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Lothians & Borders - Wildlife and Birdwatching Holidays

A glorious, salmon-rich river - the Tweed - and its tributaries are at the core of the country between the Cheviot Hills and the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh. Walk in woods and see river birds and plants along the fringes of these waters. Sample quiet upland where falcons fly, or go to the eastern rim to see flocks of waders, throngs of seabirds and colourful coastal flowers.


Waders, orchids and warblers

Come to Aberlady Bay - Britain’s oldest local nature reserve - at low tide, and you’ll be mind-boggled by mudflats. They’re huge, and a real powerhouse of feeding action for the flocks of wading birds that come here. But there’s more to it than mud. From the car park off the A198, half a mile beyond the Gullane end of Aberlady village, use the track to go northwards to Gullane Point. Look for plants such as orchids, burnet rose, moonwort and viper’s bugloss on and around the dunes. The little Marl Loch has breeding water rail and lesser whitethroat, with sedge warblers in the marsh.

Gannets galore

If you can’t manage the (recommended) boat trip from North Berwick harbour to sail around the gannet colony on the Bass Rock, you can watch some of the action there on video links at the Scottish Seabird Centre in town. The Bass is one of the world’s earliest recorded seabird colonies (mentioned in a text written around 1,000 years ago) and is also home to guillemots, razorbills, a few puffins and a mixture of gulls. See the website for Bass Rock Cruises

On the John Muir trail

The John Muir Country Park is named in honour of the Dunbar-born Scot who helped to found the world’s first national park -Yellowstone. Take the nature trail along the coastal grasslands and cliffs, beginning from the car park at the north end of Dunbar High Street or from the shore at Belhaven, east of Dunbar. In summer, savour plants such as wild thyme (popular with insects), primrose and meadow saxifrage. From autumn to spring, it’s the flocks of wading birds, mute and whooper swans, ducks and geese that repay a visit.

Seabirds cliffs

St Abb’s Head, a craggy promontory beside the fishing village of the same name, holds one of the finest mainland seabird colonies in eastern Britain. Use the B6438 at Coldingham to reach an exhibition centre (Apr-Oct) and tea room at Northfield Farm, just west of St Abb’s village. Follow the path from here along the clifftop to see primroses and thrift and watch tens of thousands of kittiwakes and guillemots (best views north-west of the lighthouse). Inland, look for small migrant birds in trees and scrub around Mire Loch.

Gulls full-on

If you’ve heard some black-headed gulls in raucous squawk over a picnic site, then just imagine what nearly 30,000 of them could sound like. Experience the full sonic gull force at Bemersyde Moss, about 4 miles east of Melrose, off the B6404 at St Boswells. There’s a wheelchair accessible hide here, a short way through woodland from the road verge. From the hide, you can see the big gull colony in summer and watch large numbers of wigeon and greylag geese in winter.

Falcons near the falls

Scotland has some splendid waterfalls. One of the highest (61 metres for the main fall) is at the Grey Mare’s Tail. Get there up a trail (steep in places) from a car park by the A708, 10 miles north-east of Moffat. Aside from the main water feature, the supporting acts include arctic-alpine plants such as roseroot and alpine lady’s mantle, and a video link from a small reception centre to a peregrine eyrie.

Old trees, new vision

Just south of the Grey Mare’s Tail estate (and also beside the A708) is Carrifran. This deep valley was where the oldest bow ever found in Scotland - a 6,000-year-old curve of yew - was discovered in 1990. Now the slopes are part of a vision for the future, through restoration of native trees and bushes, such as birch, hazel and burnet rose, to create a broad-leaved forest. Scramble along burn-sides (rough going) to see trees and fine ferns.

By the River Tweed

There are many places where you can enjoy riverside walks along the River Tweed. Try the public footpath through woodland between St Boswells and Newton St Boswells to get a taster (you could use a small car park where the B6404 crosses the river at Mertoun Bridge as one access point). Enjoy a blend of woodland plants, such as wild garlic, and wetland ones, such as marsh marigold. Look riverwards for mallard, common sandpipers and signs of otter.

Osprey link

Within the Tweed Valley Forest Park,  Glentress Forest, off the A72 around 3 miles east of Peebles, now has a national reputation for its mountain bike trails (café, bike hire, walking and cycle routes). But you can also take in some other action by watching a video-link to an osprey eyrie from here during the summer. For remote osprey and blue-tit watching in more sedate surroundings, go to Kailzie Gardens, 2½ miles east of Peebles off the B7062.

Scottish hawfinches

The Hirsel Country Park, by the A697 2 miles north-west of Coldstream, has a variety of way-marked trails through woodland and beside water. The Hirsel Lake (where you can use a hide) is a popular feeding and roosting place for wildfowl such as mallard and coot. Go to Dundock Wood for a rare chance of seeing marsh tit and hawfinch (both very unusual as breeders north of the border).

Farne Isle

From the eastern borderlands north of the Tweed, it’s not a major journey to reach the coast of Northumberland. Wildlife highlight here is the Farne Islands. Boat trips run in summer from Seahouses harbour, with landing possible on Inner Farne. Expect to see puffins, terns and seals.

Red squirrels and goshawks

Snuggling against the Cheviot Hills, Kielder Forest is the largest forest in England. From the village of Bellingham, 17 miles north of Hexham, follow signs to Kielder Water and Forest Park. Along the C200 - the road beside the southern shore of the massive Kielder Water reservoir (otters sometimes use the shore) - you can get access to forest tracks at various places. Use these to look in the trees for red squirrel at an English stronghold, look between them for roe deer and look up to scan for goshawk. There’s a raptor viewpoint off the main road about a mile from Kielder village and a forest information centre at Kielder Castle with a video-link to a sparrowhawk nest.


Red Squirrel, RSPB images