Wild At Heart

Spring is here, and all over the Cairngorms National Park people are heading to the countryside to enjoy the great outdoors. 

With an abundance of wildlife from red squirrels and wildcats to capercaillie, red deer and pine martens, there is so much to keep your eyes open for as the days get longer and lighter.

This month, What’s On headed out into the countryside to find some of the furry and feathered inhabitants of the Park. Let us fill you in on two of the most elusive, famous and unique to this area. Do keep your eyes open on your travels – you never know what you are going to see!

Red Squirrels

Red squirrels are about as iconic an animal as you can get in the Cairngorms National Park. We are incredibly lucky to still have a stronghold of these little fellows, and the ancient Caledonian Pine Forests provide the perfect habitat for these quite timid creatures. However, they are still in danger from their grey cousins. The Victorians introduced grey squirrels into the UK in the late 19th century and since then, they have largely replaced red squirrels in much of England and have made considerable in-roads into Scotland. So far the story in the Highlands is very positive, we have no grey squirrels! You can see red squirrels wherever you go in the Cairngorms National Park – you just need to keep your eyes peeled, and if you do spot one (and, equally, if you spot one of the pesky grey variety) then head to www.redsquirrelsofthehighlands.co.uk and record your finding. Spring is the perfect time to spot a red squirrel as they have shed their duller coats and the red/orange fur shines brilliantly in the early morning or late afternoon sunshine.


With a name derived from the Gaelic capull coille, meaning “horse of the woods”, the Capercaillie is not a bird to be reckoned with! The largest member of the grouse family, reaching over 100 cm in length and 6.7 kg in weight, in fact, the largest Capercaillie ever recorded in captivity had a weight of 7.2 kg. (15.9 lbs). In Scotland, the population has declined greatly since the 1960s because of deer fencing, predation and lack of their suitable habitat – Caledonian Forest. The population plummeted from a high of 10,000 pairs in the 1960s and has declined so rapidly that it is at very real risk of extinction (for the second time) and is a RSPB ‘Red List’ species. However, due to the hard work of the conservation organisations the bird is making a modest recovery – especially in the Cairngorms National Park, where we are lucky enough to have suitable landscapes for these birds to thrive. During April – July the birds nest and have dependent young, so it is important that dogs are kept under close control or on a lead.

Take the Lead

Everybody loves a springtime walk with man’s best friend, but we have to remember that we share this area with some very special species and so; we all have to consider each other. With this in mind, as part of a programme of events encouraging people to ‘tread lightly in the National Park’ the Cairngorms National Park Authority are asking people with dogs, to be especially considerate of wildlife at this time of year.

As we have seen, the Cairngorms National Park is home to some fantastic birds and mammals and, at this time of year, there’s lots of new young being born and nests occupying many low levels, so there is vulnerable wildlife everywhere.

So what can you do to help? Keeping your dog under close control, so that they don’t wander off, and respond to your commands while being kept close at heel is the best start. In some areas like National Nature Reserves you might be requested to put your dog on a short lead too.

Be sure to head to www.visitcairngorms.com to read more about our local wildlife and why not book yourself onto a wildlife watching trip whilst your there? There is nothing better than heading out with those in the know to get a glimpse of the most spectacular species you can think of.

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