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Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (NNRS) are the perfect places to clear away the cobwebs and walk-off the festive season excess, says Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
SNH welcomed more than 650,000 visitors to its NNRs last year and some of the most popular are highlighted here.
This is a great time to get out and explore your local NNR and, although it might be a little colder, it is often the most attractive time of year. Whether you want to look for wildlife, meet friends or family for a walk, or simply enjoy some peace and quiet, NNRs offer a range of experiences.
SNH reserves manager Ian Sargent said: ‘Scotland’s 43 NNRs are truly inspiring places where you can experience the incredible sights and sounds of our natural world throughout the year. SNH manages NNRs right across Scotland, from Hemaness up in Shetland, down to Caerlaverock less than half an hour away from Dumfries.
‘Our reserves highlight the best of Scotland’s nature, from mountain tops to beaches and, as well as not costing a penny to visit and enjoy, they’re open to everyone every day.’
Flanders Moss (20 minutes north-west of Stirling).
Flanders Moss is one of the largest remaining intact raised bogs in Britain. Take a moment to savour this wild and ancient landscape which has hardly changed for thousands of years. On a clear winter day, you can enjoy the awe-inspiring solitude of the reserve from the viewing tower. There is often a scenic backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Listen out for wintering geese flying over at dusk to roost at Lake of Menteith.
Craigellachie, Aviemore (45 minutes south of Inverness).
Only a few minutes from Aviemore, the birch woods of Craigellachie NNR sit just above the A9. The reserve has several footpaths that meander through the woodlands and past lochs, perfect for a leisurely after-lunch stroll. There is also a longer route leading to a viewpoint where you can enjoy superb views of the snow-capped Cairngorm Mountains. The crags (or steep cliff faces) which give the reserve its name are home to peregrine falcons, which can reach incredible speeds of up to 240mph when it dives, and is thought to be the world’s fastest bird. You might also hear the high-pitched mewing sound of common buzzards and spot them gliding high above the woods.
Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands, near Kinlochewe (one hour and 10 minutes west of Inverness).
Beinn Eighe is the UK’s oldest NNR, designated in 1951. The reserve covers a huge 48 sq km, stretching from loch-side to mountain top, offering a variety of trails including sheltered woodland walks as well as exposed mountain routes. The woodland here is ancient Caledonian pine forest, with very old ‘granny pines’ found on the lower slopes. More fragments can be found on the 60-plus islands scattered across Loch Maree. Keep an eye out for deer on the ground and white-tailed sea eagles and golden eagles soaring high above.
Creag Meagaidh, near Laggan (one hour and 30 minutes south-west of Inverness).
Creag Meagaidh NNR is the complete mountain experience. From its wild mountain plateau to woodland that is slowly returning to life, Creag Meagaidh feels like the Highlands compressed into one reserve. The dramatic scenery here includes Munro summits, an exposed whaleback ridge and ice-carved gullies. Look out for black grouse, golden eagles and red deer. Foxes, pine martens, badgers and otters are all found here too.
If walking in the mountains in winter it is important to be prepared, with appropriate equipment. For more info on staying safe visit Walking Highlands, and see the NNR website for further information.