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Christmas comes early for famous reindeer herd

Tilly Smith and reindeer.
Tilly Smith and reindeer.

Christmas may be postponed for many people this year, but it has come early for the country’s most famous reindeer.

Despite a tough few months for Santa’s helpers, which has seen them miss much of the festive build-up, their future has been secured.

The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd looks after more than 150 free-range reindeer that live and roam across the Cairngorm Mountains and on the nearby Glenlivet Estate.

The herd was introduced to the mountains in 1952 by co-founders and husband and wife duo Mikel Utsi and Dr Ethel Lindgren before being taken over by Tilly Smith and her husband Alan in 1989.

Since then, a visitor centre, shop and paddock have all been added to create a popular attraction suitable for the public.

Before the pandemic, visitors could meet the reindeer on guided group tours and the herd would be hired out during the festive period to businesses and events across the UK to kick-start Christmas celebrations.

But when the restrictions around social distancing and public events were implemented by the government, the business was forced to have a re-think.

After securing a bounce back loan with Bank of Scotland, Cairngorm Reindeer decided to focus on its Adopt a Reindeer programme so that fans of the animals could still support the business.

Christmas parade. Wigan Council

The £42 annual adoption fee goes towards the upkeep, feeding and veterinary care for the animals. Adopters receive a certificate and photograph of the reindeer, regular updates and, once restrictions allow, visits to the herd.

The income from the adoption programme, plus the loan, has enabled the business to continue paying for the feed and care of the herd that would normally be funded through the guided tours and Christmas activity.

Tilly Smith, director of Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, said: “In a normal December, our reindeer would be busy pulling sleighs across the UK and making Christmas magical for local communities. But because we’ve had to put a stop to these visits, a huge part of our income has been lost.

“We’ve managed to keep going and our number one priority will always be to look after our herd. Thanks to the support from Bank of Scotland, we now have the safety net of additional income to help with overheads as we continue to promote our adoption programme which is now in its 30th year.

“The support so far from the public has been overwhelming and we hope people continue to help us by adopting a reindeer while we work towards welcoming everyone back in the future.”


Scott Robertson, relationship manager at Bank of Scotland, said: “Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is a perfect example of the more unusual and seasonal businesses that will be directly impacted by the pandemic.

“It’s encouraging to see the firm using other revenue streams to diversify and continue trading until normal operations recommence.”

Last year the Cairngorm herd, Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd, helped the area to be named one of the top places in the world to see Rudolph and his friends by travel guide Wanderlust.

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