The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice this is actually May’s blog and it is now June! Well that’s because I’ve once again been holidaying in Scotland - enjoying the sights and sounds of our spectacular country. This time, I visited Assynt in the North West Highlands for a week to spend some time in the outdoors. The weather was perfect for cycling and climbing and exploring much of what the area has to offer. One of the huge benefits of the Highlands, for me, is the vast space for wildlife to roam free. I have a mental checklist of animals I want to see when I visit somewhere. This time I managed to spot a few, but only by coincidence.
I would never claim to be a wildlife or conservation expert (or an expert in anything of any merit, for that matter) and as such I’m awful at trying to spot animals.
Never have I seen a pinemarten, I went to Mull and didn’t see a sea eagle and none of my shore-based spotting has yielded a whale breach or basking shark. I only ever see wildlife when it jumps out at me. Some examples from recent expeditions: an otter resting on a road at 6am after I caught the first ferry from the Isle of Bute to Colintraive on the Cowal Penninsula; a slow worm on a mountain bike trail which made me yelp like a small child; a common lizard when I was out road cycling, a sparrowhawk dive-bombing a pigeon in my garden whilst I was mowing and an osprey swooping over my car, which, had I not been travelling at the 30mph speed limit, may have caused me to meet an untimely and watery end in Loch Broom.
Sparrowhawk in my garden
With that in mind, I was ever so pleased to see this month that the National Trust for Scotland has backed the reintroduction of beaver. Hunted to extinction in Scotland some 400 years ago, they have been sorely missed in our rivers. Thanks to an official trial in the Knapdale Forest in Argyll, and some not so official ‘escapees’ in Tayside, the beaver population is beginning to prosper again with the hope that they will soon be fully reintroduced in rivers that can support them. The Trust's statement comes in advance of Scottish Natural Heritage submitting its report on beaver reintroduction trials to the Scottish Government.
Reintroducing species to its native land is often a contentious issue with many differing opinions from public bodies, charities, conservation groups and private landowners.
Recently a charity, Lynx Trust UK, have set out plans for the reintroduction of Lynx. A native Scottish species, it was wiped out by hunting (there’s a theme here…) in 700 AD. It’s an ambush predator so doesn’t stalk its prey and stays hidden in woods – so another species I’m unlikely to ever spot!
One of the most successful species reintroductions to Scotland has been that of the white-tailed sea eagle. A study from 2011 found that the eagles are worth more than £5 million a year to the local economy and support around 110 full-time jobs on the Isle of Mull alone, demonstrating that tourism really is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy – supporting communities and creating jobs in every corner of the country.
Some charities, conservationists and rewilders would like to see more species reintroduced - perhaps wolves, elk and boar. Whilst landowners, farmers and those living in areas that these animals would inhabit and impact are more questioning of them.
Later this month, another charity called Rewilding Britain will launch their plan to see more of Britain supporting natural processes and keystone species.
Whilst it should be stated that no public body has given its support for a reintroduction and that attempting to introduce an apex predator such as lynx would be a very long process indeed, I personally am pleased to see this conversation developing around rewilding, or the process of returning our countryside to its natural state.
For now, Scottish Natural Heritage tells us that wildlife tourism is worth around £127 million a year to the economy! So why not capitalise on this as the season kicks off with longer and warmer days and an abundance of wildlife to be seen (if you’re luckier than me) by checking out Scotland’s Big Five and the resources available to help visitors see them? VisitScotland helped promote this together in the Year of Natural Scotland 2013 with Scottish Natural Heritage. Voted for by the public, it features the top 5 species to be seen in Scotland.
You can also take a look at information available on visitscotland.org to find out more about nature based tourism or check out the Wildlife Tourism in Scotland Tourism Intelligence in Scotland guide for hints and tips on how you can make the most of this market and attract more visitors.
So back to Assynt. Before travelling there and doing some research I found this stunning video by North Colour films of one of my favourite mountains – Suilven. I climbed it whilst I was there, cycling along the rocky and boggy ‘track’ to the foot and scrambling up the north face, letting my slight touch of vertigo settle at the top to take in the majestic views. Whilst my images were ideal for Instagram and Twitter, this video is made for the big screen so blow it up and indulge in 15 minutes of beautiful Scottish landscape. Enjoy...