Planning field work in the Scottish Highlands: snow in Cairngorms and in the magical world of Harry Potter

In Harry Potter, snow shaped the magical world of Hogwarts, somewhere in Scotland.

So, you might already know that there really is snow in Scotland. Actually, Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland,  is one of the longest recorded snow sites in the UK And it gets even more amazing: each week a digital photo of Cairngorms ECN (Environmental Change Network), in the Allt a’Mharcaidh catchment, Cairngorms National Park, is taken and kept in an archive as a record of conditions at the site! This is my starting point for searching for the best snowy period to visit.


Using a data base for publications, I was able to find this highly relevant publication of Andrews et al. (2016): From their Figure 2, I can roughly estimate that during all the 13 years, the onset of continuous snow cover during the early winter  has started between days 275-360 of the year (in 2018, 2 Oct – 26 Dec) and subsequent melt of remnant snow patches in days 100-175 (in 2019,  10 April- 24 June). From this it follows, that regarding the best time for the visit, autumn is totally ruled out as too uncertain to catch snow. Yet, during the spring, any time before 10 April you can assume to find snow.


One more unexpected result came up from their results:  there is evidence of increased snow cover over the past 13 years! What??? Everywhere snow cover is reported to be less… It will be most interesting to learn more about Cairngorms snow during the agreed field visit in late March/early April 2019!


To end with, here is my short checklist for planning a field work visit. By the end of this checklist, it is time to start preparations for field work. Enjoy the planning – well planned is half done!

  1. Check what exactly was granted for you and your team, and what are all the rules related to your visit, from the project and your home and host institutes points of view, and that you have all the necessary permissions.
  2. Update your initial field work plan, including dates (best time to catch your data),  and places and work to be done, i.e., when, where, what and why?
  3. Contact your host to agree on the field visit plan with her/him. Tell what is your up-to-date plan and prepare to change the plan according to your host’s expert view.
  4. Make the necessary bookings within the given budget and agreed plan.
  5. Inform your host about your successful bookings and stay in touch.
  6. Then you can really start preparing for your field work. E.g., order consumables, make a packing list of equipment needed (including a First Aid Kit),  exercise any skills with equipment, make sure to have phone numbers of contacts relevant to fieldwork and for emergencies, etc. Enjoy!

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