NNR’s are managed primarily for nature, but people are welcome too, many have facilities to enable visitors to appreciate the wildlife living there. Walkhighlands has 69 detailed walking routes in NNRs across Scotland – to find them go to the Find A Walk search facility and click NNR in the Walk Features option.
Put together, the NNRs showcase the wide variety of Scotland’s habitats and species from pine forest to blanket bog, from seabird colonies to mountain plants. They are located all over the country – the northernmost is Hermaness at the northern tip of Shetland, while Caerlaverock is at the other end of the country on the shores of the Solway Firth.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) NNR managers are currently reporting all kinds of wildlife sightings, including mating toads, noisy woodpeckers, sunbathing adders and wildflowers galore.
At Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve (NNR), every bit of standing water is jam-packed with mating toads right now. Other signs of spring include the yellow stars of celandine blooming in the aspen wood, drumming woodpeckers and budding birch leaves. Lucky visitors may even see an adder basking in the morning sun or an osprey, newly returned from Africa, fishing in one of the lochs.
At St Cyrus NNR, the lizards are starting to wake from their winter slumber and are lazily basking among the gorse bushes along the main paths of the reserve – as are dozens and dozens more of those busy toads on the reserve path itself, as mating season begins in earnest. The wild flowers are also starting to appear at St Cyrus, with red dead nettle, lesser celandine, butterbur and coltfoot all in flower. Primrose or prima rosa, meaning the first rose, will soon be brightening up the reserve too. Honey bees and the first butterflies are busy now on sunny days, visiting each of the flowering gorse bushes. The sound of skeins of pink footed geese are now fading away, but have been replaced by bird song and the calls of peregrine and buzzards preparing for their nesting season on the cliffs.
Another spring treat is walking on the magnificent dunes at Forvie NNR. Thousands of eiders, Britain’s largest sea duck, are gathering to nest beside the Ythan estuary, with the calls of the males wooing females wafting across the water. There are many other birds to look for, such as sandwich terns, which travel back to Forvie from western Africa to nest each year. Skylarks, once such a familiar sound in the countryside, can be heard high over the heather moorland of the reserve. Walking out to the mouth of the river from Newburgh, grey seals can usually be seen lazing on the sand banks or bobbing in the current.
Catriona Reid, Muir of Dinnet reserve manager, said: “Spring is such a lovely and exciting time to come out and visit nature reserves in Grampian. Each reserve has something special to offer, and there’s plenty of wildlife reappearing after surviving our tough winter. And the toads add an element of comedy! We hope people will take advantage of living in such a beautiful spot and come out and visit us.”