Scotland boasts some of the most special and beautiful landscapes in the UK, but beyond the placid lochs and heather-clad highland landscape there are an array of animal species battle for survival.
For many holiday-makers, a trip to Scotland offers the ideal opportunity to get out into nature – surveying the splendour of the untouched environment at the nation’s far North and the unique species that live therein. However, without intervention, many of these animals will soon be on the road to extinction. Viewing any of Scotland’s endangered species list should be considered a privilege to highland adventurers.
The Scottish wildcat
The native Scottish wildcat is a fearsome predator to behold, and these cats are now even rarer than the Bengal tiger. This cat can grow to the size of a medium dog but they are thought to be only 40 of the animals left in the wild. If you get the chance to view on of these creatures it is a very special experience.
Wildcats used to be found all over Great Britain, but they have not been seen in England or Wales since 1860. Now, with so few left within the Scottish highlands, it is thought that this species has the potential to be eradicated during the next few months.
The best place to see a Scottish wildcat is around the Cairngorms and the Black Isle. They live in wooded landscapes, rarely in areas higher than 500 metres. They feed on rabbits, voles and mice.
Native pearl mussel
Scotland’s native pearl mussel is a freshwater shellfish traditionally found in rivers and burns. Over the last five years, £9 million has been spent on protecting 32 endangered species which included these mussels, however research has found that their natural habitat has been virtually wiped out.
The waters where once these mussels thrived have been damaged by climate change , which has caused heavier rains and damaged river beds. The areas are now scattered with boulders that crush the shells on the mollusc.
The mussel produces beautiful freshwater pearls, which has led to overfishing in the past. Despite the ban on pearl fishing in 1998, this species is still at risk from illegal fishing. With no suitable habitats available in which to reintroduce the species, it is feared that this is the end of the line. However, in addition, the unstable rivers mean that salmon and trout are also put at further risk – two fish which are already suffering from severe decline.
Scotland is the last home of a substantial red squirrel population, there are around 121,000 left in the country today. Unfortunately, funding cuts mean cash to protect the species has been stopped, which could be detrimental to the nation’s only native squirrel species.
Red squirrels are affected by the deadly squirrelpox disease, and threatened by the larger American grey squirrel variety. By visiting, supporting and donating to red squirrel reserves, Scotland’s tourists can help prevent the further decline of the species. Red squirrels can be seen in the North East at Bennachie Centre, in Tayside at Blackmuir Wood, and in Argyll and the Trossachs at Loch Ard Forest, as well as a range of other sites around Scotland.
Getting around Scotland
Exploration of Scotland can be undertaken in a variety of different ways. In order to protect the landscape, travelling by foot or by bike is the most environmentally friendly way to get around, however getting into the wildness is easier by car. Be warned that if you’re arriving from the continent, the narrow back roads may take some time to get used to and the Scottish weather can be somewhat temperamental – make sure your European breakdown cover is in order before you arrive on the off-chance you encounter problems, but otherwise you’ll get used to driving on the Scottish terrain in no time.
If you are looking for a method of transport that enables you to drive over rough terrain, you might choose to travel in a 4×4. However, the more conscientious traveller may choose an eco-friendly model such as a hybrid car. The beauty of travelling to Scotland from the rest of the mainland UK is that you can use your own vehicle to travel in and you don’t have to pay extra fees for flights or ferries.