1: PURPLE SAXIFRAGE Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve, Perth & Kinross March Scotland’s 10th-highest Munro is renowned for its arctic-alpine flora, including more than 500 types of lichen. “Purple saxifrage is the first alpine plant to flower, heralding spring in the uplands,” says Ranger Naturalist Andrew Warwick. “It’s sometimes already in flower as the last snow melts from the plant.”
2: SNOWDROPS Culzean Country Park, South Ayrshire March “The snowdrops at Culzean are, for me, the first sign that spring is arriving,” explains Ranger Naturalist Ian Joyce. “We don’t get much frost or snow here but occasionally we do get to see the little green shoots starting to peak through some melting snow.” A couple of years ago the Park, which has recently embarked on a snowdrop planting project, had a “weird” spring with some flowers late and some early. “This meant we had a short period when snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells were all in full bloom together.” Ian also recommends the Cliff Path once the bluebells flower.
3: WOOD ANEMONES Killiecrankie, North Ayrshire March “The wildflowers in the Pass of Killiecrankie signal the arrival of spring, with a carpet of wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa),” says Ranger Naturalist Louise Medine. While almost scentless and possessing no nectar, these plants still attracts flies, bees and beetles because the pollen is edible, and it flowers early to make the most of the spring sunshine before the overhead woodland canopy becomes too dense. “It spreads surprisingly slowly—six feet in a hundred years—as it relies on the growth of its roots rather than the spread of its seed. It is therefore a good indicator of ancient woodland.”
4: DAFFODILS Brodie Castle, Moray, April The grounds surrounding the ancient seat of the Brodies are carpeted with more than 100 different cultivars of daffodils, part of the National Collection. This is apt as the 24th laird, Ian Brodie, bred some 400 new varieties in the early 20th century, in the process contributing to the vast and colourful range of daffodils available today from Wordsworth’s much smaller woodland plant. The Trust has worked with SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) to help re-establish a breeding programme. Good displays of other spring bulbs and shrubs can also be seen in the grounds, including dog’s tooth violet and rhododendrons.
5: BUTTERFLIES Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeenshire April “After a long cold winter, the return of our insects is always special,” says Toni Watt of Crathes Castle. “One of our first butterflies to return is the Orange Tip; beautifully and distinctively coloured it can be found feeding on cuckoo flowers in the forest clearings all over the estate.”
6: BEES Rockcliffe coast, Dumfries & Galloway Mid-February – March The buff-tailed bumblebee can appear really early in the year, according to Ranger Judy Baxter—even as early as the latter half of February. “The first to appear are the large furry queens that mated last summer and then hibernated underground through the winter months. Check out willow catkins or any early flowers in the garden like hellebores or mahonia, you will probably be alerted by the sound of buzzing. As the weather warms, they start to search for a suitable place to nest, so fly slowly very close to the ground to check out any nooks and crannies.”
7: DAMSELFLIES Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire Early May “Spring has really arrived for us here in the northeast when our first damselflies return, says Toni Watt at Crathes Castle, Banchory. “The Flight pond at Castle Fraser is a Priority Site for the British Dragonfly Society with 10 species of dragonfly and damselfly, including the most easterly population of the endangered Northern Damselfly. However it is the Large Red Damselfly which is the first to return in Spring, sometimes as early as the start of May; beautiful and unmistakable, with some black and yellow on the body but an overall deep red colour with red eyes and black legs.”
8: PUFFINS Staffa Inner Hebrides Mid-April “Puffins usually arrive on Staffa in mid April, says Senior Nature Conservation Adviser Dr Richard Luxmoore. “They pair up with mates and check out a suitable nest before heading back to sea to top up their food supplies. The first eggs are usually laid after their return in early May.”
9: SEA BIRDS St Abb’s Head, Berwickshire April “Seabird season kicks off at St Abb’s Head in April, and the clifftops come alive again as tens of thousands of seabirds return to breed,” says Senior Ranger Naturalist Liza Cole. “There so much incredible behaviour to watch – reaffirmation of pair bonds, fighting for nest sites, nest-building and egg laying. Shags are the earliest breeders, laying up to four eggs early in the month. Guillemots make periodic visits to the cliffs, but they settle down by the end of the month when the first eggs are laid. Kittiwakes also visit but will not start nest-building until early May.”
10: WHEATEAR Grey Mare’s Tail, Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway March “These long distance migrants arrive back in the UK from central Africa via Spain in early March,” says Ranger Richard Clarkson. “An unexpected flash of their white rump against the muted colours of a fading winter gives away their return, usually towards the end of the month.” Wheatears are ground dwelling birds familiar with stony upland country. The male is unmistakeable, with it's blue-grey back, black wings and mask, buff tinged breast, and of course the white rump and black 'T' on its tail. “The low-level walk to the waterfall viewpoint is a good place to see them.
11: RAVENS Mar Lodge, Cairngorms February - March “Here at Mar Lodge, spring arrives far later than in most parts of the country,” says Shaila Rao. “Nevertheless, when crossbills sing in the pinewoods and golden eagles perform their death-defying display flights in the mountains, you can be sure that spring is on the way. For me though, spring hasn’t started until I’ve seen pairs of ravens settling down. These charismatic, intelligent birds are usually well on their way to rearing young on their favourite crags and cliffs in February and March. Keep an eye out for their incredible aerial acrobatics, and listen out for their croaking call.”
12: ADDERS Glen Rosa, Isle of Arran April Basking adders is a sure sign of Spring, according to Ranger Kate Sampson. “Glen Rosa is particularly good for adder spotting as there are quite a few of the melanistic black adders. Mating can be quite dramatic with several males trying to knock each other down in a sinuous ‘dance’.”
13: BATS Ben Lomond Scottish Highlands April “At dusk watch out for the flitting silhouettes of bats at the woodland edge, or above the paths and tracks at the foot of Ben Lomond,” says Ranger Naturalist Alasdair Eckersall. “They are mainly Pipistrelles, which will have been scattered through hundreds of smaller roosts through winter, with most of them gathering into larger maternity roosts in the farm steading and local attics for the spring and summer. Bats need to wait until some insect life is about before they can fully come out of hibernation, so a lot of bat activity is a sure sign that spring has arrived.”
14: LAMBS Balmacara Estate, Lochalsh peninsula April The arrival of calves and lambs on the crofts is a sure sign of the shifting seasons, according to Balmacara Estate Senior Assistant Kirsten Dallas. “Crofting is a small-scale and low intensity form of agriculture that has great environmental benefits, as well as being the defining social system of Highland communities. By practicing this traditional lifestyle the crofting community are also managing a range of habitats that host an abundance of birds, insects and wildflowers that burst into life in the spring.” That includes young highland cattle which steal the show as they wander through the crofts and villages!
15: STAGS Torridon, Ross-shire May “Spring in Torridon means the weather is showing signs of improvement and the mature red deer stags are starting to cast their old antlers,” explains Seamus MacNally. “This is an annual event for the stags and must cause them some pain but, within a few days, the scars have healed over and the new antlers then starts to grow. They will grow steadily until they reach their full size towards the end of July, covered in a hairy skin called velvet which contains the blood vessels and nerves. This in turn strips off in August revealing the new hard antler.”
16: DUCK RACE Barry Mill, Angus Easter Weekend The Trust’s annual (plastic) duck races at historic Barry Mill, one of Scotland’s last remaining working water mills, have grown so popular that they now take place over both Saturday and Sunday. Other activities include the best painted eggs, an Easter bonnet parade and a range of stalls and snacks.
17: CADBURY EASTER EGG HUNT Barius venues Across Scotland Easter Weekend. Designed to entertain and appeal to all the family, the magic of a Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt can be enjoyed at numerous Trust properties across Scotland, such as House of Binns (Linlithgow), Inverewe Garden (Wester Ross) and Brodie Castle (Moray). These are an ideal opportunity to spot the first signs of spring, and experience nature bursting into life as you become a nature detective and follow the Bunny’s clues—finishing your adventure with a delicious chocolatey treat! Plus, there’s no reason why you can’t go to more than one Hunt! https://www.nts.org.uk/Events/By-Theme/Easter-Events/
18: NEW VISITOR SEASON Various venues Across Scotland April Many Trust venues are closed, or operate reduced opening hours, during autumn and winter, but the new visitor season beginning in April is an opportunity to enjoy attractions across Scotland, with added value courtesy of a wide-ranging programme of walks, talks and family activities. For example, fans of Downton Abbey can experience Edwardian stately living at Hill of Tarvit in Fife, including period parlour games, croquet on the lawn, and the delights of a woodland trail. Plant lovers, meantime, can head for Inverewe Garden, Wester Ross, where new glasshouses are helping propagate their many tropical and half-hardy plants.
19: HISTORICAL LAND ROVER SAFARI Glencoe, Scottish Highlands April - September You can explore the most famous aspects of Glencoe’s history courtesy of this monthly Land Rover safari, which will transport you to many of the key sites and help you unravel the true history of the infamous Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. Binoculars are provided but you’re advised to bring along your own camera and a snack, as well as wear clothing and footwear appropriate for the time of year in the Scottish Highlands! Suitable for both adults and children aged 11+, the “safari” starts from the Glencoe Visitor Centre; they run until October. https://nts.cloudvenue.co.uk/Historicallandroversafari
20: GUIDED WALKS Various venues Across Scotland May - September Join Trust rangers for a series of guided walks exploring some of Scotland’s most beautiful and astonishing countryside; available routes during spring and summer include Glen Affric to Kintail, the Knoydart Munros, and the South Glen Shiel Ridge. Prices vary depending on duration but include, where appropriate, overnight accommodation. You’ll need to bring good walking boots, warm and water proof clothing, and your own food and sleeping bags, as appropriate. Some walks—such as the Five Sisters of Kintail, taking in four peaks over 3,000 feet, including three Munros—are only suitable for fit, experienced and well-equipped hill walkers.
First published in the Spring 2018 issue of Scotland in Trust magazine.
Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.