Scottish Natural Heritage has teamed up with its sister nature conservation agencies in the UK – Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Natural England – to recommend where to see nature at its most splendid this autumn.
Usually we concentrate on Scottish elements in our blog, but as we enter the season when people traditionally travel to visit family and friends, we thought you might enjoy some suggestions for when you are away from home.
National Nature Reserves (NNRs) showcase some of Britain’s finest wildlife and geology. In Scotland there 47 NNRs looked after by Scottish Natural Heritage and partner organisations. These form part of a UK-wide network which is at the forefront of helping people to enjoy the amazing diversity of wildlife that can be found across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Loch Leven: Brimming with wildlife and history, Loch Leven is the largest natural shallow water body in lowland Scotland. Thousands of moulting birds, mainly swans and ducks gather in the safe haven of Loch Leven each autumn. Around ten per cent of the world’s pink-footed geese arrive in autumn – come early in the morning to see huge flocks heading off to feed or in the evening when they return to roost. Explore Loch Leven on foot or bike round the Heritage trail or visit one of the many hides for excellent wildlife viewing.
Clyde Valley Woodlands: Scotland’s oldest and richest forest lies hidden in the dramatic gorges of the Clyde Valley. Since the last Ice Age, rivers have gouged deep clefts in the soft sandstone: woods of oak, ash, rowan and hazel have been growing here since the ice melted away. Explore the woodlands by walking along the valley floor by the tumbling Falls of Clyde, look down into the tree covered gorges of Nethan Gorge, Cartland Crags or Cleghorn Glen, or visit the ancient Cadzow oaks near Chatelherault: gnarled, twisted trees up to 800 years old.
Glen Affric: Glen Affric, in the Scottish Highlands, is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. Come and explore this unique landscape of lochs, mountains and Caledonian forest – a wonderful mix of pine, birch and oak. Glen Affric is golden brown in autumn with the ochres, oranges and yellows of the birch and aspen leaves. Fungi, like huge penny-buns and bright red fly-agarics appear like magic overnight in the damp woodlands. Look for brown bracket fungus on trees, golden chanterelles and grey-green old man’s beard draped from the branches. From scenic drives or short woodland walks, to full mountain days, there are lots of options for exploring this fantastic place.
There are nature reserves across the United Kingdom, we’re sure you would enjoy some of the following:-
The Lizard: The rugged landscape of this Cornish reserve includes heathland and coastal grassland as well as stunning cliffs and sandy beaches which are just crying out to be explored on a blustery day. See the majesty of the most southerly point in England and blow the cobwebs away as you partake in a bit of sea watching, where you might be lucky enough to see seabirds such as great skuas and sooty shearwaters as they whizz over the waves.
Derbyshire Dales: The five superb limestone valleys that make up this reserve in the East Midlands contain a multitude of wildlife, geological and archaeological features, including former lead mining buildings. At this time of year the ancient woodlands in the lower part of Lathkill Dale show off their autumn colours and offer a great place for a fungi foray. With the return of wetter weather, the river magically starts to surface again from deep underground.
Teesmouth: Set against a backdrop of heavy industry, this is a nature reserve with a difference. Towards the end of autumn there is an influx of over 20,000 waterbirds to this North Eastern estuary, including swirling flocks of knot from Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, coming to feed on the mudflats, showing how nature can adapt and thrive in the most unlikely situations. Cormorant, curlew and redshank all arrive in large numbers during the autumn, and several hundred handsome, brightly coloured shelduck spend the winter on Seal Sands.
Ness and Ervey Woods: Ness and Ervey Woods in Ness Country Park comprise of mixed oak, ash and beech woodland, currently in the glorious hues of autumn. The reserve features a number of winding paths on the steep valley slopes of the Burntollet River as it cuts through a gorge, at one point plunging down the spectacular Ness waterfall. The site offers autumnal opportunities to view native woodland birds and red squirrels along with a wide variety of mosses, liverworts, ferns, woodland fungi and lichens, all the while affording a peaceful ambience to connect with nature.
Quoile Pondage: A tidal barrier constructed in 1957 across the Quoile Estuary as a flood control measure resulted in the creation of the Quoile Pondage Basin. Former foreshore has been colonised by terrestrial and freshwater vegetation and is now a picturesque, wildlife-rich wetland with a diverse range of habitats including woodland, swamps, fens, grasslands and open river with brackish qualities. Take a stroll along the riverside paths listening to birdsong and watch for otters or a flash of turquoise as a kingfisher speeds over the water, and enjoy the scenery at one of several picnic areas. The comfortable bird-watching hide at Castle Island affords close-up views of waders, ducks and swans.
Marble Arch Forest: This reserve is part of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and takes its name from a polished limestone arch, once thought to be marble, which was left when the rest of the roof of a water-worn cave collapsed. Take a walk beside the Cladagh river as it tumbles over waterfalls and cascades through the scenic Glen. Clinging to the sides of the gorge is ancient ash woodland, a stunning autumnal backdrop to watch for dippers and otters hunting in the river and red squirrels or maybe even a pine marten in the trees. Trees and rock surfaces are carpeted with mosses, liverwort, lichens and ferns and the woodland floor hosts an abundance of fungi.
Coedydd Aber: Take a walk through the woodlands up to the spectacular waterfall at Coedydd Aber, mid-way between Bangor and Llanfairfechan. Look out for the gnarled crab apple trees near the entrance and, further on, the old rowan trees full of bright red berries. All around the reserve, the hillsides are covered with heath and bracken, displaying their glorious autumn colours, while ravens soar above the waterfall.
Dinefwr: The woodland at Dinefwr, near Llandeilo, surrounds an old castle perched on a steep hillside and it is home to some of the oldest groups of trees in Britain. See how many different shades of autumn you can count amongst the leaves which bring a real splash of seasonal colour to this ancient site. Look out for a fascinating variety of fungi and try to spot the jays burying acorns in time for winter.
Newport Wetlands: This reserve is one of the best sites to see wild birds in Britain and during autumn, waders and wildfowl start to arrive in their thousands to spend winter here. Visit at dusk and experience the sound of birds calling as they settle down to roost on the grassland surrounding the lagoons.