Ray Collier Wildlife in the North – Sika Deer

In the middle of the 19th century Charles St.John wrote of the River Findhorn “I do not know of a river that more completely realises all one’s ideas of beauty of Highland scenery than the Findhorn”.    The area he was talking about lies south of Inverness where  the river rises in the vast wildness of the Monadhliath Hills although the actual source is still a mystery  and open to debate.   To start with it is no more than a burn running fast through a narrow miniature gorge and then on for several miles to the “streens”.  This name is given to the narrow river as it hurtles between steep sides near Drynachan Lodge.  Further to the north east the river runs through some very attractive deciduous woodland before it pours into the Moray Firth.

At the upper parts of the River Findhorn the Monadhliath Hills have  one of the largest areas in Scotland without public roads and the open moorland is interspersed with grassland on the lower slopes.  Lower down Strathdearn to the east of Coignafearn is a good place to see the range of countryside with spectacular views of the hills and the strath with towering cliff faces and scree slopes.    Gorse and juniper are scattered over some slopes whilst some of the native trees are   found along the river sides  or burns coming down from the hills.  Remnants of birch woodland are on some slopes but in the past have been heavily overgrazed with no natural regeneration.   Old, derelict houses far outnumber the present occupied buildings indicating the previous high numbers of people who included Irish settlers who made clogs from the alder trees once fringing the strath. Access is easy by vehicles off the A9 but it is walkers only past  the Old Lodge at Coignafearn.  One of the features of the river is the lack of bridges in the upper parts although for fishermen this is compensated for at Ruthven by the unusual “bucket bridge”.

The strath is well known for its birds of prey such as golden eagle, peregrine and buzzard and  they can often be seen at this time of the year.  The part of the strath west of Garbole is unusual in the number of different animals that can be seen.  There are plenty of red deer that at one time were fed for much of the year and roe deer can be seen in any of the wooded areas.   The non native sika deer were introduced to Glenmazeran around 1900 having been brought in for sport from a deer park in Oxfordshire.  It is sometimes possible to see all three deer  from the same vantage point.  One unusual feature of the animals in the strath is to be able to see mountain hares and brown hares in the same fields especially in the winter when the mountain hares move down from the snow covered slopes.  Red squirrels still occur in the plantations at Garbole and south of the river.  Wild goats have long been a feature of the area and their colours vary from black, white, brown and silvery and various combinations of these colours.   The river is famous for its salmon fishing but more natural fishers at this time of the year include  goosanders, red breasted mergansers, herons and otters.   Whilst in the past the upper parts of the strath was overgrazed by red deer, sheep and goats the current management is very much with wildlife conservation in mind and the grazing pressure has been drastically reduced and large areas fenced off to safeguard the future for the woodland and its rich wildlife.