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50 years of Loch of the Lowes

Logo: Scottish Wildlife Trust

By Cherry Bowen, Visitor Centre Assistant, Scottish Wildlife Trust

Loch of the Lowes © Scottish Wildlife Trust
Loch of the Lowes © Scottish Wildlife Trust

It was back in May 1969, two months before Neil Armstrong took his historic first steps on the moon, that the Scottish Wildlife Trust purchased the stunning 130 acres of scenic, wildlife-rich countryside in Highland Perthshire that make up Loch of the Lowes.

Today, Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre and Wildlife Reserve is visited by tens of thousands of people every year, who come to see ospreys, red squirrels, beavers and much more.

From the charity’s inception in 1964, the Scottish Wildlife Trust engaged in managing or partially owning several other reserves, of which there are now 120 across Scotland. However, Lowes was the Trust’s first outright purchase. 

It’s easy to see the attraction. Loch of the Lowes is a very peace fulreserve located in a beautiful Highland Perthshire glen, surrounded by hills where roe and fallow deer roam. Pine marten furtively stalk their prey and the woods ring with birdsong and the drumming of woodpeckers.

Great spotted woodpecker © Phil Hannah
Great spotted woodpecker © Phil Hannah

The freshwater loch is home to many species of fish and waterfowl, including dramatic great crested grebe who nest amongst the waterlilies. Damselflies and dragonflies, butterflies and a host of insect life abound, and a variety of woodland birds - most recently, nuthatch - come to our long established feeding station. This is a wonderful education opportunity for all ages and visitors spend hours watching the stationfrom the comfort of our viewing window.Scotland’s iconic, tufty-eared red squirrels are undoubtedly the stars of the show around the woods and at the feeding station! There are more than seven individuals who use the area so it is never long before at least one (and sometimes up to four or five!) makes an appearance just a few feet away!

Thanks to its webcam, Loch of the Lowes is famous around the world for nesting ospreys. However, back in May 1969 there were no ospreys at Lowes and only four known osprey sites in the UK (all in Scotland). Happily, within weeks of the Scottish Wildlife Trust taking ownership, a pair of ospreys arrived! This was the start of an incredible 50 years of osprey nesting in the mighty Scots pines that fringe the loch.

Ospreys only returned from extinction in the UK in 1954. 50 years ago they were incredibly rare and had (as they still have) the highest legal protection. Originally, our volunteers braved the elements to ensure the birds were safe. They camped out in tents, then a caravan, and eventually a hut was built.

Red Squirrel © Michelle Branson
Red Squirrel © Michelle Branson

This hut became a visitor centre and, as news spread, visitors were queuing up to see the antics on the nest from a very basic (costing £250) hide constructed in a tree. In 1974, we had over 61,000 visitors!

The visitor centre has grown over time to accommodate public demand. It now provides a shop, light refreshments and office space for our staff. Our double decker hide on the loch side and crannog hide on the water allow views of water birds, beavers, otters and sometimes dramatic close-ups of ospreys plunging into the water to catch fish.

Our original volunteers would be envious of the current Eco Bothy that serves as accommodation seasonal staff and volunteers. This is very useful during our eight week Osprey Watch when staff numbers double and more than 40 volunteers take turns to monitor the nest.

Thankfully the majority of disturbances that take place are not malicious. But we are always alert to the danger of egg thieves. In 1991, repeated attempted thefts and disturbance to the breeding pair led to the 92nd Gordon Highlanders regiment being drafted in to protect the osprey nest!

Over the past 50 years, an amazing 80 juvenile osprey have fledged from the nest at Loch of the Lowes and headed south on migration.

Ospreys on the Lowes webcam © Scottish Wildlife Trust
Ospreys on the Lowes webcam © Scottish Wildlife Trust

Our osprey satellite tracking project (carried out from 2012-2015) showed tagged juveniles flying to Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau in West Africa. Several ringed chicks have paid visits back to their natal nest. In May this year one of our current female’s chicks from 2017, ringed PH1, briefly landed on the nest – causing great excitement!

Maintaining a high quality 4-star visitor attraction delivering public and educational events, and carrying out conservation work is undertaken by core staff consisting of two close knit teams made up of rangers and visitor centre staff. In the high season, from March to September, these teams more than double.

No day is the same at Loch of the Lowes which makes it a highly enjoyable, satisfying workplace in one of the most picturesque areas of Scotland. We are all looking forward to seeing what the next 50 years has in store!

The Scottish Wildlife Trust is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Loch of the Lowes reserve with events including an open weekend on 3 & 4 August. Activities include a heritage trail, event timeline and a talk from a long-term volunteer.

Find out more at scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/events

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