Forvie NNR – the first 60 years

Forvie has long been a special place. Back when people started to settle near the mouth of the river Ythan at the end of the ice age, it was a place rich in wildlife – or food as it would have been considered in those days. For the past 60 years now Forvie has been a National Nature Reserve.  David Pickett, the reserve’s manager, takes a look back at what Forvie NNR has achieved in that time and how it has contributed to conservation across Scotland.


When the series of National Nature Reserves was being set-up in post-war Britain, with Beinn Eighe the first in 1951, Forvie was one of the sites identified as being special, for its vegetation and especially its tern colony.

Even before its declaration as an NNR in 1959, Forvie’s wildlife had attracted naturalists and researchers. One such researcher, Alistair Smith, was already busy during the 1950s furthering our knowledge of terns, through monitoring and ringing at Forvie. Now in his 90’s, Alistair visited the ternary at Forvie just 18 months ago, to see how it was doing and give some pointers to the Grampian Ringing Group who have taken on his trail-blazing work.

The long-term ringing project on the NNR has established that the Forvie ternary is one of the most important breeding sites for arctic and sandwich terns, as well as being a vital stopover for terns across the North Sea in spring and autumn. Monitoring work continues now with a plastic ring attached to the tern’s leg, each with a unique code and colour combination.  Each year sightings of Forvie birds up and down the Atlantic bring new stories to light and give little insights into the lives of these iconic birds.

The development of the NNR, around the same time as the University of Aberdeen Culterty Field Station at Newburgh, led to Forvie becoming a huge outdoor laboratory extension to the teaching and study facilities of the university. Looking back through the annual reports there is a staggering list of research projects that have been carried out across the reserve. From Honours projects to PhD’s and postdocs, it seems that every aspect of Forvie’ s abundant natural history has been looked at, and much that we understand of estuaries, eiders, grouse moors and dunes has come from research carried out at Forvie. This means vast numbers of students have cut their teeth on Forvie. When meeting people through the environment sector it is amazing how many have spent some of their formative years working or studying at Forvie and they all have a life-long affection for the site.

When the Nature Conservancy (as SNH was at that time) first declared Forvie as an NNR, Mike Matthews was the first full time member of staff to look after it. The fact that he also managed St Cyrus and Muir of Dinnet and still managed to have a guiding influence over all 3 embryonic reserves is a measure of his energy and dynamism. In the late 1970’s, the legendary Bob Davis became the warden at Forvie. As long-standing warden through the 80’s and into the 90’s he was a pioneer in developing a love of the natural world in young people, and he built-up a trail-blazing education programme at Forvie, working with schools across the North-East of Scotland.

During the evolution of nature reserves Forvie has been at the forefront of developing ways in which nature reserves are linked to the surrounding communities. In the 1970’s the Forvie panel was set up with representatives from nearby villages, user groups such as wildfowlers, and other conservation organisations. One of the first examples in the country, the panel enabled local people to be at the heart of guiding the management of the reserve in a way that makes the reserve relevant to local people. This is a model applied across the country now.

And what for the next 60 years? In an over-crowded world that has a changing climate, declining biodiversity and rising seas, we hope that Forvie can continue to be home to a successful tern colony; be a safe haven for resting seals; a nature reserve loved by local people and visitors; and somewhere that enlightens people, inspiring them to positive action.

Grey seal haul-out at Forvie National Nature Reserve, ©Lorne Gill/SNH

You can follow life at Forvie NNR via the reserve’s 60th Anniversary blog.

For further info about Forve, including information for visitors, see www.Nature.Scot.

All photos ©SNH.

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