A HIDDEN gem teeming with wildlife on the outskirts of Inverness is set to be promoted to a wider audience following the appointment of a project manager.
Outdoors enthusiast Caroline Snow has taken up the newly-created post at the Merkinch Local Nature Reserve as it celebrates its 10th anniversary later this year.
Tucked between the Caledonian Canal, the Carse industrial estate and the South Kessock housing estate, the reserve was the only one of its type in the Highlands and the 50th in Scotland when it received its designation in November 2007.
But despite regular sightings of the area’s bottlenose dolphins, otters, seals, a diverse variety of birds and sea life, roe deer and badgers, many people are still unaware of the tranquil oasis on their doorstep.
"The people who know about it, know about it but a surprisingly large number of people in Merkinch still don’t use it," said Miss Snow, who lives in the city centre.
"My main hope is to encourage them to do much more at the reserve – whether it is to have a short walk there, or a picnic. There are some fabulous views from there."
Miss Snow spends eight hours a week in her new role and it has been made possible thanks to funding for one year from Tesco Bags of Help and the Postcode Local Trust.
She will combine it with her other part-time job running the work club for Merkinch Partnership.
She also works at Inverness Food Stuff, a community-led project which aims to tackle food poverty and loneliness among the homeless and other people in need by providing tasty, nutritious and hot meals twice a week at the city’s Ness Bank Church hall.
As the reserve’s project manager, she will be responsible for promoting the 54.7 hectare site and attracting new visitors, creating volunteering opportunities and overseeing projects such as the repair of footpaths.
She is also planning various events such as an astronomy night and a dawn chorus walk to help people understand and appreciate the site’s importance.
Miss Snow moved from England to Scotland about 15 years ago and has lived in Inverness for the past 11 years.
"I have a keen interest in the outdoors," she said.
"It is what I live for. The main reason I moved to the north of Scotland was for its beauty and wildlife and I spend most of my spare time enjoying it – I just can’t get enough of it."
She hopes others will be inspired to share her enthusiasm, especially at the reserve.
"It is teeming with wildlife," she said.
"There are different environments with the seashore and the woodland. There are some brilliant opportunities and I will be encouraging people to come along.
"I bumped into one lady, for example, who is starting a bike touring business and she is going to bring tours through the reserve and hopefully we will meet up so visitors can find out more."
The site, with its paths and trails for cyclists, walkers and dog walkers, relies on the efforts of volunteers.
"There is a fabulous board who have been looking after the reserve and doing wonderful things for a very long time," Miss Snow said.
"I take my hat off to them. People do litter picks, or empty the dog poo bins.
"We really want to grow that sort of thing and make it even better.
"We would be delighted to hear from anyone who is interested."
She is also getting ideas from other environmental projects in other areas such as Possilpark in Glasgow and increasing her own knowledge of wildlife by attending training courses including a recent one on the Skye.