of visitors. Yellowstone attracts around two million visitors every year. Approximately half of these arrive in July! The Cairngorms receive around 1.4 million visitors spread more throughout the year. So they are both busy, major national attractions.


    The Cairngorms are about half the size of Yellowstone at 452,800 hectares.

    Comparing National Parks- Cairngorms and Yellowstone 2 (1)

    The Cairngorm plateau in winter.


    Yellowstone consists of various volcanic features such as the Yellowstone Caldera. This supervolcano is located in northwest Wyoming and is 40 miles across. In case you are wondering a supervolcano ejects over 1000 cubic kilometers of material when it erupts! The earth’s crust is thin in Yellowstone, hence so many geothermal features. One of the most famous being, Old Faithful, a spectacular geyser. The Cairngorms makeup is different. It is home to the greatest area of montane habitat in the UK. This includes some of the best glacial landforms outside of Arctic Canada.


    Old Faithful


    They are both reservoirs for important species and have large areas of habitat. The Cairngorms has 25% of the threatened species in the UK. This area also has the largest areas of native Pinewood in Scotland.  Yellowstone has the most intact ecosystem in the lower United States. Within the park roam a full suite of apex predators such as Wolves, Grizzly Bears and Bobcat.

    Comparing National Parks- Cairngorms and Yellowstone 2 (1)

    Scotland’s version of the Bison, the Highland Coo.

    Threats to the parks

    Comparing National Parks- Cairngorms and Yellowstone 2 (1)

    Potential wild species reintroduction in Scotland? Eurasian Lynx (Photo by http://www.mindbox.at/gallery/)

    Although both Parks have very important habitats there are some major issues affecting them. In the Cairngorms, the small area of woodland habitat, grazing pressures and lack of apex predators impact on the overall quality of its ecosystem.

    In Yellowstone the problem is not so much inside the Park as outside it. Bison and Elk are more or less contained in the Park due to fencing. Increasing development has limited their historic migrations. They are now restricted to more benign lower altitudes in the wintertime.

    The main difference is that the Cairngorms are a populated national park. You go through a Park gate in Yellowstone and apart from Park Staff no-one lives there. You can visit but not make a home there. The population is just under 300. In the Cairngorms you can just drive in past the signs, no Park pass required. 18,000 people live in the Park with that population almost doubling in the summertime.

    Does it matter?

    Both Parks are fantastic places to visit. Perhaps Scotland’s version seems less wild with more approachable wildlife. But both have a variety of natural wonders to behold and will render you awestruck.

    More information on Yellowstone  More information on The Cairngorms


    Fancy Visiting the Cairngorms National Park? Below are some of our tours that explore the area:


    Meet the Author: Jonathan Willet

    “Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.”

    View profileMore by Jonathan

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