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Issue 73 - 10 best National Nature Reserves

Scotland Magazine Issue 73
February 2014


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10 best National Nature Reserves

The best places to explore

1 St Abbs
Scottish Borders

Scotland is home to 58 National Nature Reserves where some of Scotland’s best scenery and wildlife can be discovered. The scenery, wildlife and geology in and around St Abb’s Head are quite breathtaking. A selection of excellent paths leave from the little coastal village of St Abbs and make exploring here an absolute joy. St Abb’s Head is under the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Throughout the year the cliffs are home to an enormous bird colony including nearly 40,000 guillemots, kittiwakes and razorbills, plus shags, fulmars, herring gulls and puffins.

Furthermore the crystal clear waters below form part of Scotland’s only Voluntary Marine Reserve, which protects the diverse natural environment as well as serving the needs of fishermen, divers, surfers and sailors. An access road also drops down from the lighthouse to gain the shores of Mire Loch, where the waters, reedbeds and woodland provide a great habitat for wildlife.

2 Cairnsmore of Fleet

Sitting in-between the towns of Gatehouse of Fleet and Newton Stewart in Galloway, the Cairnsmore of Fleet Nature Reserve covers great swathes of mountain and moorland and it is one of the wildest places in southern Scotland. The upland areas are of particular importance as they support a variety of species such as red deer, peregrine falcon, and wild goats. The highest point of the reserve is Cairnsmore of Fleet, which rises to a height of 711 metres (2333 feet). Its slopes and summit provide a stunning vantage point and a window into the wilder, remoter upland areas of Galloway. The Merrick (Galloway’s highest mountain), the Mull of Galloway, Wigtown Bay, the Isle of Man, Ailsa Craig and Ayrshire are just a selection of what can be seen from Cairnsmore of Fleet’s exposed plateau. The flora in the reserve is of particular renown because of the combination of granite bedrock, moorland blanket bog and high rainfall.

The likes of dwarf willow, stiff sedge, woolly fringe moss, bell heather and cotton grass all thrive.

3 Cartland Craigs
South Lanarkshire

The Cartland Craigs National Nature Reserve sits on the outskirts of Lanark and the woodland cloaks a section of the Mouse Water, a tributary of the River Clyde. Cartland Craigs is just one of eleven woods that form the Clyde Valley Woodlands Special Area of Conservation. The dramatic gorge that cuts through the reserve was formed after the last Ice Age when melt waters from glaciers scoured through the bedrock. The reserve has outstanding examples of the ancient, semi-natural and deciduous woodland, which would have once covered great swathes of lowland central Scotland. The combination of acidic and limestone soils within the woodland are dominated by ash, elm, sycamore, hazel, alder, oak, birch and Scots pine together with occasional stands of aspen. Within the reserve common varieties of wildflower such as bluebell, red campion, wild garlic, lesser celandine, and primrose thrive whilst rarer plants including golden saxifrage, wood fescue, and yellow star of Bethlehem can also be found.

4 Ben Lawers

Rising above the pretty village of Killin, and Loch Tay’s huge expanse of water, the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve encompasses nine mountains over 3000 feet in height. This includes superb mountains such as Beinn Ghlas, Meall nan Tarmachan and Ben Lawers, which at 1214 metres in height, is the 9th highest mountain in Britain.

As well as some remarkable panoramas, this elevated landscape draws both walkers and botanists throughout the year. Botanists discovered many of the arctic and alpine flora here during the 18th century including alpine saxifrage (which was unearthed here in 1768), alpine mouse-ear and moss campion. Many of the plants are rare and endangered species, found nowhere else in Britain, including Highland saxifrage.

Mountain ringlet butterfly, black grouse, ptarmigan, red deer and raven can also be spotted.

Conservation is key to the continued prosperity of this landscape and careful consideration for the flora and fauna should be taken when walking.

5 Tentsmuir

Due to a combination of dunes, forest and coastline Tentsmuir Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Tayport, is one of the best places in Scotland to see wildlife – roe deer, red squirrels, grey and common seals, stonechats, common terns, orchids and ospreys can be seen. The reserve combines the gorgeous dunes of Tentsmuir Point and Abertay Sands and the stunning Tentsmuir Forest. Good paths line the majority of the reserve granting several exceptional walks. The coastline here is ever changing – the currents and tides have shifted the dunes and sand over two miles east in the last 10,000 years. Around this time, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers arrived and lived at Tentsmuir for about 1000 years until a huge tsunami changed the landscape and the lives of the people dramatically. The Romans, Picts and Vikings all lived here for spells, taking full advantage of a larder of wildfowl and game. Scottish Natural Heritage has managed the landscape since 1954 when Tentsmuir became a nature reserve.

6 Craigellachie

Set in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park and on the edge of Aviemore, Craigellachie Nature Reserve is a remarkable little place and was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1961. Today it is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and is a little sanctuary of beauty next to the busy trunk road of the A9. It is one of the largest semi-natural pockets of woodland in Strathspey with many of the birch trees over 100 years old and these turn an extraordinary shade of gold during autumn – aspen, rowan, hazel, Scots Pine and juniper can also be found scattered within the reserve. Unsurprisingly the woodland proliferates with wildlife; the birch pools come alive during the spring and summer with damselflies and dragonflies flitting along the surface of the water, whilst the rare Kentish Glory moth, and more common species of butterfly, including orange tip, scotch argus and pearl bordered fritillary, inhabit the reserve. More than 50 species of bird are also present including bullfinch, Scottish crossbill and wood warbler.

7 Corrie Fee
Although a portion of the Angus landscape falls within the Cairngorm National Park many will think that the higher hills are gentle and rolling.

Well, a visit to the remarkable Corrie Fee Nature Reserve will change these conclusions. This is a wild, natural amphitheatre standing at the head of Glen Clova and Glen Doll and was sculpted during the last Ice Age. Snow can last within the corrie’s deep bowl well into spring. A superb path climbs into the heart of the reserve with an extension up into the corrie to a spectacular waterfall a realistic option. Here the vista extends across the renowned Angus Glens to the main Cairngorm massif. The walk along the Corrie Fee trail makes its way through a working forest, which was planted during the 1950’s and 60’s. A selection of woodland plants, including colourful fungi as well as red squirrel, roe deer, dipper and crossbill may well be spotted. Once in or above the corrie then red deer, golden eagle, mountain hare, ptarmigan, purple saxifrage and alpine blue sow thistle all call this extraordinary place home.

8 Glen Affric
Often described as the most beautiful place in Scotland, Glen Affric Nature Reserve holds an incredible diversity of landscape, one that includes lochs, mountains and woodland, where a mixture of pine, oak and birch thrive. The glen is bounded on either side by big, rugged hills such as Sgurr na Lapaich, Toll Creagach and Sgurr nan Conbhairean. Beneath these high hills you have the likes of the spectacular Plodda Falls, which is 151 feet in height and surrounded by some incredible Douglas Firs that were planted in the 18th century, whilst Dog Falls is a series of rapids where Scots Pine and oak, draped in lichen, dominate. Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin is simply stunning and the likes of red and black throated diver nest here. Other seasonal wildlife highlights include otter, greylag geese, little grebes, primroses, bluebells, violets, dragonflies, damselflies and red fly agarics. Perhaps the best time to visit Glen Affric is during autumn where the hills, woodland and lochs resonate in an array of gorgeous colours.

9 Rum
Inner Hebrides

Perhaps the finest view of Rum is on the approach by boat across the Sound of Rum from Mallaig. Here the magnificent profile of the island’s Cuillin Hills dominate the aspect and these mountains form a spectacular segment of the Rum National Nature Reserve. This is a truly astonishing landscape, one of extinct volcanoes, rugged wilderness, heath, grassland, sea cliffs, peatlands, lochs and lochans. Consequently the reserve is internationally recognized, particularly its wildlife, which includes 23 per cent of the world’s breeding population of Manx shearwater.

Golden and white-tailed sea eagles are regularly spotted, circling the high mountains. Red deer, red-throated divers, kittiwakes, guillemots, fulmars and razorbills all add to the colour and noise of this amazing environment. To get the best view across the island then a stiff climb onto the likes of Ainshval or Askival provides this. Beyond the confines of the island then the views of Skye’s Cuillin, the neighbouring Small Isles of Muck, Eigg and Canna.

10 Hermaness

Wild and exposed, Hermaness National Nature Reserve stands at the northern edge of Unst, itself the northernmost inhabited island of Shetland. Therefore this landscape is definitely a product of its environment, one that has been shaped by the wind and the surrounding seas. It is noted as an important breeding ground for fulmars, gannets, shags, puffins, guillemots and great skuas, better known as the notorious bonxie.

Drama pervades Hermaness, with huge waves crashing into the great sea cliffs, the wind will always blow (more often than not hard) and the weather can be extreme. Therefore a visit to Hermaness can be an assault on the senses but it is never less than invigorating and compelling. Of course, if coming from the Scottish mainland Hermaness is not an easy place to get to but it is well worth the effort, particularly in April and May when squill, heather, crowberry, bog bilberry, mosses and grasses make the coastal grassland a riot of colour, summer brings the majority of seabirds.


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