Wildlife attractions in the Highlands

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  • View towards the Cairngorms near Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park
    Looking towards the Cairngorms near Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park
  • Seals basking on the edge of Loch Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
    Seals on the edge of Loch Dunvegan, Isle of Skye

The Scottish Highlands are some of the wildest parts of the UK and are home to many amazing animals, birds and plants, including some of Britain's rarest.

Happily, conservation and careful management by agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB are high priorities here and there are plenty of nature reserves and other attractions that allow good access to this abundant wildlife.

Cairngorm National Park

The Cairngorm National Park is a particular hotspot for wildlife, being home to a quarter of Britain's endangered species. 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. Don't miss a visit to the Loch Garten visitor centre near Boat of Garten to see an osprey eyrie or to join a dawn watch for capercaillie in early summer.

Sitting in the magnificent setting of the Cairngorms National Park, the Highland Wildlife Park’s animal collection covers Scottish wildlife and the endangered species of the world’s mountainous regions. There's a drive-through reserve, daily Land Rover tours of the main reserve plus  a great walk-around section including a fascinating wolf enclosure. Among the hundreds of residents in this wonderful Highland setting you’ll glimpse European bison, red deer, Bukhara deer, elk, Przewalski’s horses and hordes of wild birds. You’ll also meet Amur tigers, Scottish wildcats, European wolves, red pandas, Arctic foxes, Japanese snow monkeys and Walker the polar bear.

Loch Ness and surrounding area

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 while red deer, golden eagles and peregrines range the hills here. 

Caithness and Sutherland

Inland in Caithness and Sutherland, the largest blanket bogs in the world soften much of the landscape. The 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.

The area has plenty of rocky coastline to explore as well, such as the Rubha Reidh Lighthouse, from where visitors commonly see minke whales offshore in the high summer, and occasionally inshore later in the season.

Inner Hebrides

The Inner Hebrides are a true haven for wildlife.

There is no better place than the Isle of Rum to spot manx shearwaters and more than a third of the world’s population of them can be found on the island.

This corner of Scotland also seems to attract the highly protected basking sharks each summer, particularly the waters surrounding Isle of Canna and Rum.

But if you’re after the delightful puffin then head to Canna’s smaller neighbour, the Isle of Sanday which is abundant with those entertaining birds. With their fat bodies and colourful beaks, puffins are a real attraction to visitors in the Highlands and the coast around John O’Groats, Durness and Sutherland in the Northern Highlands is another great area to witness these amazing birds.

The waters surrounding Kyleakin on the east coast of Isle of Skye provide shelter to the shy otters, and the majestic eagles are also regularly spotted soaring high over the island.

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  1. Ailnack Gorge

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    Tomintoul

    At 600 ft wide, 300 ft deep and 6 miles long, the Ailnack Gorge is Scotland's largest glacial melt water channel.

  2. Glenmore

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    Aviemore and the Cairngorms

    Glenmore is a National Nature Reserve run by Forestry Commission Scotland and encompasses Glenmore Forest Park.

  3. Shian Wood

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    East Lochaber

    Shian Wood is an ancient semi-natural woodland typical of the Atlantic coast of Scotland

  4. The Flows

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    Melvich

    The Flows is a peat bog and National Nature Reserve managed by the RSPB.

  5. Glen Roy

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    Glen Spean and the Great Glen area

    Glen Roy is a National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage.

  6. Skye Serpentarium Reptile World

    Type

    Wildlife, Safari Parks & Zoos

    Gradings

    Broadford

    Skye Serpentarium Reptile World is an award-winning reptile exhibition and breeding centre.

  7. Cairngorms National Park

    Type

    National Parks

    Gradings

    Aviemore and the Cairngorms

    The Cairngorms National Park is a living, working landscape with wild land at its heart.

  8. Ariundle Oakwood

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    Ardnamurchan

    Ariundle Oakwood is an ancient mossy oakwood, typical of the woodlands which were once widespread along the Atlantic coast.

  9. Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserve

    Type

    Nature Centres & Reserves

    Gradings

    Garve

    Ben Wyvis is a mountain designated as a National Nature Reserve.

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