There are two types of native deer in Scotland – red deer and roe deer. The majestic red deer is our largest terrestrial mammal, and undoubtedly one of the most impressive wildlife spectacles of Scotland; their sights and sounds are enjoyed by locals, tourists, and Autumn-watch viewers alike.
The striking and delicate roe deer is found throughout mainland Scotland wherever there is a tiny patch of cover where they can hide by day. Roe deer are increasingly being seen in towns and cities, with some now even living close to the centre of Glasgow – a treat for city-dwellers, but also a reason to watch the road carefully when you’re driving near wooded parks.
Fallow and sika deer have also been introduced to Scotland through deliberate releases and escapes from country parks.
Wild deer are a huge asset to Scotland – they are one of Scotland’s most iconic species, and play an important part in our rural economy and culture, an integral part of Scotland’s biodiversity, and provide us with healthy food and recreational opportunities.
The otter, also known in Northwest Scotland by its Gaelic name Dobhran and Beaste Dubh (black beast), belongs to the same family as badgers, weasels, stoats, pine marten and mink.
Scotland is a European stronghold for the otter and they now occur over the whole of the country. Pesticide pollution of waterways eliminated otters from most of England and Wales but they survived in Scotland’s cleanest water bodies in the north and west. The population has recovered and otters can easily be seen in many areas, but particularly on the west coast and the islands. In 2003, the total Scottish population was estimated at around 8,000.
Otters are largely solitary, semi-aquatic mammals that obtain most of their food from lochs, rivers or the sea. The Scottish population unusually comprises a particularly high proportion (perhaps 50% or more) of coastal-dwelling individuals that feed almost exclusively in the sea. The coast and islands of western Scotland are particularly important for this species and coastal otters are occasionally referred to as ‘sea otters’ despite the fact that they are exactly the same species as the animals which inhabit freshwaters further inland.
The pine marten (Martes martes) was once found throughout Britain. However the species is particularly susceptible to persecution and, in the 19th century, it suffered one of the most dramatic declines of any UK mammal. By the turn of the 20th century, the once widespread distribution was reduced substantially to relict populations limited to North West Scotland, where the species survived in areas of remote forest and rocky moorland. In 1988, the species was given full legal protection.
Amazingly, this diminutive seabird spends almost all of its life out at sea. It only comes to shore to visit its nest, which is located in a burrow, in a crevice between boulders, or sometimes in dry stone dykes, and then only at night. Numerous but difficult to survey, storm petrels are normally counted by playing back a recording of a male bird’s call, and then counting the number of birds that call back in response.
This perennially popular seabird is widely distributed on islands around Scotland’s north and west coasts. Long-lived, but sensitive to changes in the numbers and distribution of their sandeel prey, puffins have come to be seen as a barometer of the health of Scotland’s seas
This beautiful seaduck is a widely distributed breeding species around Scotland’s shores, and nests in nationally important numbers on the Ythan estuary in north-east Scotland. Outside the breeding season, it is mainly found in sheltered coastal waters, sometimes in flocks several hundreds strong. Mink, foxes and disturbance by dog-walkers are all problems faced by nesting eiders in Scotland, and the fondness of this species for shellfish has sometimes brought them into conflict with mussel farmers
The white-tailed or sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is found mainly in coastal areas and is the UK’s largest bird of prey. Adults have a conspicuous pale head and neck, a white tail and yellow beak. Immature birds are much darker brown with a black beak initially and very limited white in the tail. They take around 5 years to reach adult plumage through a series of moults where the plumage become paler brown. Over the same time the beak becomes increasingly yellowish and the tail whiter.
We are lucky to have the second largest fish in the world cruising Scottish waters each summer – an exciting sight! The basking shark grows up to 10m (33ft) long, and a few places in Scotland are particular hotspots for seeing them. They are fish of open waters, but move closer to shores in summer, when we can see them ‘basking’ at the surface, feeding with their huge mouths wide open. These gentle giants have no teeth, and their massive bodies are nourished entirely by plankton soup!
Dolphins and porpoises
The waters around Scotland are amongst the finest in Europe for seeing dolphins and porpoises. Five species are relatively common and can often be seen either from our shores or from a boat:
Bottlenose dolphins are perhaps the best-known cetaceans found around Scotland. They can be seen close inshore on both the east and west coasts, but are less frequently seen on the north coast and in the northern isles. The Moray Firth supports the only known resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the North Sea. This is a small population of about 195 animals that ranges throughout the Moray Firth and all the way down the east coast at least as far as the Firth of Forth. The Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation was created to proct the bottlenose dolphins that use this important area.
Harbour porpoises are the smallest cetaceans found in Scottish waters. They are also the most abundant cetacean in inshore waters, being found all around our coastline. They tend to be alone or in small groups, although they may form larger groups in areas where there is an abundant food source.
If you are patient and watch carefully from a vantage point, such as a headland, you may catch a glimpse of a harbour porpoise, although in rough water it can be difficult to pick out their small dorsal fins. They are less likely to display than other cetaceans and tend to move quickly away from approaching boats.
The magnificent minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) is the commonest of the baleen whales around Scotland, and the one you are most likely to see from headlands and ferries. The best chance of a close view is to take a whale watching trip from an accredited operator, when you might be rewarded with a life changing close encounter with a minke surfacing or spy-hopping near the boat.
Two species, the grey seal Halichoerus grypus and harbour or common seal Phoca vitulina, are present around the coast of Scotland in internationally important numbers
How to tell harbour and grey seals apart
Adult harbour seal males weigh about 85Kg and measure about 145cm in length. Females weigh about 75Kg and
re about 135cm long, not much smaller than the males, in fact it is
very difficult to tell the male harbour seals from female harbour seals.Grey seals are bigger than harbour seals; adult males weigh up to 300Kg and can be 200cm long while adult females weigh up to 180 Kg and are about 180cm long. As well as being smaller than grey seals harbour seals have more dog like or ‘spaniel’ appearance while grey seals have a long sloping ‘roman’ nose.
For more information on what Scotlands’ nature has to offer please have a look at Scottish National Heritage website