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More people flock to Highlands national nature reserves in 2020

By John Davidson

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Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in winter. Picture: NatureScot
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in winter. Picture: NatureScot

Visits to national nature reserves in the Highlands fed into a huge upsurge in numbers across Scotland.

More than a million visitors headed to the reserves this year, an increase from an estimated 650,000 in recent years.

NatureScot says the increase, initially due to lockdown, was followed by continued interest and enthusiasm across the nation for spending time in nature.

It suggests that winter is a wonderful time to continue that habit, with plenty to see on nature reserves in the Highlands, from golden eagles and red deer to black grouse and large flocks of geese.

NatureScot chief executive Francesca Osowska said: “People throughout Scotland have been enjoying spending time outdoors more than ever in 2020.

"Nature is helping us all cope with anxiety throughout this difficult time and strengthening our resilience. I’d encourage people to get out and enjoy their local national nature reserves over the holiday season, following the latest government guidelines.

"Our nature reserve staff have highlighted some spectacular sights to see on our reserves this winter.”

Coire Ardair below Creag Meagaidh. Picture: Lorne Gill/NatureScot
Coire Ardair below Creag Meagaidh. Picture: Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Ms Osowska called on people visiting nature reserves and other areas to respect nature and follow the 'leave no trace' principles.

She added: “It’s been amazing to see so many people enjoying our reserves this year, but we’d also like to remind people to protect our reserves for future generations. For example, please don’t litter or light campfires, as these can damage plants, trees and wildlife.”

Reserve staff suggest these top picks for enjoying NatureScot’s nature reserves around the Highlands this winter:

  • At Loch Fleet, wintering ducks and geese congregate in their thousands, including greylag and pink footed geese, curlew, dunlin, ringed plover, redshank, oystercatcher, wigeon, and mallard. Common seals can be seen from the roadside hauled out on the sand banks a low tide. Rarer sights of otters, merlin, red kite and peregrine can also be seen. It’s a feast for the senses to head down at sunset to watch and listen to the huge flocks of birds returning to roost.
  • Walk around the lower trails at Creag Meagaidh reserve to see large flocks of finches, such as chaffinches, brambling, linnet and goldfinches, feeding on wildlife-friendly crops. There are also a wide range of woodland birds. In the morning, look for black grouse which have a strong population on the reserve. The higher path is likely to have snow at this time of year, but offers amazing views, with possible sightings of red deer, raven and golden eagle.
  • At Dell Woods in Abernethy nature reserve, take a winter walk among the pines from the village of Nethy Bridge. This is a great place to see the pinewood specialists including crested tit, crossbills and red squirrels. There are a network of easy-graded footpaths that meander through the pinewoods and are perfect for a crisp winter walk.
  • Another wonderful option is to visit the majestic Beinn Eighe reserve in Wester Ross, where lochs and mountains combine to create a dramatic landscape. Enjoy an easy low-level walk with views to the high ridges or take the Mountain Trail, one of the only way-marked mountain paths in Scotland, into the heart of the hills with stunning views.

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