RSPB Scotland is hoping to attract more people than ever on to its wildlife walks programme this year. Walks will be led by RSPB staff across the Uists and in Harris and Lewis.
RSPB species officer Stuart Taylor said: “The summer season is now almost upon us and the usual flurry of tourists are already on their way to the Western isles. Some of these are first-time visitors while others are returnees who come to the islands annually, and are now almost part of the scenery themselves.
“The biggest attraction here is the wildlife. Very few other places, if any, offer the chance to see otters, seals, eagles, corncrakes, scarce insects and a wonderful array of beautiful flowers, like the Western Isles. They are on every naturalists list of places to visit.”
To help people to enjoy their experience, the RSPB has led guided walks for many years, and the number of visitors attending these has crept up annually.
“In 2013, almost 1,000 people attended the walks on North Uist, Benbecula, Lewis and Harris. The walks proved so popular that the season was extended by a month.
Mr Taylor, who is based in the Uists, said: “Some folk attended all the walks which were provided for them last year. This seems to show that the main reason for them visiting the islands, was to come on the RSPB walks and see the wildlife under expert guidance.
“Because of the locations, visitors tend to stay in accommodation not too far away and always use local facilities such as campsites, and shops, bringing a sizeable amount of income into the local community.
“The morning walks start at reasonable times to allow tourists to enjoy their breakfasts before heading out for a day in the field.”
Walk attendees Robyn and Ben from Ipswich were quoted as saying: “A lovely walk in stunning scenery with locals and experts who really know where to go and what to look for.
“The guides know so much about the wildlife – the flowers, the bees as well as the birds!”
The RSPB’s nature reserve at Balranald and the Langass Lodge area on North Uist will feature on the itinerary in 2014 as they have in previous years.
The former offers the chance to see a rich variety of machair wildlife and learn about the management of this unique habitat.
The walks at Langass offer the chance to see otters, seals and both species of eagle. There will also be evening walks to hear and, for the lucky, see corncrakes, a species high on most birdwatchers ‘Must See’ list.
Mr Taylor added: “In addition to the walks in North Uist, there will also be Bird of Prey Walks based on South Uist and also Harris and Lewis. They all offer a good chance to look for the majestic golden and white -tailed eagles, soaring over their scenic mountainous territories.
“As well as eagles, hen harrier and short-eared owl are an added attraction gliding over the heather moorlands on South Uist. On Harris and Lewis the walks led from the Loch na Muilne RSPB reserve provide a opportunity to see the rare red-necked Phalarope in its breeding finery.
“The only instance where virtually nothing was seen in 2013 was when 24 people turned up for a wander in thick fog! Even then, visitors commented on how much more enjoyable that day in the fog was, when compared to their usual office bound days at work.
“These walks will be at various places during the season, so local posters should be checked carefully beforehand taking note of the correct time and location.”
For further information on Corncrake walks contact Brian Lowe, RSPB Corncrake Officer 01876 510725 (mobile 07887 630530).
For further information on Balranald Walks, Otter Walks or South Uist Bird Of Prey Walks contact Stuart Taylor 07825357191 or Jamie Boyle 07768042547.
For further information on the Harris Raptor walks please contact Robin Reid, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07920 587 321. Robin Reid can also be contacted for further details of the Loch na Muilne walks.