Alvie and Dalraddy are traditional Highland Sporting Estates, situated four miles south of Aviemore near the village of Kincraig in Badenoch. The Estates comprise 13,350 acres which extend into the Monadhliath hills from the River Spey.
Since the late 18th and 19th century, Highland estates have often been owned by those who had other income sources and could afford to keep the estate for their sporting recreation. However this is no longer the case.
The current owner of Alvie and Dalraddy does not have any other source of income than that which is generated by the Estates’ business. This has lead to the development of diverse activities on the Estates to make the entire enterprise economically viable.
The Feed the Deer Initiative
Alvie and Dalraddy considered that one of their diversification options might have been wildlife tourism.
They recognized however that they lacked the very detailed knowledge of many wild species of flora and fauna that wildlife tour operators offer. However, they do have very detailed knowledge of the wildlife that the estates actively manage, namely the wild red deer herds on Alvie and Dalraddy.
The estates had for a number of years fed their red deer stags over the winter; this is to keep them hefted to the area and to retain their condition over the winter months. The estates’ stalker was therefore going out on to the hill every day between November and March with food for the wild stags.
The estate decided to offer members of the public the opportunity to go out to the hill with the Stalker.
The Stalkers are therefore used to contact with paying guests and to explain to them the purpose of deer management, their work and the work that goes on more generally on estates. It was not too big a leap therefore to ask the stalker to entertain guests while they travelled to and from the feeding area.
Alvie and Dalraddy also have a Victorian bothy which is in good repair. This provides a focal point for the visits to the hill. The bothy has a good viewing platform and the fire in it can be lit and food and drink provided there if required.
Important to the success of the initiative was Alvie and Dalraddy’s understanding that paying guests require an authentic experience. A communicative and genuinely knowledgeable stalker, and the bothy were important elements of that experience.
The start up cost for the initiative was low. The stalker would have been making the daily trip to feed the deer regardless of whether guests joined him or not. The estates also had a vehicle that could carry more people, so that up to eight guests could be accommodated on one trip.
Tailoring the experience
In 2009 the estate started to get enquiries from wildlife photographers who were keen to go out with the stalker in order to get close up shots of the stags. The estates initially took the photographers up to the hill as part of a trip with other members of the public who were interested only in watching the deer. They realized however after only one such trip that the two types of visitor were not compatible.
The photographers wanted to spend much longer on the hill and to photograph the stags both before and after they had been fed. This resulted in members of the public waiting around for long periods. They have now therefore developed different packages and pricing structures for different clientele.
In winter 2009/2010 the initiative covered the costs of the deer feed and provided the estates with additional income beyond that, as well as providing another activity and attraction for their guests.
Alvie and Dalraddy’s initiative is an excellent example of a rural business that has recognized that its traditions and its modern day practices are of interest to the public provided the experience offered is authentic and of good quality.