2019 was a spectacular year for Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH’s) nature reserves, including the first-ever black grouse displaying at Beinn Eighe; a flowering of aspen trees at Muir of Dinnet for the first time in almost 25 years; a fifth record-breaking year for visitors to the Isle of May; and 300,000 walkers, cyclists and runners flocking to Loch Leven.
Black grouse are an endangered species, so their first-time appearance at Beinn Eighe - Scotland’s oldest national nature reserve - this spring was a significant sign of how the species is faring in the area. The male birds put on a flamboyant display to attract female birds, showing off their tail fans, jumping and dancing. The dance can often turn violent, with male grouse pecking and kicking each other.
The year got off to a remarkable start at Muir of Dinnet in early March with the flowering of aspen trees –the first time since 1996 for a large-scale aspen flowering in Scotland. Aspen rarely flower because of their tendency to reproduce asexually sending up shoots from their own roots, and creating ‘clone trees’.
Aspen woods are quite rare in Scotland, and where they’re found, other rare species, such as aspen bristle moss or large poplar longhorn beetle, tend to thrive, making for an incredibly nature-rich habitat. Lying within Cairngorms National Park, the reserve is a mosaic of wetlands, woods and moors.
Another highlight was an impressive 14,000 visitors braving the boat trip across to the Isle of May this year, making 2019 the fifth year in a row that visitor numbers have increased. Anchored on the edge of the Firth of Forth, the Isle of May is a magical mix of seabirds, seals and tales of smugglers past. Nesting seabirds throng the cliffs in late spring and summer – a noisy spectacle from the clifftop path. The island is also home to the much-loved puffin.