Experience Nature On The Edge In The Outer Hebrides

June 21, 2013 on 7:20 am | In Beachbooker, Outdoors, Scotland, United Kingdom | Comments Off



As the BBC natural history series, Hebrides, Islands on the Edge airs over the coming weeks, many viewers will be inspired to put the Outer Hebrides on their must-visit list.

But can the islands really offer the kind of up-close and personal encounters with wildlife that the series promises?

The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ – the islands live up to all the superlatives they enjoy when it comes to nature.

Even the most idle stroll anywhere in the Outer Hebrides will bring visitors face to face with wildlife it’s hard to find on the mainland.

In spring and early summer, a tapestry of bird song is the backdrop to a walk across the beautiful west coast flower meadows, known as machair.

Larks, lapwings, oyster catchers, redshank- they’re easy to hear and spot. These birds are so commonplace in the

Outer Hebrides that residents barely notice them, but for many mainland visitors, it’s often first time they’ve heard or seen them.

The distinctive krek-krek of the corncrake is also easy to hear, but the birds themselves are well-camouflaged and secretive.

A ramble along one of the islands’ spectacular beaches where the waves tumble with flocks of little wading birds, dunlins possibly or turnstone or sanderlings.
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Sea birds wheel above – from gannets, guillemot and skua to shag, tern and puffin.

The Outer Hebrides have some of the largest populations of sea birds in the UK, with St Kilda one of the most important breeding sites for gannets in North-Western Europe.

A boat trip with one of the islands’ sea tour operators will enable visitors to see an extraordinary variety of sea-birds, and if they’re lucky, whales and dolphins too.

The Minch (between the north west Scottish mainland and the Outer Hebrides) teems with bottle-nosed dolphin, minke whales and basking sharks.

Visitors might be exceptionally lucky and spot Risso’s dolphins, which inhabit only a handful of coastal sites where the continental shelf is narrow and close to the shore. The Outer Hebrides is classed as one of their critical habitats.

Grey seals are a common sight – after all, the Outer Hebrides is home to 40% of the world population. And visitors are sure to spot a common seal, as the islands are home to 10% of the European population.

Then it’s eyes down for the islands’ exceptional flora.

The Outer Hebrides has its own wild orchids, with entire fields studded with them in the early summer, in shades of white to heliotrope. Both moorland and machair play host to more than 700 species of flowering plants and ferns.


A walk over the inland moors of an evening might well bring visitors face to face with red deer. Prepare to be impressed in North Uist – the island has one of the most genetically pure strains of red deer in the UK.

This barely skims the surface of what’s available to see in the Outer Hebrides. There are numerous naturalists offering guided walks and tours – and one of the best ways to find out what’s around is by falling into conversation with the islands’ friendly crofters as they go about their business. They have generations of knowledge to share.

For further information on the wildlife and flora of the Outer Hebrides, as well as plenty more to see and do and where to stay, visit www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk

SAMPLE WILDLIFE TOURS AND OPERATORS IN THE OUTER HEBRIDES

KILDA CRUISES: Based on the island of Harris, Kilda Cruises takes visitors to experience the awe-inspiring landscape, human history and the sheer remoteness of dual World Heritage Site St Kilda as well as other remote outlying Hebridean islands. Day trips to St Kilda are £190 per person
SEA HARRIS: Sea Harris offer full day trips to St Kilda and many shorter day trips to the smaller islands including the Shiants, as well as private charters for sea angling, corporate or special occasions.

Day trips to St Kilda are £170 per person.
HIDDEN HEBRIDES: Hidden Hebrides Walking Tours know the best places to watch golden eagles, the most likely spots for glimpsing harbour porpoises, the most stunning beaches and most evocative abandoned villages. Their extensive local knowledge will bring alive visitors’ encounters with spectacular island wildlife and some of Europe’s most stunning landscapes. Options include ½ Day Tours £90. 6night/5day holidays from £670.


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HEBRIDES FISH ‘N’ TRIPS: The company offers private boat charters for 1 to 5 people off the east coast of the Isle of Lewis exploring the coastline of sea lochs and lagoons. Watch out for while tailed sea eagles and golden eagles, puffins, gannets and skuas as well as basking sharks, porpoise, dolphins, seals and otters … to name a few of the wildlife on view. Charter fee is £50 per hour.

HEBRIDES WILDWATCH: Hebrides Wildwatch offer bespoke off-the-beaten-track tours of the isles. The island-based guides have considerable experience and insight into the ways of the local fauna, its habits and how these fit in with the culture and environment of the isles. They’ll get visitors close to nature including birds of prey, migratory waders, sea birds, corncrakes, cetaceans, basking shark, red deer and otter. Options include ½ Day Tours at £100

BALRANALD RSPB NATURE RESERVE: Balranald is one of the best places for wildlife in the UK. This beautiful Hebridean reserve has sandy beaches, rocky foreshore, marshes and sand dunes. An information centre explains the importance of traditional crofting agriculture for corncrakes and other wildlife.

Many wading and farmland birds nest on the flower-rich machair and croft-land. Entry is free; Guided Walking Tours £5 (£2 for RSPB members).

SOUTH UIST FISHING: The unique shell sand alkaline machair lochs on the west coast of the island create the ideal growing conditions for quality brown trout and sea trout which are universally regarded as some of the best fishing you can experience. In contrast, the middle and east coast of the islands have a rugged peaceful beauty of moor and hills leading to sheltered skerries, perfect for wild brown trout. Fishing permits start at £25 per day for two people (including boat)

CLEARWATER PADDLING: Wild camping tours by kayak leave from Barra visiting stunning beaches on distant islands of the Outer Hebrides. While setting up camp for the night and sitting round a driftwood fire as night draws in, visitors will hear the call of distant seals and the excited chatter of oystercatchers. There is no better time to see wildlife than early morning and late evening, or from the cockpit of a kayak. Sample 6 night Wild Barra Trip is £660.


WEEKEND ‘BIOBLITZ’ ON SOUTH UIST: The Outer Hebrides is the focus for many serious naturalists and researchers. Local specialists will be gathering in South Uist on Saturday, 27th July and Sunday, 28th July for a weekend ‘bioblitz’ organised by local newspaper Island News & Advertiser, where they will interact with members of the public to record the biodiversity of a section of Howmore. Birds, bugs, bees and butterflies – all creatures great and small will be recorded for local group Outer Hebrides Biological Recording and fed into the National Biodiversity Network, as a record for posterity. Citizen science to bring you face to face with some of the wonders of the Hebrides, and everyone is invited to be part of it.

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