Balblair wood, Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Visitor Questions - National Nature Reserves

Why should I visit?

National Nature Reserves (NNRs) are the best places for people to see and hear the finest of Scotland’s amazing nature. 

All NNRs are nationally or internationally important, and must be well managed for nature.  But we also manage these really special places for people to enjoy.  We provide waymarked trails, information signs and leaflets, as well as visitor centres, and hides on some, so you can visit, enjoy and explore without disturbing habitats or wildlife.

We want you and everyone else to have a great experience at the places Scottish Natural Heritage manages. Scotland’s world-leading access rights allow everyone to enjoy the outdoors as long as they do so responsibly, but some recreational activities may affect other visitors enjoyment and/or disturb or damage the nature which people come to see or hear. It’s therefore important to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code: https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/

 “Access rights extend to [nature reserves] but remember that they are carefully managed for nature conservation and to safeguard rare animals and plants.  Take care to avoid damaging the site or disturbing its wildlife, or interfering with its management or enjoyment by others. Depending on your activity, you might be requested to follow a specific route or to avoid exercising access rights in a specific area: following such local guidance can help to safeguard the natural heritage of these areas.”

In keeping with the Code, some places have agreed local access arrangements –please follow these.  We will usually provide temporary signs on-site to explain these arrangements, such as to protect nesting birds or pupping seals from frequent and repeated disturbance. If you’re unsure why they are needed, please ask the site manager or email [email protected].

What can I see?

Scotland has 43 NNRs include Celtic rainforests and ancient oak woodlands, remote islands with huge colonies of breeding seabirds, purple-flowering  moorlands and windswept and wild mountain tops, shifting sand dunes and lost villages, estuaries with basking seals, and mudflats and lowland lochs that are vitally important staging posts for migrating birds.

There is an A-Z list of SNH’s sites in our Enjoying the Outdoors pages or you can find information on visiting all of Scotland’s NNRs on the Scotland's National Nature Reserves website.

What does it cost to visit?

With only a few exceptions, our places are open every day, all day and for free.  We do not currently charge for facilities and amenities, such as car parking, entry to visitor centres, hides, shelters or toilets, or for leaflets, and almost all our events are free to join. Some facilities and events at our reserves are provided by others who may charge.

If you enjoy your visit, please tell us and, if you can, help protect nature and make our reserves great places to visit by following the arrangements advertised at the reserve or by giving at www.mypark.scot/donate-nnr/.

All of your donation will be used to support the natural heritage and visitor facilities on reserves.

Can I take pictures?

You can take as many pictures as you like, for personal purposes. Remember to share them with us on social media! 

Instagram #scotnature   facebook @scottishnaturalheritage   Twitter @nature_scot

If you wish to take photographs or film on a commercial basis, please contact the site manager by emailing [email protected]. If you’ll need to use vehicles, put down equipment, or if you plan to stay for a few days, you may need our permission and we may charge you a fee. Income from filming supports management of our reserves.

Can I fly a drone?

Disturbance by drones can seriously disturb wildlife and other visitors quiet enjoyment of the countryside.

If you are flying a drone, you must comply with the Civil Aviation Authority’s guidance including the Drone Code. You must also take extra care to avoid disturbing wildlife, which may be an offence, by complying with the Scottish Government’s good practice advice on this issue.  If in doubt, ask the site manager or email [email protected] before visiting.

When going onto land to launch, land or fly your drone, follow the general guidance on responsible access in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, comply with any local advice and avoid disturbing people, wildlife or livestock.

For commercial filming with a drone, see “Can I take pictures?” above.

Can I bring my dog?

Dogs are part of the family and we know many people like to bring them on a day out – but out-of-control dogs can seriously disturb, harm and kill wildlife and livestock and affect the enjoyment of these wonderful places by other visitors.  

Please be aware that whilst you might visit a place only occasionally and feel that you cause no harm, the reserve manager and the wildlife of the reserve might have to cope with the cumulative effects of many people and their dogs.

Please check with staff if you’re unsure and follow any local site and seasonal advice, for example to follow specific routes or avoid particular areas.  At all times, please keep your dog under proper control and clean up after them – bag and bin your dog waste responsibly.

Note that the Isle of May and Noss ferry services do not carry dogs (including assistance dogs).  If you would otherwise be able to visit, please email [email protected] and we will be happy to discuss how we might be able to make your visit possible.

You may encounter cattle, sheep and ponies on our reserves – they help us manage open habitats and provide transport over hill ground.  Near livestock, you must keep your dogs on a short lead or close at heel. For more information please visit the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.

Working with a dog behaviourist and the Tayport community at Tentsmuir NNR we have developed a package of dog training videos.  These and other resources will give you some great tips, information and skills to have fun and safe walks in Scotland’s outdoors as well as understand your rights and responsibilities under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

I have a disability – will I be able to visit?

Everyone is welcome. We know that the outdoors can present difficulties for people with accessibility requirements. We’re constantly looking for opportunities to improve our facilities to ensure all of our visitors can enjoy their visits. We recommend contacting the site manager in advance for detailed access arrangements, or email [email protected]

We are looking at options to provide greater information online about accessibility and will update this advice in due course. In the meantime we’d love you to visit the Euan’s Guide website https://www.euansguide.com/ to tell us (and others) what’s good and where we need to do better.

We welcome all assistance dogs – except on the Isle of May and Noss as noted above.

What facilities are on the reserve, particularly toilets?

Go to https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves, select the reserve you plan to visit and then its ‘Visiting’ page.  There you will find directions to the reserve, transport options, details of any visitor centre, toilets, trails, picnic areas and links to leaflets. 

If we do not provide toilets we will give details of the nearest facilities.  If you’re concerned you may need the toilet on a reserve please follow the simple advice in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Can I mountain-bike through the nature reserve?

With some exceptions, yes – and where this is possible in a responsible and thoughtful manner.  Riding on established trails is usually fine but please remember that they are shared with people of all abilities seeking to enjoy the nature for which the reserve is managed.  

Most SNH lands are also protected places for nature with widespread sensitive habitats and species – please avoid riding-on and damaging wet or soft ground and the risk of committing an offence.

Check out ‘Do the Ride Thing’ developed by mountain biking interests at http://www.dmbins.com/riders/do-the-ride-thing.  Give other users advance warning of your presence and give way to them on narrow paths.  And if you are part of a large group, be aware that you may have more of an impact on the trails and other path users – your route choice should reflect this.

Building informal mountain bike trails is not included in Scottish access rights and is usually incompatible with the purposes of nature reserves. Please refer to the National Access Forum’s guidance at http://www.dmbins.com/developing/trails-page--2/unauthorised-mtb-trails-guidance, and contact the relevant site manager or email [email protected].

Can I hold an event?

If you’re planning an active outdoor event on, or passing through SNH land, please read the National Access Forum Guidance for event organisers and contact the relevant site manager or email [email protected] as soon as possible.

If you’re interested in having another type of event, including a wedding, please contact the site manager early in your planning process, or email [email protected], to discuss details and ensure things run smoothly. Please note it may not be possible to guarantee your exclusive use but we will be happy to discuss your requirements for your special day.

Please contact us in good time to allow for discussion and, if necessary, for us to grant permission. Depending on the event, there may be a charge.  Income from events supports management of our reserves.

Can I use a metal detector?

Most SNH lands are protected places for nature with widespread sensitive habitats and species, and some are also of historic importance. Follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and any local advice, bearing in mind that anything more than very minor and limited digging, without uprooting plants, may be an offence.

You may not use a metal detector at all if the place is of historic importance as this would be an offence. Historic Environment Scotland provides further advice in its booklet on metal detecting, cultural sites and the law.

Can I scatter cremation ashes?

We understand that many people are very attached to certain special places and may request that their ashes are scattered there. Please contact the site manager in the first instance, or email [email protected]. Staff will be able to suggest locations and help you choose a suitable time, particularly during busy seasons, when there will be fewer visitors around. Ashes may not be buried and we respectfully ask that you do not leave any permanent memorials or flowers wrapped in paper or cellophane, plastic wreaths or any other materials.

Can I remember a loved one by installing a bench or cairn?

We do not normally allow permanent memorials like plaques, benches or cairns. If you’d like to create a permanent memorial for a relative or friend, you may like to think about leaving a donation in their name to support a project.  You can contact the site manager for a list of projects which you could support, or email [email protected].

Can I install a geocache or an EarthCache?

Some of our NNRs already host geocaches or have features listed as EarthCaches.

Geocaches do not normally cause problems as long as they’re discreetly concealed and are not buried. Please contact the site manager, or email [email protected] , before installing a geocache to ensure that it doesn’t result in disturbance or damage to nature.  If this does occur, we will try to contact the responsible person and ask them to remove the cache, or we will remove it. 

Similarly, before placing a real or virtual location for an online game please contact the site manager for advice on avoiding sensitive areas.

Camping and Fires

We welcome responsible wild camping in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the practice of leaving no trace.  But do not light a fire on any land during any prolonged dry period or at any time in any forest, woodland, scrub or meadow or on peaty ground.  Please note and follow local Scottish Outdoor Access Code advice on fires.

Most SNH lands are protected places for nature with widespread sensitive habitats and species and our nature reserves are protected and managed as highly valuable places for people to enjoy nature, which could be permanently destroyed by fire.

It is important you avoid damaging these special features and committing an offence.  Do not build shelters or fire sites.

If in doubt, contact the site manager for advice, or email [email protected].

Campervans, motorhomes and in-car ‘camping’

The availability and suitability of our car parks for overnight parking varies greatly.  Please follow the instructions given at individual sites, respect other visitors and take care of these special places.  Some toilet facilities are open 24 hours/ 7 days. We do not currently provide chemical waste disposal or electricity hook-ups at any location – as with wild camping, please leave no trace and dispose of your waste responsibly at dedicated waste disposal locations. 

We do not currently charge for overnight parking but encourage you to donate £10 per night to support the upkeep of services and the nature reserve.

How can I get involved in managing a nature reserve?

We’d love you to get more involved and there are various ways you could do this.

Volunteering - Check out each of our NNR pages on our website for opportunities to learn about and help manage a nature reserve as a volunteer.  Our volunteers come for a few days to a few months and from a single event to every week.  They help us with all aspects of reserve management – including working in visitor centres, guiding groups, managing trails and monitoring wildlife.

If you’re interested, please fill in a Volunteer Expression of Interest Form, noting which reserve you’d like to work on and email the form to [email protected].

Student placements - Each year we offer a small number of 12 month (paid) placements for students to gain work experience as part of an accredited course, typically with North Highland College, Thurso, or Scotland’s Rural Universities College.  We advertise these and vacancies for reserve staff through our website www.nature.scot.

Educational visits and research – You are welcome to bring your class or study group to our reserves.  Please contact the site manager in advance for up-to-date advice on facilities and current management activity - as well as to check if other groups are visiting that day.

Management planning –  We periodically review our plans for the development and management of each of our NNRs and consult widely with communities, special interests and others on our proposals.  We advertise these consultations on our website and through local contacts and social media.  We are always pleased to receive feedback and suggestions from visitors at any time – just email us at [email protected].

Community engagement – We support the Scottish Government’s target of achieving 1 million acres of and in community ownership by 2020.  If your community would be interested in developing its role in managing an area of SNH-owned land, with a view to potentially taking on its management or ownership, please get in touch at [email protected]  and we can discuss how we could make this happen.

Contacts and further guidance

If you enjoy your visit, please support us by following the arrangements advertised at the reserve or by giving at www.mypark.scot/donate-nnr/.

All of your donation will be used to protect nature and make our reserves great places to visit.

You can support SNH nature reserves by donating through the MyParkScotland website or using the QR code below.  You can choose to support any one or all of our reserves.

QR Code image

Contact details for the site managers of each SNH National Nature Reserve are at www.nature.scot/enjoying-outdoors/scotlands-national-nature-reserves.  For any other SNH place, or if you have a general enquiry or request, please email [email protected].

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is available at https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/The-Act-and-the-Code/Guidance-documents.