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The Landscape and Wildlife of Scotland

Helen Howard

Scotland is a land of beautiful glens, atmospheric lochs, majestic forests, stunning beaches and dramatic coastal cliffs. There’s a wide variety of wildlife to be found within these habitats, some more elusive than others but with the benefit of local knowledge, a little patience and sometimes a degree of luck you can experience Scotland’s natural wonders.

The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and walking in ancient pinewoods can feel like a journey back in time. The largest and longest-lived tree in the Caledonian Forest, the Scots pine is a keystone species, which means many other species depend on it. Therefore, as well as providing relaxing and revitalising walking opportunities with spectacular scenery, these forests are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including delightful red squirrels, nocturnal pine martens and the diminutive, characterful crested tit with its unmistakable ‘punk’ look. Also found in pine forests is the Scottish Crossbill, the only endemic bird, meaning it is not found outside the UK. This thick-set finch has a large, hooked beak which, as its name suggests, crosses over to enable it to pick out pine seeds from cones. Males and females differ in plumage, males are orange-red brick coloured, while the females are a dull green-yellow to camouflage them when they are on the nest.

There are some true icons of Scotland, one being the magnificent golden eagle. With a wingspan of over 2 metres, it soars the thermals over glens and upland areas. Walking in these remote areas, whether along a river in a valley or high on the open hillside there are opportunities to see wildlife close up or from afar, including mountain hare and red deer which blend in well to the landscape. Autumn can be a particularly spectacular time to visit, with fabulous colours, the famous red deer rutting season, and great numbers of migrating birds.

red stag in scottish highlands
Red stag in the Scottish Highlands
scotlands golden eagle
Scotland's Golden Eagle

Scotland boasts some stunning coastal landscapes, with rugged cliffs, turquoise waters, impressive sea stacks and white sand beaches. And with over 700 islands to choose from, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides in the west, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the North East there’s a plethora of wildlife to experience throughout the year. Coastal species include charismatic otter, harbour and grey seal, and a gentle giant, the basking shark which feeds on zooplankton by slowly swimming near the water’s surface with its enormous mouth wide open. If lucky there are dolphin and minke whales, even occasionally orca.

There is an abundance of bird species too, including gannets, fulmars, puffins, giant skuas and black guillemots. Visiting major breeding colonies can be an awe-inspiring and noisy sight! The UK’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle is most likely to be found on the coast, or by rivers and lochs. There are numerous ways to experience Scotland’s coastal wildlife, from the land, by sea kayak, on special boat trips or even on the ferry between islands.

atlantic puffin on scottish coast
Atlantic puffin nesting on the Scottish coast
seal colony islay
Seal colony on Islay
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