Spring is in the air and as nature begins to wake up there has never been a better time to visit Scotland’s National Nature Reserves. Whether you’re wildlife spotting or just want to get out and enjoy some fresh air and spectacular scenery, these special places are great to explore. Here are 10 of the best spring surprises Scotland has to offer and where you might find them:
1. Stacks of seabirds
Around the coast of Scotland, seabirds are returning home to breed, after a long winter at sea. Don’t miss the chance to see thousands, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags and kittiwakes, gathering on island and coastal cliffs. Just a short distance from Edinburgh the Isle of May and St Abb’s Head are fantastic places to witness this spectacle, while further afield in Shetland the most northerly cliffs of Hermaness and Noss are fabulous and dramatic places to visit.
2. Wonderful wild flowers
Spring is when Scotland’s woodlands, from the temperate rainforests of the west coast to our ancient oak woods, come alive with delicate wild flowers. Take a walk in the ancient gorge woodlands of Clyde Valley close to Lanark (don’t forget to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of New Lanark), where bluebells create a colourful blanket in April and May. Alternatively, explore the hidden gem of Glasdrum Wood on the shores of Loch Creran, where the woodland floor is carpeted with wild flowers including violets, wood anemone and primrose.
3. Climb high
Scotland’s mountain landscapes are outstanding, whether you just want to take in the view from the roadside or embark on a challenging hike. Visit the majestic Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross, one of the most scenic areas in Scotland (and the UKs first National Nature Reserve), where lochs and mountains combine to dramatic effect. Enjoy an easy low-level walk with views to the high ridges or take the Mountain Trail into the heart of the hills, a way-marked mountain path with stunning views. Elsewhere, explore Creag Meagaidh, a magnificent mountain plateau fringed by some of the grandest cliffs in Scotland. Hike on a trail through lovely regenerating woodland to Coire Ardair, where a lonely lochan sits below towering crags.
4. Soar with the eagles
Spring is when Scotland’s majestic eagles return to their nesting sites and these iconic birds can be seen soaring high above the coasts and hills. The Isle of Rum lying splendidly off Mallaig is home to golden and sea (or white-tailed) eagles, and visitors to the trails of Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross can also spot both species as they search for food over the reserve. After a recent reintroduction of white-tailed eagles, you can also now see these magnificent birds around the forest and beach at Tentsmuir. Join a guided walk to have the best chance of spotting them.
5. Coastal gems
Scotland has an incredibly varied and rich coastline, which we’ll be celebrating next year as part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters. From extensive sandy beaches to rocky inlets, our diverse coast supports amazing wildlife and is great fun to explore at this time of year. Visit Caerlaverock in Dumfries & Galloway, where the views across the Solway Firth are constantly changing with the light and large gatherings of waders and wildfowl feed in the extensive salt marshes. Don’t forget to visit mighty Caerlaverock Castle. Or why not enjoy a walk along the sandy shores, gentle dunes and grasslands of St Cyrus in Aberdeenshire?
6. Gone fishing
One of Scotland’s most iconic species, the osprey, returns each spring from wintering grounds in Africa to breed. The birds come back each year to the same nest site in the tops of trees or occasionally on top of pylons. Watching osprey fish is one of the highlights of wildlife watching in Scotland. Loch Leven, close to Kinross, is one of the most accessible places to see osprey, while those at Abernethy in the Cairngorms National Park are probably the most famous in Scotland. Enjoy fantastic views across to the nest from the visitor centre and let expert RSPB guides tell you all about the birds.
7. Seal slumbers
Scotland’s seals are some of our most charismatic mammals and this is a great time of year to see them. Watch as they haul out on rocky shores and beaches, slumbering in the spring sun. Head to Loch Fleet, on the North Coast 500 route in the North Highlands, where you can spot common or harbour seals hauled out in the sandbanks of this tidal loch. Or visit Forvie, on the Ythan Estuary in Aberdeenshire, home to a growing population of up to 1,000 grey seals. A short walk along the shore from Newburgh offers great views across the estuary, to the seals resting on the shores of the firth.
8. Scramble with squirrels
Who could resist the chance to see one of Scotland’s most famous red heads – the acrobatic red squirrel? Spring sees them active and out and about – often spotted chasing up and down tree trunks. The woodlands of Muir of Dinnet in Royal Deeside are home to these charismatic characters while at Tentsmuir in Fife, visitors to the squirrel hide at Morton Lochs have an excellent chance of seeing and photographing their antics.
9. Return of the terns
In spring, terns return to our shores from their southern wintering grounds. With their delicate shape and flight they are one of the most elegant seabirds. Visit the Isle of May off the pretty fishing village of Anstruther, where the terns nest all around the harbour and visitor centre, filling the air with their calls and letting you know whose island this really is! Or take a coastal walk to the dunes of Forvie in Aberdeenshire, to see an extensive colony of terns and enjoy their stunning aerobatics.
10. Woodland wanders
Scotland’s woodlands are the perfect place to relax and unwind in springtime. Enjoy a scenic walk and listen out for woodland birds as you wander. Explore Abernethy near Aviemore or Glen Affric in the Highlands to experience the best of the Caledonian pine forest, home to crested tits and unique Scottish crossbills. Or take a peaceful and energising dawn walk in the woodlands of Craigellachie near Aviemore, Ariundle Oakwood on the Sunart Peninsula or The Great Trossachs Forest in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park.
Visit Scotland’s naturally inspiring National Nature Reserves this springtime. Who knows what you will find?