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Where a river mouth widens as it meets the sea, the mix of fresh and salt water, rich in nutrients, is sure to give wildlife interest. Scotland has more than fifty of these ‘estuary’ areas, each worth a close look on any day of the year.

Where to go

The majority of Scottish estuaries are where rivers flow out across sandy or muddy coastal parts of Scotland’s east and south coasts. For the spectacle of vast areas of glistening mud, go at low tide. But to watch flocks of estuary birds at closer range, go around high tide.
Some highlights in different regions are:

Aberlady Bay in the outer part of the Firth of Forth, beside Aberlady village. Huge mudflats with very large flocks of waders and wildfowl from autumn to spring. Interesting plants in the dunes.

Eden Estuary immediately north-east of St Andrews, accessible by walking from the town’s West Sands or from the St Andrews to Guardbridge road. Shelduck, eider duck and oystercatchers in summer and possibly the best place in Scotland to see black-tailed godwits in winter.

Montrose Basin where the estuary of the South Esk is ringed by land beside Montrose. Wildlife centre with good viewing facilities off the A92. Major moulting and wintering area for hundreds of mute swans. Tens of thousands of pink-footed geese in winter.

Ythan Estuary near Newburgh. Superb place to see eider ducks throughout the year and also good for wading birds at any season.

Wigtown Bay close to the town of the same name. Summer flowers on the ‘merse’ (grazed saltmarsh) include masses of sea pink. Winter roosting and feeding area for wildfowl and waders.

Interesting facts

Estuaries are more likely to form on submerged coastlines, where the sea level has risen in relation to the land and flooded former valleys. This happened in Scotland after the last Ice Age and because the east of the country dips and the west is slowly rising, there are more estuaries in the east than the west.