SCOTLAND’S NATIONAL nature reserves thrived over 2019 according to Scottish Natural Heritage, which reported a 'year of firsts' for certain wildlife species.

In the spring, black grouse made their first ever appearance at Scotland's oldest national nature reserve, Beinn Eighe, which was welcome given their endangered status.

In early March, a flowering of aspen trees at Muir of Dinnet was spotted for the first time in almost 25 years, and their presence has also supported other rare species such as aspen bristle moss and the large poplar longhorn beetle, making for an incredibly nature-rich habitat.

At Forvie, the UK’s oldest ever arctic tern was found: first ringed as a chick at Buddon Ness in Angus, the tern was discovered at the SNH nature reserve in Aberdeenshire and found to be 32 years old, almost to the day. An average tern lives for only about 13 years.

There was also good news from the Isle of Noss, where 13,765 pairs of gannets were counted in 2019, a 17% increase since the last count in 2014. The towering 180 metre sea cliffs of Noss are filled with gannets, guillemots, fulmars and kittiwakes in every available nook over the summer.

SNH also said that 2019 had been 'fantastic' for wildlife tourism, with figures showing a fifth record-breaking year for visitors to the Isle of May, with 14,000 or so making the boat journey to capture a glimpse of seals and seabirds.

Loch Leven saw a whopping 300,000 walkers, cyclists, runners and birdwatchers visiting the nature reserve, which is one of the most important sites for waterfowl in Britain, with not only the largest concentration of breeding ducks anywhere in the UK, but many thousands of migratory ducks, geese and swans also making it their home every autumn and winter.

SNH’s Head of Nature Reserves, Stuart MacQuarrie, said: “Scotland’s national nature reserves are special places for wildlife. But they are also wonderful spots to visit, enjoy a spectacular view and catch sight of an elusive otter or amazing eagle. Making sure our nature is thriving is also part of the solution to the climate emergency. Our nature reserves are key to ensure we have a nature-rich future in Scotland.”