Munro and mountain top: typically 800-1200 metres above sea level

This zone has an alpine feel to it being subarctic both in weather and vegetation.

Photo of a ptarmigan taken at Invercauld Estate (Steven Rennie)
Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds (2021).


Spring comes late in the montane zone: high elevation means temperatures stay low for longer. Snow drifts in the gullies thaw slowly, flowing into watercourses and so the water cycle begins. Plant life shows signs of revival in late-spring when subarctic species, such as blue sow-thistle, pushes forth its spring shoots. Dotterel and ptarmigan sometimes breed in these areas.

Our gamekeepers often head out into the montane zone in pursuit of foxes that eat these and other ground nesting birds.

The bearberry (shown) along with the mountain crowberry are the county flowers of Aberdeenshire

Summer and Autumn

Summer and autumn often merge into one at these high altitudes. Patches of snow can sometimes be seen well into the summer and sometimes remain until the following winter but life still finds a way to thrive. A recent study found 359 different species of fungi on Beinn a Bhuird near the Cairngorm mountain plateau. Mountain crowberry and bearberry, the county flower of Aberdeenshire, flourish now. Ptarmigan rear their young whilst red deer head high to avoid increased temperatures and insect life in the lower zones.

Vegetation in the montane zone is usually wind-clipped so heathers and grasses are low; it is often easier to traverse than moorland but this can render habitats more susceptible to damage.

Winter Sports at Invercauld Estate (C) Angus McNicol / Invercauld Estate
Glenshee has Britain's largest lift system, the runs extend over 3 valleys and 4 mountains


The montane zone can be an extremely harsh environment in winter. Its subalpine climate can lead to freezing temperatures and frozen ground for days on end. Snowfall builds, often in layers, and helps to protect vegetation from the worst of the cold. Ptarmigan are one of the few species to be well adapted to this environment with feathers even on their feet for extra warmth. Glenshee Ski Centre, the largest snowsports centre in the UK, makes good use of the season’s snowfall!