Weird and wonderful wildlife

17 May 2018

scottish wildcat

Scottish Wildcat by Marc Evans via CC

Scotland is a paradise for nature lovers, without going out of your way it is not unusual to be able to see seals, dolphins, deer, otters, badgers and pine martens. What many people do not know however is that Scotland is also home to a wide range of more exotic species which with a bit of effort and a spot of luck you may also be able to observe while on holiday.

Scottish wildcats are extremely rare with less than 100 remaining in the wild so if you see one in its natural environment then you are fortunate indeed. Often referred to as The Tiger of the Highlands, interbreeding with domestic cats has reduced their numbers considerably and prompted a breeding programme to reintroduce more into the wild. There are very few holiday cottages that permit taking your cat with you so if you are missing your feline friend on holiday then you could visit the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie for a glimpse. Don’t be fooled by their cute appearance, these are no house pets and if you visit at feeding time you can see their wild side. On the back of their notoriety, Newtonmore now has a Wildcat Experience and walk where children can attempt to find all the hidden wildcat statues around the village. Clach Beag is a short drive away and has the benefit of being in the middle of a forest. Here the owners have built what they call “The Nest”, a bird feeding area where you can view a vast variety of birds and local wildlife such as red squirrels, badgers and pine martens.

Unlike the Wildcat, wallabies are not exactly native to Scotland. A feral colony has however been happily surviving on an island on Loch Lomond since their introduction by an eccentric aristocrat in the 1940s. Inchconnachan Island, otherwise uninhabited, is now home to over 100 of these marsupials which look like miniature kangaroos and are best spotted at either dawn or dusk. This is one of the only places in the world outside Australia with a viable population in the wild, the relative remoteness of the island protecting them as well as ensuring minimal conflicts with indigenous species. You can visit the island by kayak, by hiring a boat or by organised tour. The Old Farmhouse has stunning views over Loch Lomond and is a brilliant place to launch your own boat as well as being close to the rest of the attractions of Scotland’s most popular national park.

Basking sharks have a bit of a fearsome reputation, maybe because of films like Jaws, people just assume that all sharks are bloodthirsty killers but the reality is that they are more like gentle giants. In fact the only recorded British fatality was when a breeching shark capsized a small boat in the 1930s. The Inner Hebrides is a global hotspot for these magnificent migratory creatures and it is perfectly safe to get in the water and up close. Basking Shark Scotland offer day trips from Oban which include the opportunity to swim, snorkel or kayak with them. Multi day trips which focus on underwater photography or diving can boast an impressive success rate of 100% for sightings. Rhunacairn, just north of Oban looks out over Loch Etive and is a picturesque spot to retire to afterwards and a great base for all manner of aquatic west coast adventures.

Building on the success of the original West Highlands Snorkel Trail launched by the Scottish wildlife trust in 2016, a new trail has just been created in North Harris. The trail features six sites including Hushinish, Seilamol Bay and Port Rheinigidale which are all featured on a free guide that also has maps and information on tides, safety, access and what you are likely to see under the waves. Unbeknown to many, there is a whole world of spectacular and colourful creatures to discover from the lesser spotted dogfish to sunstars, urchins and anemones. Generally speaking you should not remove anything you see but if you were to spot a lobster that would be considered fair game for the pot. Tamana Cottage is situated beside the coast at Govig right in between of two of the spots on the trail and has a hot tub if you just can’t get enough of the feeling of water on your skin.

Now what of the strangest and most elusive animal that lives in Scotland? There is not really much we can say about Nessie other than that even if the search is fruitless few people leave disappointed. Consider it a bit like going fishing when you can still have a brilliant day out without actually catching anything and remember, any time spent around Loch Ness is never wasted. Glen View Lodge is just a few miles away right in the heart of this most scenic part of the country and is well placed for excursions to the Highlands as well as boat trips on the loch.