As the first major snowfalls settle in glens and on hillsides, the Scottish landscape begins to take on the dramatic and forbidding look which, depending on the severity of the winter, it will keep until Spring. Few areas of the country match up better with the picture postcard idea of a Scottish winter than the Cairngorms, where this picture was taken on December 8, 2014.

The place is Glenshee, on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. It’s known in Gaelic as Gleann Shith, the Glen of the Fairies, but it’s also the glen of the red deer, which graze on grasses, sedges, heather and woody plants and live in the Cairngorms in large herds. Except for during mating season the deer tend to stay in single sex groups and this image shows four stags foraging for food on a hillside which already has its first covering of snow, their antlers picked out in silhouette against the winter sky.

If the image seems familiar or evokes a response there’s a reason. Just under 200 years ago, in 1824, the English painter Edwin Landseer journeyed north from his home on London to enjoy the first of several visits to the Highlands. It was during one of these that he made the sketch that would become his most famous work: The Monarch Of The Glen, completed in 1851 as part of a three-painting commission for what was euphemistically known as the Refreshment Room at the House Of Lords. When the ermine-clad peers refused to stump up the £150 fee, The Monarch Of The Glen passed through a variety of private hands and eventually ended up in the Scottish National Gallery. By then it had become roaringly popular and emblematic of what you might call the “biscuit tin” view of Scotland.

Landseer’s stag has 12 points, or tines, to its antlers, making it a Royal stag rather the Monarch variety, which tend to have 16 points (asymmetric antlers featuring uneven numbers of points can occur). An Imperial stag, meanwhile, would have 14 points. None of ours look like they can even muster 12, though they are no less impressive a sight for it.

That said, you might smell them before you see them, especially if they are present in numbers. That’s what happened to mountaineer Brian Shackleton, a descendent of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, while walking in Glenshee in 2017. Catching a “very, very strong smell of deer” as he crested a ridge he found himself looking at a grazing herd of between 800 and 1000 deer. There were so many there was steam rising off them, he told a local newspaper.

Deer produce considerable amounts of methane as well as steam, and large grazing herds can have a detrimental effect on plant life and biodiversity. Accordingly, there are increasing calls for legally enforceable culls. Edwin Landseer’s romantic 19th century vision of the Scottish landscape is one thing, maintaining the living mountain in the teeth of 21st century environmental collapse quite another.