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17 September 2014
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Freshwater - Loch Leven

Wildlife haven

Loch Leven

Loch Leven is the largest loch in the Scottish lowlands and the biggest body of water in lowland Britain. The loch was declared a national nature reserve in 1964.

Loch Leven - a great range of seasonal wildlife

Loch LevenAs home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in inland Europe, the Loch is situated between the Ochil, Lomond and Cleish hills and attracts thousands of wildfowl from many different countries every year.

With 13 square kilometres of open water, an average depth of just four metres and a host of great nesting places on the Loch's seven islands, Loch Leven is an ideal habitat for the 15,000 Pink-footed Geese who stop over here during summer.

Look out for Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Sandpipers wading on the shoreline.

Mallard, Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall can be seen in the shallows, with diving ducks such as Tufted Duck and Pochard in the deeper water.

During late summer and the onset of autumn the water level in the Loch becomes low, revealing a huge expanse of mud flats which provide a rich food source for migratory waders from Iceland, Norway and Siberia.

Species including Golden Plover, Dunlin, Greenshank, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew are normally found on the coast but can often be seen on the edges of the, loch picking small invertebrates out of the mud with their beaks.

North, south, east, west

Osprey chick c/o Forestry CommissionThere are various things to see according to which area of the Loch you visit, although there are many different vantage points situated around the Loch providing excellent views no matter which one you decide on.

On the southern side is an RSPB reserve, while on the northern edge of the loch is Burleigh Sands, where a fantastic bird-watching spectacle can be seen.

One of Britain's biggest birds of prey, Ospreys are often seen here during the summer and are easily identified by their massive wingspan of around five feet.

They're here because of the plentiful supply of fish - Loch Leven is famous in particular for its Brown Trout, 40,000 which are caught every year and shipped around the world.

The Loch is also abundant in Rainbow Trout, Perch, Sticklebacks, Minnows and Pike, and as the Osprey's diet consists exclusively of fish, it's the ideal spot for them.

Their specially-shaped talons - two facing forwards, two facing backwards - are perfect for grabbing fish out of the water in a stunning aerial display.

Birds and plants

ButterflyBirdwatchers can also enjoy watching Buzzards competing with the Ospreys for food, while Swallows scavenge on the shoreline for small stones to help them digest food.

There are also a few pairs of Mute Swans whose numbers grow to almost 600 during the summer when Whooper Swans from Iceland and Bewick Swans from Russia join them on the Loch.

However, visiting the Loch in summer isn't without its downsides - it's bang in the middle of the moulting season, when many species shed their old feathers, resulting in a fluffy, slightly tatty appearance.

No matter where you stand on the shoreline, you're sure to find natural woodland with Birch, Willow and Alder populating the wetlands and Scots Pine growing in the drier areas.

The Birch woods also provide a good habitat for plants and fungi including Ink Cap, Fly Agaric and Bracket fungi, which all grow on dead and rotting timber.

The immediate shoreline is heavily populated with reeds and willow, while the lagoons feature beds of Yellow Flag Iris and the shocking pink Amphibious Bistort, among other colourful plants like the Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Marsh Cinquefoil and the oddly-named Bogbean.

Keen horticulturists should also look out for Holy Grass, with is only found on a handful of other sites in Scotland and is of national importance.

Isle be damned

Castle IsslandLoch Leven also has seven islands, one of which houses Loch Leven Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was once held captive before she managed to escape.

The Loch's seven islands also provide great bird watching opportunities, with St Serf's in particular being a great place to point your binoculars.

The largest of the islands, St Serf's is home to around 500 pairs of Tufted Ducks and several hundred pairs of Mallards.

The birds make their nests in the safety of the tall grass and under the watchful eye of a nearby black-headed gull colony, which help chase off any egg-thieving rooks flying overhead.

St Serf's is also home to a small number of Short-Eared Owls, which occasionally nest there and feed off the many short-tailed field voles which live on the reserve.

Other water-loving mammals often spotted along the shoreline are Otters, Water Shrews and Water Voles, as well as Roe Deer plus Mink and Brown Rats on the mainland.

Then there's the aptly-named Castle Island, which is home to Daubenton's and Pipistrelle bats.

It is also where held Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive while she was forced to abdicate in 1567, before she later escaped in 1568.

Photo credits

Osprey chick copyright and courtesy of the Forestry Commission.



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