Let’s head to Taynish

Now is the time to celebrate Taynish National Nature Reserve’s 40th Anniversary. Today (Friday) and tomorrow there are plenty of events to enjoy at the Reserve. But even if you can’t manage along there are lots of good reasons to pencil in a visit at a future date.

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These are fairly impressive woodlands here aren’t they?

They sure are. There has been woodland here for over 6,000 years and the reserve provides a powerful reminder of times gone by. The Taynish peninsula forms part of the many fingered coastline of Argyll and features one of the finest ancient oakwoods in Europe. The moist clean air here means that lichens smother the trunks of trees, while mosses seem to pour down the branches.

Knapdale in miniature would you say?

For visitors to Knapdale in south-west Scotland, the Taynish peninsula presents a view, in microcosm, of how the Knapdale landscape might have looked, perhaps a thousand years ago. The NNR contains expansive remnants of ancient oak woodland, representing some of the best examples of temperate rain forest anywhere in Scotland. The woods are rich in wildlife, including many plants that benefit from the perpetual dampness within the woods. The fascinating history of how these woodlands were once used adds to the importance of the Reserve.

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Sounds like this is home to a riot of species ?

The humid woodland offers ideal growing conditions. Trees and rocky slopes in the wood are home to around 250 species of mosses and liverworts (bryophytes) – a quarter of all the species found in Britain, including seven which are nationally scarce. Amongst the special ferns, delicate and translucent filmy ferns grow on rocks and tree trunks. Around 500 species of lichen have been found in the Reserve, including 91 nationally scarce species. Over 300 types of flowering plants grow here, including two colonies of narrow-leaved helleborine, an uncommon orchid for which Taynish is a UK stronghold. A wide range of butterflies, moths, beetles, dragonflies and other insects live in the woodland and woodland clearings, including many that are nationally scarce.

What do autumn and winter hold in store at Taynish ?

Autumn sees the woodland ‘come alive’ in a riot of colour with the vibrant hues of russets, reds and ochres of oak, birch, willow and alder. The bracken and ferns add muted hues of brown and gold to create a stunning autumnal visual feast. Hang on until winter and the scene changes as the woodlands are frosted pale grey green of the old man’s beard lichen, dotted with the bright red of the holly berries. Look out for whooper swans and great northern divers which can be found here in winter.

Is there a walk here I can do to get a feel for the reserve ?

Yes, the Bàrr Mòr Trail is a good one, and don’t ignore the delightful Woodland Trail or the Mill Trail. To reach Taynish National Nature Reserve, take the B8025 Bellanoch to Tayvallich road from the Crinan Canal. You can walk to the reserve from the car park just south of Tayvallich village or turn left onto a minor road signed for Taynish. Follow this partly unmetalled road (with care – it’s rough in the later stages) for a mile down to the small car park in the reserve.

A 3 km/2 mile trail takes you up the Bàrr Mòr (Gaelic for ‘big top’), from where you’ll have superb views over the surrounding woodlands, coastline and islands. You’ll need to be reasonably fit to reach the viewpoint at the top. The steep path climbs through superb woodland,with many steps, before emerging onto the hill top. It then continues down the far side of the hill to eventually rejoin the access road.

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Facelift for peat hags

Peatland ACTION have been hard at work on Beinn Dubh and Mid Hill high above the shores of Loch Lomond. The team have been using the healing powers of sphagnum moss to give old peat hags a facelift in an effort to combat climate change.

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Richard Cooper, Peatland ACTION Project Officer for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park with the help of Highland Conservation’s Andy Colman, and his team, have been working with Luss Estate to restore areas of peat that have become exposed and degraded due to historical overgrazing and climatic factors.

Healthy peatlands can deliver a range of benefits: acting as a store for carbon that would otherwise enter the atmosphere, a flood water store and clear water filter, this in addition to providing a rich habitat for wildlife, food for grouse, improved access to land, and reduced risks to game and livestock through fatalities in deep gullies and drainage ditches, and eroding hags.

Damaged peatlands, however, cannot deliver the same range of benefits – it is estimated that as much as 50% of Scotland’s peatlands are in poor condition, and 20% are badly degraded releasing carbon instead of storing it.

When peat is exposed it reacts with oxygen, causing it to degrade and release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, which contribute to climate change. Degraded and exposed peat also holds less water during heavy rains resulting in downstream flooding and increased sedimentation.

Richard Cooper, Peatland ACTION Project Officer for Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park said:

“Peatland ACTION is working closely with landowners, like Luss Estate, to restore damaged peatlands right across the length and breadth of Scotland. The work we are doing will have multiple benefits both for the landowner and the environment, such as helping improve water quality, acting towards flood prevention, rejuvenating our upland habitats and wildlife, and helping the fight against climate change.”

Peat hag reprofiling

A peat hag is a type of erosion that can occur at the sides of gullies or seemingly in isolation.

Peat hags arise as a result of water flow eroding downwards into the peat or where a fire or overgrazing has exposed the peat surface to dry out and blow or wash away.

Without help from projects like Peatland ACTION these peat hags can potentially enter a cycle of perpetual erosion resulting in the development of areas of bare peat. This is not good news for the environment or for landowners.

Areas where peat is more than 50cm deep are eligible for restoration work and some of the exposed peat hags on Beinn Dubh and Mid Hill were 2-3 metres high.

Re-profiling or giving peat hags a face lift has many benefits, and the results can been seen immediately.

 

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First, diggers are used to reduce the profile of the eroding peat hag, the gaps in the exposed peat are then covered with nearby turves to stabilise the surface and prevent further erosion. In time, the turves will grow and interlock with their neighbours preventing erosion in the future and in some cases even contributing to active peat formation, and ultimately locking-in carbon.

The healing powers of sphagnum moss

Used in the First World War as a wound dressing due to its antiseptic properties, sphagnum moss is being used today to help heal the scars on the landscape, especially in areas where historical overgrazing and climatic factors has left the peat exposed.

Planting sphagnum mosses (the key bog builder) directly into areas of bare peat is being trialled in the hope that it will enable the landscape to heal itself. Sphagnum mosses are amazing plants that are able to hold between 10 and 20 times their weight in water and can come back from long periods of dry conditions. It is hoped that this technique which has been successful in other parts of the UK will also work on Beinn Dubh.

Transplantation involves harvesting sphagnum from a nearby donor site and handfuls are then heeled in directly into the bare peat.

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As this short video shows it can be wet and mucky work, but as Andy Colman from Highland Conservation explains “this is why we wear waterproofs!”

Once established, these tiny plants play a major role in keeping water on the hill for longer, reducing the risk of wildfires and reducing erosion and flooding downstream.

 

Find out more in the following links:

If you would like to contribute to the on-going work of Peatland ACTION, we would like to hear from you. For further details please contact peatlandaction@snh.gov.uk

Link to PA applications web page

Link to video of hag re-profiling

Flickr album

Luss Estates is committed to sustainable land management, supporting our local communities, and growing the regional economy. For more information please visit www.lussestates.co.uk

 

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A’ tilleadh air thòir nam maorach as t-Sultain – The ‘r’ returns and so do the shellfish hunters!

A’ tilleadh air thòir nam maorach as t-Sultain

’S ann as t-Sultain a bhios mòran de luchd-rùrachd a’ chladaich a’ tilleadh don tràigh-mhaorach, mar a mhìnicheas Ruairidh MacIlleathain:

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Tha e na chleachdadh cumanta gun a bhith a’ rùrachd airson maoraich a’ chladaich thar mìosan an t-samhraidh nuair nach eil ‘r’ ann an ainm Beurla a’ mhìos (Cèitean – Lùnastal). ’S e as coireach ri sin gum bi maoraich uaireannan a’ gabhail a-steach puinnsean a th’ air a dhèanamh le algae na mara nuair as blàithe a tha a’ mhuir. Mar sin, ’s e an t-Sultain àm math airson luchd-rùrachd, agus iad a’ cruinneachadh choilleagan (shrùbain) is muirsgianan air an tràigh-ghainmhich, agus faochagan is feusgain air a’ chladach chreagach. ’S e an reothairt aig co-fhad-thràth an fhoghair (21 Sultain) an t-àm as fheàrr aig mòran airson tòiseachadh, ged a bhios luchd-cruinneachaidh mhuirsgianan uaireannan a’ fàgail a’ ghnothaich gu ciad ghealach-làn na Dàmhair. Cuimhnichibh a bhith caomhnach nuair a tha sibh a’ buain mhaorach.

 

The ‘r’ returns and so do the shellfish hunters!

September is a month for many coastal food foragers to return to gathering shellfish, as Roddy Maclean explains:

 

It’s a common practice to forgo the collection of marine shellfish for food during the summer months whose English names do not contain the letter ‘r’ (ie May to August). The reason is the potential for a concentration of algal toxins within the edible flesh of shellfish species when the sea is at its warmest. September therefore heralds a time of great anticipation for shellfish foragers, when they return to forage on the seashore, with many of them looking forward to renewing their culinary acquaintance with such species as cockles and razor fish on the strand, and winkles and mussels on the rocky shore. The ‘spring’ tide at the autumn equinox (around 21 September) is a good time to start for many, although some razor fish fanciers favour the full moon in early October. Remember to apply conservation ethics when harvesting shellfish.

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“I feel I am Home! I love it!”

Vicki Mowat, a member of our Press and PR team, recently headed out to Loch Lomond to join a group of refugees at Inchcailloch. Here she reflects on a very successful Govan Community Project trip.

A few weeks ago, we had a magical trip to Inchcailloch on Loch Lomond. The weather wasn’t exactly magical but it was mostly dry – and nothing was about to dampen our spirits. For we were out with a group from the Govan Community Project, a wonderful organisation which works with refugees and asylum seekers to provide support, help them access services, and build community.

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I think we all felt like we were seeing the loch through new eyes, as we accompanied two Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park rangers, project staff and a group of refugees who don’t usually have the means to get out of the city and enjoy the beautiful Scottish countryside. The refugees ranged in age from teenagers to an elderly woman (who managed to bring along a big pot of delicious rice for us all to share!). I think you can easily see from the pictures just how much fun we all had.

One of the volunteers who came along described what many of us felt about the day: “I found it an extremely uplifting and humbling experience which highlighted the value of nature as a form of therapy, something not used enough in Scotland!”

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It was even more wonderful to hear from the refugees themselves how much they enjoyed the excursion. Here’s how a few of them described it:

  • “It was a very good trip and I was excited to go there! The place reminded me of my home country. I was very happy.”
  • “I feel I am Home! I love it!”
  • “That trip was the best. I haven’t had fun like that in a long time! I am up for a trip like that to a different location anytime!”
  • “The trip was very good for me. It was exciting to meet the rangers and I enjoyed it very much!”
  • “I liked the little ferry we went on. I also really enjoyed doing a trip altogether with all my friends and walking in the trees and meeting new people from Scottish Natural Heritage. And I really enjoyed the rangers talking about the trees and Loch Lomond. The whole day was wonderful, I had a great time.”
  • “It was a very nice trip, I felt like we were in a jungle. It’s different from Europe, the loch and all the green, I like that place. I would like to go again and again.”

A Govan Community Project staff member summed it up well: “This has been a truly wonderful experience for community members, staff and volunteers at GCP. We were able to all come together and experience Scotland’s nature in a way that felt very wholesome and inclusive. This could not have been made possible without the support given to us in preparation for the event from the team at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs Park in Balmaha. It has shown us the value of nature for personal and community development, something we plan to continue to offer our community members and service users.”

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We at SNH hope to continue to be a part of that as well, and it was a day that the four of us who were lucky enough to go along will treasure and never forget. We’d particularly like to thank the two wonderful Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park rangers, Beverley Clarke and Tim Messer, who kept us all enthralled with tales of this historic island and the area around it.

See the Loch Lomond and National Park website for more information on Inchcailloch.

If you’re interested in donating to the Govan Community Project, see https://www.justgiving.com/gcin

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Inspired by nature

National Nature Reserves are amongst the most inspirational places in Scotland. Fabulous for nature and great places for people, they showcase the very best of Scotland’s natural heritage. That’s why they are our theme for September.

Aerial view of Tentsmuir NNR.

Aerial view of Tentsmuir NNR. Fife ©P&A Macdonald/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or http://www.snh.gov.uk

Throughout the month we have made frequent references to Tentsmuir, that Fife coastal-gem, and its near neighbour the Isle of May.  They are contrasting yet wonderful spots where wildlife and people alike can thrive.

Many years of research at Tentsmuir and the Isle of May, allied to meticulous record-keeping, has allowed us to use these sites to let us see how habitats and species fare over time.

Perhaps a less well known fact is that these reserves were the ‘cradles’ that spurred two of Scotland’s greatest female naturalists on the road to success.

Leonora Rintoul and Evelyn Baxter are names known to most naturalists in Scotland, names cemented in the hearts of Scotland’s’ ornithological community. The ‘good ladies’, as they came to be affectionately known, were early examples of citizen scientists and when they published their ground-breaking Birds of Scotland in 1953 they set a new benchmark.

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Here was a book that was not only written with care and precision, but flowed off the pages with a silky-smooth grasp of the English language. Scientific observations, historical references, and anecdotes were perfectly slotted together in a work that remains, over half a century later, quite simply superbly readable.

The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club archives are riddled with references to Baxter and Rintoul. A look at the Spring 1960 issue of their monthly journal is a particularly good example. And it’s there, in a glowing tribute to Evelyn Baxter, that the ladies fruitful initial association with Tentsmuir is acknowledged.

Born in Largo in 1878 Leonora Rintoul was a year younger than Evelyn Baxter who hailed from nearby Largoward. By the time they were teenagers they had become firm friends and were visiting Tentsmuir. Here they would eventually meet Dr Eagle Clarke who would not only encourage their interest in birds, but help them move from the world of the dedicated amateur to that of the respected citizen scientist.

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The Isle of May

Inspired by Clarke, they observed how he organised his findings to build a compelling picture of the nation’s birds and they too began to keep detailed records of what they saw. When he relayed details of a trip he had made to Fair Isle he kindled a flame in their imagination that sent Baxter and Rintoul on a journey round the coast from Tentsmuir to the Isle of May. For quarter of a century the pair would visit the famous island twice a year to record the comings and goings of the bird population and much more besides.

Gradually they were producing significant contributions to natural history journals. Such was their depth of knowledge, commitment to field craft, and prolific publishing they were warmly welcomed into the hitherto largely male bastion of Scottish ornithology. This was confirmed in 1936 when both Evelyn Baxter and Leonora Rintoul were in the vanguard of bird lovers who met in Edinburgh in order to establish the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club .

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Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) Isle of May National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or http://www.snh.gov.uk

Their fierce commitment and unbridled energy was widely recognised beyond the close-knit community of ornithology and in March 1951 they were both elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Only six women had previously received this accolade and never before had two female non-graduates – thus in essence self-taught scientists – been so rewarded. It was and remains a remarkable achievement.

Two years after joining this celebrated body they made their indelible mark on Scotland’s natural history writing – The Birds of Scotland.  These two volumes were an instant hit. The Glasgow Herald, in a glowing book review, positively purred:

‘Miss Baxter and Miss Rintoul have the distinction of being the compilers of the first work which includes a history of every bird on the Scottish list. These two volumes should be a standard reference work for a long time to come.

   The opening chapter is devoted to a description of Scotland, “from personal observations and from an ornithological standpoint,” and, the authors follow this by dealing with the many changes, both natural and artificial, which had an effect on the avifauna north of the Border. Comparing the conditions, topography, and latitudinal positions of Scotland with those of England, the authors build up a picture of the composition of the Scottish avifauna.

   An excellent chapter on migration leads to the history and distribution of Scottish birds under species, and those which have colonised or recolonized Scotland in recent years have received specially detailed treatment.

   A word of praise should be given to the publishers and printers, for the typography and binding are examples of fine craftsmanship, while there are excellent photographic illustrations and colour frontispieces.’

 

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Sadly, Leonora Rintoul died in May 1953, just as the Birds of Scotland was about to be published to critical acclaim. It is a great regret that she wasn’t able to enjoy the book’s subsequent success, but given the immense effort she invested in the project we can be pretty confident that she would have had an inkling that she had created something rather special – the ‘bible’ of the Scottish bird world.

 

In 1955 the University of Glasgow awarded Evelyn Baxter an honorary law degree and four years later the British Ornithology Union, during its centenary celebrations, bestowed on her the considerable honour of their gold medal.

Today both Tentsmuir, and the Isle of May NNRs, remain sources of incredible inspiration to naturalists. They were established to protect nature but perhaps few at the time realised just how these remarkable sites would inspire and enthuse two incredible women to pen what is arguably, some 60 years later, the finest book on Scotland’s birds ever written.

Note : The Birds of Scotland was published in 1953. Those great sources of inspiration for Baxter and Rintoul – Tentsmuir and the Isle of May – were designated National Nature Reserves not long afterwards. Tentsmuir became an NNR in 1954 (nearby Morton Lochs having been declared an NNR in 1952) and the Isle of May followed suit in 1956.

Digital age for Front cover image of The Birds of Scotland Digital

Further reading – you can enjoy the latest Birds of Scotland Digital version online at  http://www.the-soc.org.uk/birds-of-scotland/

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Meet the manager – Neil Mitchell, Loch Leven NNR

We continue our social media spotlight on National Nature Reserves today with a short interview with our reserve manager at Loch Leven  – Neil Mitchell. He introduces a site that is handily placed for the central belt, and recalls a midge sensation.

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What was the main appeal in working on a National Nature Reserve?

I have always loved being outdoors, often the worse the elements the more I enjoy it  and so I worked hard to avoid a more conventional career.   National Nature Reserves represent some of the most spectacular landscapes and best wildlife the country has to offer, you couldn’t ask for any more from a work place but as a bonus I also get the satisfaction of knowing I’m doing my bit to help care for and enhance it as a legacy to future generations, that’s a privilege few get to have.

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What is a typical work day like for you?

There is no such thing as a typical day on a NNR however that’s a large part of the attraction for me. For so many people their day to day job means the same routine day after day. I never quite know what the next day will bring and that’s not because I haven’t planned but the fact is you never know quite what the weather might do, what amazing wildlife you might see over the horizon or what kind of challenge the next phone call might bring. It’s often not easy but it’s never dull!

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What is the best thing about your particular National Nature Reserve?

Everything!! Ok that might be a cliché but it’s the sum of all its parts. If someone were to ask me how they could see the best of Loch Leven I would say just wander quietly to the pier and watch the sun come up. If they did that every day for a week they’d see they best every time, but they wouldn’t see the same thing.

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What’s your favourite species on your reserve ?

There are so many species on the reserve I like and many more I’m interested in but on this occasion I’m going to wave a flag for the little guys. The Chironomid midge,  despite being just a few millimetres long when observed through a hand lens or microscope they look absolutely amazing with feathery antennae and so many different colours, often forming massive thick clouds along the path. They don’t bite, don’t live for long as adults and are dinner for most of the wildlife we have on the reserve but despite all that they are enough to get every visitor to Loch Leven talking about them so much so they made the BBC news, Springwatch and the Telegraph all in the same week and yet I couldn’t identify a single one to species level!! I might be pushing it to say they’re my favourite but I never fail to be impressed by them.

 

Find out more about Loch Leven NNR at http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/loch-leven/

Read more about the midge clouds Neil talks about @

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-39898684

and

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-scotland-39902688/huge-swarm-of-non-biting-midges-around-loch-leven

 

 

 

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Let’s head to Creag Meagaidh

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Tell us about the benefits of pioneering conservation work on Creag Meagaidh?

From the 1700s heavy grazing by sheep and deer on what is now the reserve ground meant few trees could survive and much of the wildlife that depended on them was lost. However, in 1986 Creag Meagaidh became a National Nature Reserve and this signalled a new era. Grazing pressure was reduced and lost plant and animal communities were gradually restored. Now wildlife abounds here. From the golden eagles, dotterel and ptarmigan of the high tops, to the black grouse, small pearl-bordered fritillaries and dragonflies of the lower slopes there is much to see and enjoy. Look more closely and you might glimpse rare alpine speedwells, saxifrages and hawkweeds as well as a host of native trees.

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What are the autumn highlights I could enjoy?

Although any time is good for a visit, autumn takes some beating.

This is a reserve where birch woodland gives way to open moorland, and in autumn the russet hues of heather and deer grass add colour to any walk. This zone, where woodland meets moor, is the favourite place for the beautiful black grouse. Numbers of black grouse here have been increasing as their habitat expands and you can see them roosting in birch trees.

In autumn the rowan trees will be laden with berries – look out for migrant thrushes such as fieldfares and redwing, as well as our locally breeding ring ouzels. These migrants will be filling up before heading for the mountains of North Africa to spend the winter.

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Is that the roar of a stag I can hear?

Sure is ! During the autumn the stags challenge each other for the right to mate with the hinds, and their bellowing roars over open hillsides are one of the most exciting sounds of the Scottish autumn. Red deer are the most common deer on Creag Meagaidh and keeping the numbers in balance with woodland regeneration is the main management we need to carry out. In the summer the deer tend to graze the higher ground on the Reserve, while in the winter they come down to the woods and low ground for shelter.

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Okay, my boots are going on. How easily can I get around the reserve ?

Waymarked trails make it easy to explore Creag Meagaidh.

The Alderwood Trail is suitable for all abilities. Situated next to the car park and about 1.1km or 0.7miles long this is a superb place to see alder trees and owls, redpolls and siskins are resident here. Allow 30 minutes.

The Allt Dubh Trail takes you to the edge of the hill land where you can glimpse great views of the reserve. There is a poem by Sorley MacLean carved into stones by the path. Surfaces are good but there are some steep steps and slopes and stout footwear is essential. 1.8 km or 1.1 miles long, please allow about one hour.

The An Sidehean Trail is1km or 0.6 miles long, and skirts the fields you can see from the car park. Watch for black grouse and woodcock along the way. You may see Highland cattle too as we plough and farm these fields, keeping the environment close to what it would have been like when people farmed this land.

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