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Issue 83 - 10 Best Nature Reserves

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015


This article is 3 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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10 Best Nature Reserves

Keith Fergus recommends places of natural beauty

1 Clyde Valley, South Lanarkshire
The Clyde Valley National Nature Reserve consists of six separate sites; Cartland Crags, Cleghorn Glen, Nethan Gorge, the Falls of Clyde, Hamilton High Parks and Mauldslie Woods. Each one offers something a little different (from gorgeous woodland and steep ravines to spectacular waterfalls and historic buildings) and the reserve is very much a sum of its parts. There is some superb walking in each site taking in the magnificent scenery of the South Lanarkshire countryside and a fabulous array of wildlife. Thriving within outstanding examples of the ancient, semi-natural and deciduous woodland, dominated by ash, elm, sycamore, hazel, alder, oak, birch, aspen and Scots pine (all of which prosper because of a combination of acidic and limestone soils) are common varieties of wildflower such as bluebell, red campion, wild garlic, lesser celandine, and primrose. Rarer plants include golden saxifrage, wood fescue, and yellow star of Bethlehem. Song thrush, willow warbler, yellowhammer and even peregrine falcon may well be spotted.

2 Loch Lomond, Stirlingshire
Taking in rich habitats such as loch and river bank, floodplain, woodland and grassland the Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve is a wildlife watchers dream. A marvellous, straightforward walk runs from the tranquil village of Gartocharn, which sits at the southern edge of the National Park, and follows the old Aber Right of Way to the banks of Loch Lomond. From here the route continues through Shore Wood to reach Net Bay and a stunning view of Ben Lomond. The floodplain of the Endrick Water flows into Loch Lomond here and is home to sedge-warbler, reed bunting, waterfowl (including migrating Greenland white-fronted, greylag and pink-footed geese), osprey and sporadic sightings of otter. The woodland of Shore Wood, as well as the reserve’s 5 wooded islands (which include Inchcailloch and Aber Isle), contains stands of oak and birch where warblers, redstarts and spotted flycatcher thrive. The small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly is also a regular visitor.

3 Ben Lui, Stirlingshire
Ben Lui is regarded by many as one of Scotland’s finest mountains. It is a complex peak, containing a number of ridges and the renowned Coire Ghaotach and is the centrepiece of the Ben Lui National Nature Reserve. As well as Ben Lui (which is the 15th highest peak in Britain and the source of the River Tay) the reserve is also home to another three Munros (Ben Oss, Beinn Dubhcraig and Beinn a Chleibh) as well as the long sweeping Glen Cononish and the meandering flow of the River Cononish. This range of habitats result in some iconic species of wildlife, including red deer, dipper, ring ouzel, ptarmigan and golden eagle. All four mountains can be tackled in one long day, offering a magnificent hillwalking experience and views that extend across much of the Southern, Central and West Highlands. However, for the less adventurous a good track can be picked up from Tyndrum, which then makes its way easily through Glen Cononish, allowing the visitor to immerse themselves in this magnificent natural amphitheatre.

4 Flanders Moss, Stirlingshire
Standing within the Carse of Stirling, the low-lying flood plain of the Forth Estuary a few miles west of Stirling, Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve is a vast, wet mattress of moss, peat and bog and consequently of huge environmental importance. By the 1970s much of the peat within Flanders Moss had been stripped out but after the Scottish Wildlife Trust bought a small portion of the land, it began to recover. Today Flanders Moss is what’s known as an active bog, meaning it is still growing and the likes of sphagnum dominate. It holds a staggering diversity of wildlife, all of which add crucial aspects to the reserve’s ecological network. Nationally threatened invertebrates such as the Rannoch brindle beauty and argent-and-sable moths share the moorland and grassland with snipe, curlew, stonechat, tree pipit, cuckoo and wood warbler. Bog myrtle, bog asphodel, bog rosemary, bog cranberry and bog cotton are obviously common species while a range of mosses, liverworts, lichen, fungi and flowering plants provide food for the vast array of fauna.

5 Ben Lawers, Perthshire
Dominating the skyline above Loch Tay and the bustling village of Killin, the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve takes in nine mountains over 3000 feet in height and sweeping glens. This mountainous topography includes rugged peaks like Beinn Ghlas, Meall nan Tarmachan and Ben Lawers, which at 1214 metres in height, is the ninth 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. There are a myriad of walking opportunities here, including a low-level wander along the Edramucky Burn or a full and challenging traverse of the Ben Lawers massif.

6 Glen Nant, Argyll & Bute
It’s hard to imagine today but Glen Nant National Nature Reserve, which lies 5km south of Taynuilt, was once a busy industrial site with hundreds of people working in the forest. Its name means ‘glen of the nettles’ and has links to a medieval Christian site; the wood’s historic name is Coille Braigh na Cille, ‘the wood of the brae of the church’. Trees were coppiced and charcoal burned and then transported to the Bonawe Iron Furnace for nearly 150 years. Glen Nant has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1961 and today is a National Nature Reserve. Its oakwoods are home to lots of flora and fauna, and good paths run throughout the reserve, offering straightforward walking. Bluebells, wood sorrel, primrose, wood anemone and ramsons carpet the woodland floor during the spring with redstarts, warblers, woodpeckers, jays, treecreepers and red squirrel a selection of the wildlife. There are also several large anthills, constructed by wood ants, which play a vital role in the ecosystem of the wood.

7 Ariundle, Lochaber
Standing on the outskirts of Strontian the magnificent Ariundle National Nature Reserve is a remnant of an immense oakwood that once cloaked much of Europe’s Atlantic coast. A quiet road links Strontian with Ariundle from where a track heads through stunning woodland. Native species include rowan, birch, alder, hazel, willow and ash. During the 18th and 19th Centuries the trees were coppiced every 20 years to create wood for charcoal burning, which was subsequently used at the Bonawe Iron Furnace and in Strontian Glen’s lead mining industry. Wildlife here includes the rare chequered skipper butterfly, the northern emerald dragonfly, wrens, wood warbler and redstarts. Once across a footbridge over a burn, a path on the right leads down to the Strontian River. A bridge crosses the river, which is then followed downstream – keep an eye out for dipper. After re-crossing the river via a bridge, return to the outward-bound path and walk back to Strontian.

8 Muir of Dinnet, Aberdeenshire
Scotland’s tumultuous physical history is illustrated to great effect at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, a few miles from Ballater. It is a gorgeous place, particularly Loch Kinord, which is bordered with aspen, birch, willow and Scots pine. The woodland and water are popular with around 80 species of birdlife. Near to the loch is the Burn o’ Vat visitor centre and The Vat, a huge pink granite bowl that was scoured from the landscape some 15000 years ago by a river flowing underneath glaciers. The Vat is very much worth exploration, after which a simple route circumnavigates Loch Kinord. As well as all the wildlife, the loch is home to a crannog (thought to date from the first millennium AD) and Castle Island, where King Malcolm Canmore is said to have stayed some 950 years ago on one of his many hunting excursions. This is an ideal walk for families, where both children and adults will be enthralled by the wildlife, scenery and its geological significance.

9 Glen Tanar, Aberdeenshire
The Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve encompasses mountain, open moorland, forest and farmland. Since 1905, the Coats family has owned the land here and has sought to maintain the wild characteristics of the glen. A 5.5 mile walk through the reserve, near the village of Aboyne, is one of the best in Aberdeenshire. The glen is scattered with gorgeous Scots pine (this icon was recently voted Scotland’s National Tree) and within its confines reside golden eagle, Scottish crossbill, red and roe deer and red squirrels. It is a tranquil setting but the distinctive 19th Century St Lesmo’s Chapel, which was built by estate owner Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, an eccentric banker and MP from Manchester, provides tangible evidence of the glen’s past. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Glen Tanar was home to a busy community comprising around 15 houses, a mill, general store and several souters (or shoemakers) who met the needs of the many drovers that utilised the Firnmouth drove road.

10 Abernethy, Badenoch & Speyside
The Abernethy National Nature Reserve sits within the Cairngorm National Park, near Aviemore, and encompasses moorland, bog, mountain plateau (including Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Britain) and woodland – the reserve takes in 4000 hectares of woodland, of which around half is covered by ancient Caledonian pinewood. Abernethy also holds one of the few areas of bog moorland left in Britain. Here stunted pine trees (some of which are 350 years old) grow sparingly over the bog surface and provide a valuable habitat for invertebrates. There is a magnificent path network throughout, where a number of habitats can be easily explored and an extensive array of flora and fauna seen; osprey, yellow siskin, red squirrel, crested tits and Scottish crossbill just a few species. In fact an incredible 4500 species of plants and animals (800 of which are nationally scarce or rare) have been recorded within the reserve including green shield-moss and tooth fungi.

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