Where to spot wildlife in Scotland’s forests
Image: Will Bolding / Unsplash
With spring and the Easter holidays just around the corner, now's the perfect time to start planning your trip to Scotland's best loved wild places. Recently, we've looked at kids activities on a budget, the perfect pit-stops for those long car journeys, and even picked our favourite chilled-out forest trails for a bit of 'forest bathing.' This time, we've selected our ten best destinations for animal lovers to catch a glimpse of the fascinating creatures who call our forests home.
Many of our destinations are equipped with specially-designed nature hides, perfect for getting the best view of the local fauna. In them, and on our trails, you'll find information panels, or in some spots even guided tours, with knowledgeable staff on hand to help you make the most of your time in the woods. Whether you're after a quiet day of watching wildlife in one of our six Forest Parks, or a trip to somewhere rugged and adventurous to spot rare species, we've got all the tips you'll need.
1. Wild Watch hides, Kirroughtree, near Newton Stewart & The Lodge, Aberfoyle
Image: Jan Meeus / Unsplash
Wildlife hides are one of the best ways to get up close to the forest’s inhabitants without disturbing them. We’ve created our hides in prime positions for wildlife spotting, and many contain information panels and spotters' guides to help you identify the local species. All you have to do is sit quietly and keep your eyes peeled for any visitors.
The Wild Watch hide at Kirroughtree is only a short walk from the visitor centre. At this peaceful hide you can see red squirrels, woodland birds and, if you’re really lucky, perhaps a graceful roe deer gently picking its way through the forest. A beautiful spot to while away an hour or two - hopefully your patience will be rewarded. There's even a live feed from the hide, which you can watch from home.
Head to the Trossachs, and you’ll find another Wild Watch hide at The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre, right beside Aberfoyle. There’s more wonderful wildlife to spot here, including water voles, red squirrels and even the famous local ospreys...
2. Kylerhea Otter Hide, Isle of Skye
Image: Ryan Grewell / Unsplash
One of Scotland's most beloved tourist destinations, the Isle of Skye is packed with breathtaking scenery, and opportunities for everything from bracing mountain hikes to gentle walks. It's also the perfect place to spend an afternoon looking out for the playful otters who live around Kylrehea.
The specially-designed nature hide is right by the place where they swim, play, hunt and raise their pups. Keep an eye out for other marine animals too – there’s a good chance of seeing seals and porpoises here as well. Our Marine Mammal Trail is packed with fun facts, and leads straight to the hide.
3. Red Deer Range, near Talnotry
In the lush, green surrounds of Galloway Forest Park you’ll find the Red Deer Range, home to an established herd of 60 or so of these majestic creatures. Scotland’s largest species of land mammal, the Red deer population in Scotland has boomed since the park was set up in 1977, but they remain a protected species to this day. Throughout April to September, Ranger-led visits to the park begin at midday, with our experts on hand to answer all of your questions.
There's plenty of other wildlife to spot in Galloway too, and with a special nature hide in place at the deer park, it's worth keeping a sharp eye out for red squirrels in particular. A return visit later in the year is also a must if you want to see cute, new-born deer in the summer, or hear the impressive bellow of a stag in rut when you visit in the Autumn.
4. Wild Goat Park, near Newton Stewart
The goat park is a brilliant place to visit with the family. These curious creatures are very friendly - just please don't feed them! They are omnivores, which means they will eat almost anything, even if it's bad for them.
The herd who live here in the Galloway Forest Park have been in the area for nearly 50 years, with generation after generation of wild goats calling the forest their home. 50 British Primitive Goats live in the Park, with several hundred more roaming the hills.
5. Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide, Loch Sunart, near Fort William
Image: Yu Wang / Unsplash
The superb Loch Sunart views alone make this spot an essential destination, but the main attraction is watching out for the local wildlife. You'll see everything from common seals basking on the shore, to herons and other sea birds.
There are binoculars and a telescope at the hide, perfect for catching a glimpse of otters and even rare pine martens. Golden eagles and white tailed eagles have also been spotted here on occasion, making it a popular spot for birdwatching. The nature hide, built by local people using locally grown and milled wood, is a sight to behold in itself.
6. Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve, Loch Arkaig, near Fort William
Image: James Wheeler / Unsplash
Loch Arkaig is a little out of the way, hidden in the wilds of Inverness near Fort William. A tranquil loch, surrounded by quiet woodlands and with majestic views of the surrounding hills, it's worth a visit for the charming waterfall at Chia-aig alone.
7. The Barnluasgan Beavers, Knapdale Forest, near Lochgilphead
There are path works in progress at this destination at the moment, so if you're planning a visit, it's best to aim for later on in the year - the works are due to end in April. Check the page for the latest updates before travelling. Nonetheless, we had to include beautiful Barnluasgan in this list - it's the best place around to catch a glimpse of one of Scotland’s reintroduced beavers, with a building on site containing beaver facts and trail guides.
Plan to arrive near dusk or dawn, when the busy critters are hard at work felling trees or creating dams. They’re here thanks to a ground-breaking conservation project called the Scottish Beaver Trial, which has examined how beavers enhance and restore natural environments.
8. The Tweed Valley Osprey Project, Glentress
The Tweed valley Osprey Project kicked off in late nineties when we erected artificial nest platforms in secret locations to help conserve the bird population, and today the birds have a huge following. We’ve teamed up with Kailzie Gardens to run two watch centres - the second being at Glentress - so that future generations can learn about these fascinating birds. Each year, we work closely with the RSPB to conserve species that are in decline, rare or protected – such as the golden eagle, white-tailed eagle and osprey.
Our Tweed Valley Osprey project blog tells the story of the project - very soon we'll be back to posting updates about the birds' migratory flight paths on their journey back to Scotland to nest, and later in the year, keeping a close eye on any chicks born. There were two born last year at Glentress, and we can't wait to find out what they've been up to on their travels. The live feed from the Glentress nest is definitely worth a watch if you can't make the trip in person! There's nothing much going on at the moment, but check back in April or May.
9. More places to spot Ospreys: Loch Morlich, Glen Affric, Aberfoyle, and the Carron Valley
One of our staff tagging a young Osprey chick
Ospreys are migratory birds who tend to return to where they were hatched in order to nest. While both Aberfoyle and the Tweed Valley are all popular places to see the much loved avian, they do frequently nest elsewhere, so keep an eye on the skies when visiting these other destinations.
Last year, the nest at Aberfoyle was unfortunately left empty, but you never know who might show up... We also sometimes recruit a few volunteers to help with the tagging and ringing of ospreys at our various centres - visit our Volunteers page to find out more.
10. Mull Eagle Watch, Isle of Mull
Image: Mull Eagle Watch
On the rugged Isle of Mull, you can follow the adventures of some very special white-tailed eagles, another protected species. Visitors can join the knowledgeable rangers for a magical trip into the forest, where you can see these majestic birds, once extinct in Britain. The best time to visit is between April and September, while they tend to their offspring throughout the spring and summer months.
Want to see more birds and beasties? Explore our Wildlife pages!