Finding wildlife in Highlands

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Year of Natural Scotland 2013
Year of Natural Scotland 2013

Celebrate Scotland's natural beauty throughout 2013

Download your FREE guide to the North Highlands for 2015
E-brochures ››

Download a brochure for more on the Highlands, Cairngorms National Park, Speyside and the Moray Coast.

  • A woman photographing a dolphin breaking water on a boat trip on the Moray Firth
    A dolphin breaking water on the Moray Firth
  • Dolphins in the Moray Firth
    Dolphins in the Moray Firth
  • Looking across Glen Affric
    Glen Affric
  • The golden eagle - one of Scotland's largest birds of prey
    The golden eagle - one of Scotland's largest birds of prey
  • A red deer stag in Glen Coe
    A red deer stag in Glen Coe

Scotland’s Highlands offer inexhaustible opportunities to be out in nature and spy some wildlife along the way. There are thousands of miles of dramatic coastlines, sculpted by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream. As well as islands, cliffs and lochs, the Highlands are home to the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. To explore and discover some amazing rare wildlife, take to a boat, navigate trails or follow a ranger to make the most of your experience.

The Highlands are some of the wildest parts of Britain. Many amazing animals, birds and plants live here, including some of Britain's rarest.

Bird life     

Glenmore Forest Park, and nearby Rothiemurchus, beside Aviemore, have extensive networks of trails through stands of old pine and out across heaths. Both have ranger services, guided walks programmes and visitor centres. Scottish crossbills, crested tits and ospreys breed and feed in the area, as do pine martens and red squirrels. Or visit the Loch Garten RSPB visitor centre near Boat of Garten to see nesting ospreys or to join a dawn watch for capercaillies in early summer.

Beside Loch Ness at Abriachan, there are trails in oak, birch and conifer woodland, including an intriguing boardwalk through a conifer plantation to a loch (good for dragonflies) and hide. West of Loch Ness, colour-coded routes run through the native pinewoods at beautiful Glen Affric. Scottish crossbill, redstart and tree pipit use the woods for shelter while red deer, golden eagles and peregrines roam the hills here.

Boat trips

Around the inner Moray Firth, many different operators offer boat trips to see some of the area's famous resident bottlenose dolphins. To ensure maximum enjoyment, and the welfare of the dolphins, choose a member of the Dolphin Space Programme for your excursion. Or try a shore-watch for the creatures from Chanonry Point near Fortrose or North or South Kessock near Inverness. In the west, the Isle of Skye is an equally popular location for cetacean spotting.

Other boat companies cover large stetches of the west Highlands (such as Lochaber, Ardnamurchan and Wester Ross) - good for seals, otters and sea ducks among the dramatic coastal scenery. An island boardwalk on Handa, near Tarbet, north of Scourie, leads to views of Britain's largest guillemot colony, plus puffins, razorbills, greatand Arctic skuas.

The north

Inland in Caithness and Sutherland, the largest blanket bogs in the world soften much of the landscape. The RSPB centre at Forsinard Station is a good place to get a taste of this 'Flow Country' and some tips on wider bog rambling possibilities. Greenshank, golden plover, dunlin and black-throated divers are among the star birds of the Flows.

There is a small visitor centre with ranger service at Dunnet Bay between Thurso and John o'Groats, where Caithness overlooks the Pentland Firth. Summer flowers on Dunnet Links include orchids and Scots primrose.

Find more information on Scotland’s wildlife, including invaluable tips for spotting and for booking wildlife holidays and tours, visit the Wild Scotland website.