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  Balmoral Castle on the Balmoral Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland is the private residence of The Queen. Beloved by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Balmoral Castle has remained a favourite residence for The Queen and her family during the summer holiday period in August and September. The Castle is located on the large Balmoral Estate, a working estate which aims to protect the environment while contributing to the local economy.

  The Estate grounds, gardens and the Castle Ballroom are open to visitors from the beginning of April to the end of July each year, under the management of the Balmoral Estate Office.

  History

  The history of Balmoral Castle starts with Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. During holiday visit to the Scottish Highlands, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert grew to love the scenery and people and decided to buy a private home there for private holiday periods.

  Balmoral Castle and the original estate were purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852. The original Balmoral Castle was built in the fifteenth century but it was considered too small. A new castle was constructed on the site about 90 metres north from the old building. Prince Albert planned the grounds and helped with the design of the castle itself, which was completed in 1856.

  The castle has been handed down through their descendants, and today is the traditional holiday home for The Queen and members of her family during the summer vacation period. Over the years, improvements have been made by successive generations of the Royal family; most recently by The Duke of Edinburgh who has enlarged the flower and vegetable garden and created the water garden.

  Today

  Covering about 20,000 hectares , the Balmoral Estate is very much a working estate which provides for, and is integrated with, the local community. Privately owned and funded by The Queen, the estate is managed on her behalf by the Resident Factor. The estate employs about 50 people full-time and a further 50 to 100 part-time.

  Farming is difficult because of the nature of the ground and the climate - there are seven Munros and most of the land lies over 300m above sea level. At present about 100 hectares are farmed in hand and 75 hectares let to neighbouring farmers.

  One of the estate's most ecologically important areas is the roughly 1,000 hectare Ballochbuie Forest. Bought in 1878 by Queen Victoria to save it from a timber merchant, Ballochbuie now contains one of the largest remnants of native Caledonian Pine forest left in the country. Twenty-five years ago, a small area of the forest known as 'the tennis court' was enclosed in a regeneration trial suggested by The Duke of Edinburgh. In 1979, when the success of the experiment was clear, a further block of about 20 hectares was enclosed. This in turn showed such encouraging signs of regeneration that the enclosed area was expanded to about 300 hectares in 1992. The enclosed area is thoroughly monitored by the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology .

  In addition to Ballochbuie, a further 2,000 hectares of the estate are planted with trees, which also provide shelter for red deer. More than 20 Highland, Fell and Haflinger ponies are kept for trekking and deer retrieval during the stalking season. The Queen founded the Balmoral fold of Highland Cattle in 1953 and it now has 29 cows. The game resources of deer, grouse and salmon fishing provide employment and earn revenue for the estate. An additional 5,000 hectares of sporting rights are rented from a neighbouring estate.

  The Balmoral Estate also contributes to the local tourism industry. About 4,000 people are employed in the tourist industry on Deeside and the surrounding area and Balmoral is one of the major attractions for visitors. Some 85,000 people visit the castle and gardens each year, and many others walk amidst the spectacular scenery which forms part of the estate.

  In 1974 the estate designated the area around Loch Muick and Lochnagar as a wildlife reserve under the management of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and built and equipped a visitors' centre to host the increasing numbers of people coming to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. The East Grampians and Lochnagar Visitor Survey, carried out for Scottish National Heritage by Aberdeen University in 1995, showed that up to 180,000 hill walkers and other visitors use the open countryside and hills on and adjoining Balmoral Estate each year. The estate maintains and restores eroded footpaths with grant assistance from Scottish National Heritage. Around ??250,000 has been invested in footpath repairs over the last seven years. The estate also supports Scotland's concordat on access and freedom of access for responsible walking and climbing.

  A full-time ranger service has been provided for nearly 30 years and the four rangers conduct public walks during the summer to sites of interest on the estate. Rangers also guided visitors on special routes during the 1998 and 1999 Ballater Walking Weeks.

  The estate maintains climbing bothies for use by a wide range of clubs and associations. Mountain rescue teams also train regularly on the estate, and in April 1998 and 1999 road running races for international athletes were held on estate roads. World record times were set each year.

  More than 40,000 vehicles a year use the single-track access road which leads to the visitors' centre at the Spittal of Muick. Public access must therefore be balanced against protection of the environment, particularly the habitats for which the estate is well known .

  To this end, in September 1996 the consultancy firm Environmental Resources Management was engaged by the Lochnagar Adviser Committee - an oversight body formed by Balmoral Estate and comprising representatives of government bodies, the local community and recreational interests to address current and future visitor management issues - to undertake a visitor strategy for the Glen Muick, Lochnagar and Ballater area. The Upper Deeside Access Trust was subsequently established to implement the visitor strategy. The trust assists with the conservation, management and upkeep of the countryside and footpaths in the whole of Upper Deeside.

  The designation in 1998 by the Secretary of State for Scotland of the areas of Lochnagar and Ballochbuie as 'Special Protection Areas' under the European Birds Directive, and his recommendation to the European Union that Ballochbuie should be designated a 'Special Area of Conservation' under the European Habitats Directive, are testimony to the Royal family's excellent long-term conservation and environmental husbandry record.

  The estate is also a founder member of the East Grampian Deer Management Group and has taken a lead in establishing a deer population model, which is at the forefront of the Deer Management Commission for Scotland's programme to manage the deer population and restore heather habitat. About 3,300 red deer were counted on the estate in spring 1998. The intention is to maintain a population of about 2,700. In May 1999, only 1,650 red deer were counted, illlustrating the difficulties of managing such a mobile population.

  In 1997 the estate made a provisional application to the Forestry Authority to plant about 200 hectares of new woodland on an area of open heath hillside at Glen Gelder. This is currently the subject of an environmental impact assessment by the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology. The extension of native woodland is a government policy and the application has been made for environmental, not commercial, reasons.
 

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