Wildlife in the Glenkens


There is a wide diversity of wildlife in the Glenkens, in the forests, woodlands, hills, farmland, burns, rivers and lochs.  The Glenkens is within an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) and also within the wider Natural Heritage Zone of Western Southern Uplands and Inner Solway.  Also within the area are a Regional Scenic Area, a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve, a Ramsar site, a Special Protection Area, a Special Areas of Conservation and a Biosphere Reserve.

The Coniferous Forests:

In young new planted forests with plenty of grass and heather, you may find Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Whinchats, Grasshopper Warblers, Short-eared Owls, and Black and Red Grouse.  As the trees get bigger most of these birds disappear and are replaced first by birds like Chaffinches, Wrens and Redpolls and then Siskins, Goldcrests, Crossbills and Coal Tits; Sparrowhawks may be found in all stages of forest development.  When mature trees are felled and replaced by young growth, or in open areas of the forest, nightjars may be found. Red Squirrels eat the seeds from the cone of mature trees, and this is one of the few places left in Britain where they are still fairly common.  If you are very lucky you might see an otter or even a pine marten.  Part of the Galloway Forest Park is within the Glenkens.

Broadleaved Woodland:

Most of the broadleaved woodland in the area consists mainly of native species, though some have Sycamore and the more troublesome Rhododendron too.  Rabbits, Voles and in places Badgers may be found in these woods, also Woodpeckers, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstarts and Chiffchaff.  Buzzards nest in the woodland but hunt over the hillsides and farmland.


Much of the farm land in the area is upland, with a few good fields running along the riverside in the valley bottom. Farming in this area tends to be mixed and not intensive.

The upland areas are important breeding grounds for Peregrine, Black Grouse, Merlin, Curlew and Skylark, and a wintering ground for Hen Harrier, and in the farmland areas, depending on place and the time of year, you might also expect to find, Hare, Rabbits, Weasels, Stoats, Oystercatchers, Snipe, Plovers, Kestrels, Pheasants, Partridge, Barn Owls, Tawny and Short-eared Owls and Buzzards.  Higher up you might see Raven, Grouse, Merlin and possibly even a Golden Eagle.  By burns in upland areas you may find Dippers and Grey Wagtail.

Osprey have been seen occasionally hunting over the river and loch area, and on and by the lochs and rivers are Grey Heron, Mute and Whooper Swans, Cormorants, Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, Goldeneye, Coot and Waterhen.  This is also an important are for wintering Greenland White Fronted Geese and Icelandic Greylag Geese, also for breeding Redshank and Lapwing.  Red Kites have recently been introduced to the area and may be seen in the Loch Ken area.
Unfortunately much of the upland area is under Sitka Spruce and many of native flora and fauna are disappearing through loss of habitat.

Local Reserves open to the public:

Loch Ken-Dee Marsh.

This is a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve in the west side of Loch Ken where the river Dee runs into it.  The Ken-Dee Marshes are a Ramsar site and Special Protection Area (SPA).  It is free and open all the year round.  It is a woodland and wet grassland reserve with a hide, and you may see many different species of wildfowl and woodland birds as well as otters, red squirrels and red kites.  There is a free car park about half a mile from the hide. http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/k/kendeemarshes/index.asp  

Knowtop Reserve.

Knowtop is a Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) reserve on the A712 Balmaclellan – Crocketford road.  It was originally known as Lowes Lochs, meaning bright and shining.  It consists of 28ha of grassland, reedswamp, bog, 5 different willow species and 2 lochs and there are carnivorous floating plants.  Boardwalks have been created over the wetter parts and parking by the roadside. Upland birds, owls, blackcock, heron and goosanders may be seen.  http://www.swt.org.uk/wildlife/popup_reserves/west/knowetop.htm

Cairnsmore of Fleet.

This is a National Nature Reserve of 1922ha off the B796 north from Gatehouse.  It is in an internationally important upland area, rising over 700m with bog, and moorland. This reserve is part of the larger biosphere reserve of Cairnsmore of Fleet, Merrick, Kells and Silver Flowe.  The Merrick-Kells ranges are also designated as a Special Area of Conservation.

Other Reserves and places of Wildlife Interest in the Stewartry:

Threave Garden and Estate.

In the summer guided walks take place on this National Trust for Scotland reserve.  The 64 acre gardens, situated just outside Castle Douglas are beautiful all year round.  There are walks through farmland and woods on the estate to bird hides on the river Dee.  A new walk has been created revealing different aspects of the estate management.  Visitor centre open daily from April 1st to October 31st, from 9:30am to 5:50pm. http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Threave-Estate/

Rockcliffe and Rough Island.

Rockcliffe is a pretty village 7 miles south of Dalbeattie on the A 710.  It is an area of coastal cliffs and heath, with an ancient hill fort at Motte of Mark and Rough Island, which is a bird 8 ha sanctuary.  Visitors are asked not to visit the island during May and June to stop disruption to ground nesting birds.  Warning the tide rises very rapidly, do not attempt to cross to the island if the tide is rising.  Ranger led walks take place in the summer. http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Rockcliffe/


Mersehead is a RSPB reserve situated on the Solway between Dalbeattie and Dumfries.  The reserve is run as a bird friendly farm and is well known for wintering wildfowl including huge flocks of barnacle geese and a breeding area for farmland birds and wildfowl.  The visitor centre is open all the year round. http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/m/mersehead/index.asp

Carstramon Wood.

Carstramon Wood is well known for its wonderful show of bluebells in the spring.  It is just north of Gatehouse of Fleet with walks through the deciduous, mainly oak woodland. It is the largest of four oak woods in the Fleet valley, all remnants of once extensive Galloway woodlands. It is a SSSI of 83ha, and has been coppiced since the 17th century, the wood being used in a bobbin mill in Gatehouse until the 1930s. There are 2 charcoal platforms which were used in the past.  Carstramon is one of SWT’s reserves where you can borrow a rucksack from Gatehouse Tourist Information Centre, which has reserve information, binoculars and ID information in it.  http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserve/carstramon-wood/

Southwick Reserve.

This is a 16ha reserve with SSSI status on the A711 road between Southwick and Sandyhills.  It consists of a steep wooded cliff rising over 40m, a small wood, an area of saltmarsh and a meadow.  There is a stack on the saltmarsh known as Lot’s wife and a natural rock arch at the bottom of the path leading down to the saltmarsh.  In the past the area was used for landing smuggled brandy. http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserve/southwick-coast/

Monreith Animal World – Low Knock Farm, Monreith. Tel:  01988 700217
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust – S of Dumfries by Caerlaverock Castle
Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park – Kirkcudbright
Wigtown ospreys
Woods of Cree RSPB Reserve - 3 miles north of Newton Stewart

Some Designations etc.


Environmentally Sensitive Areas are designated under Section 18 of the 1986 Agriculture Act, to help care for areas where landscape or wildlife or historic interest is of national importance.  Farmers within these areas were able to obtain grants to assist them to adopt environmentally friendly agricultural methods, but these are coming to an end now out and replaced with payments from the Rural Stewardship Scheme.

Regional Scenic Area:

This is a landscape designation, usually comprising what were known as Areas of Great Landscape Value, assigned by Local Authorities and included in their Structure Plans, following detailed Landscape Character Assessment. Designation is given to areas that are good examples and attractive combinations of scenically valued character types.


A Site of Special Scientific Interest is an area of land that contains something of special interest by reason of its fauna, flora, geology or physiographical features.  It is the a foundation of habitat protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 (as amended 1985).  SSSI status offers the site some protection from damage; potentially damaging operations should be notified to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) who will reach an agreement with the landowner as to whether the operation should go ahead or not, but this does not always happen.  Similarly if a site is a SSSI it may offer some planning protection, although this does not always prevent development


National Nature Reserves are areas of national or international importance including the most important semi-natural habitats in Britain.  They are generally designated for their ecological value rather than for particular species although several sites hold a number of rare or threatened species.  They are declared by SNH for research and study purposes.


Special Protection Areas are designated under the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of 1979 for the protection of migratory and threatened species.  Special measures are required within SPAs to safeguard wild birds and their habitats, especially migratory, rare and vulnerable species listed in the Directive.


Special Areas of Conservation are also a European designation under the Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and wild Fauna and Flora, Known as the Habitats Directive.  They are usually based on SSSIs, but can cover marine locations which SSSIs cannot, and they give protection when it comes to development.

Natura 2000:

SACs and SPAs together form a network of sites which are designated for the protection of habitats and animal and plant species which are rare, endangered or vulnerable in Europe.


Ramsar site are wetlands of international importance and are designated under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance and was ratified by the UK government in 1976.  The designation requires them to be protected from damage or pollution and promotes their wise use.


Biosphere reserves are not set up as a result of legislation but are existing NNRs nominated by, in Scotland, SNH, for inclusion in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme which was set up in 1971.  They are set up to study man’s influence on natural resources and reconcile sustainable use with conservation of biodiversity for the benefit of local people. http://www.gallowayandsouthernayrshirebiosphere.org.uk/?page_id=8


Biodiversity literally means biological diversity.  It is highly complex and includes not only all life but the way it behaves and interacts with other life and the value of possible future use to people, as well as their enjoyment.  Each habitat, although it can look very similar to others, may support different species, depending on soil, climate and other conditions and also previous land use.  Changes in land use will obviously affect the biodiversity of an area, so where major changes are planned, careful consideration must be given to the existing ecosystem and provision made to safeguard rare or endangered species present.  Generally three levels of biodiversity are described, genetic, species and ecosystem diversity.  They are all important but genetic diversity is used as a basis for valuing the other two, as genes affect the characteristics and behaviour of an organism.

Biodiversity ensures resilience, so that ecosystems with a greater species richness have an increased capacity to deal with stress and disturbance. Where species are being depleted by human activity, the ecosystem’s ability to cope with stress diminishes.  There has been an unprecedented decline in the numbers of species and habitats, particularly over the last 30 - 50 years, which many more under threat.  Another threat is the introduction of alien species such as Japanese Knotweed, or grey squirrels as they out compete native species leading to less not more biodiversity.

Reasons for Conserving Biodiversity:

Biodiversity is directly linked to what has become known as “Ecosystem Services”.  These are things essential to life; imagine not having air to breathe, water to drink or soil to grow crops in.  Ecosystem services are things like: production of oxygen, purification of air and water, flood prevention, climate regulation, soil formation, nutrient recycling, photosynthesis and natural pest and disease control.  All these and more we get for free but what if we had to put a price tag on them?  In 1996 it was calculated that the total value of Earth was £34 trillion, and even if we had all that money there is no way we could replace what we already have, but are now beginning to loose. Large scale removal of trees results in soil erosion and land slips; wetlands filter water and help prevent flooding as well as holding water which would otherwise run off into the sea and be lost.  Pesticide use can kill not only pests, but insects that are beneficial in controlling the pests and for pollinating plants.  Pesticide build up in humans is becoming a major issue.

"Everyone in the world depends completely on Earth's ecosystems and the services they provide, such as food, water, disease management, climate regulation, spiritual fulfillment, and aesthetic enjoyment. Over the past 50 years, humans have changed these ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This transformation of the planet has contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development. But not all regions and groups of people have benefited from this process - in fact, many have been harmed. Moreover, the full costs associated with these gains are only now becoming apparent." (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Summary Report)


http://www.dgerc.org.uk   Dumfries & Galloway Environmental Resources Centre
http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/default.asp   Outdoor-Access Code
http://www.dumgal.gov.uk/biodiversity  Local Biodiversity info and LBAP
http://www.gallowaykitetrail.com  Kite Trail
http://www.gallowaymrt.org.uk/public/index.shtm  Mountain Rescue
http://www.sup.org.uk/index.htm  Southern Upland Partnership
http://www.dumfriesandgallowaynaturalhistory.co.uk Natural History in Galloway
http://www.mwis.org.uk  Mountain weather    
http://www.sup.org.uk/Biosphere/index.htm  Biosphere Reserve
http://www.snh.gov.uk/about-snh/snh-in-your-area/southern-scotland/what-to-see-and-where/  Scottish Natural Heritage D&G
http://www.red-squirrels.org.uk  Red Squirrels
http://www.nbn.org.uk/ National Biodiversity Network - distribution maps and data

Other useful links:
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/fff-pcp/glob.pl?report=pcfllist&group=&sort=&inpostcode=dg7  Plant Lists by Postcode DG7
http://www.biodiversityscotland.gov.uk/ The Scottish Biodiversity Forum
 Mammals Trust??????
 Mammal Society??????
http://www.habitat.org.uk/news1.htm Daily wildlife and environment news from the British Isles - this site is suspended.