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The Trust looks after some of our finest landscapes and wildlife, including nature reserves and National Parks. This year, we’re celebrating Scotland’s stunning natural beauty and biodiversity - read on for some hints and tips about wildlife spotting from our Nature Conservation Adviser Lindsay Mackinlay.

Scotland is rich in plants, birds and animals, but some species are harder to see than others. Here are some tips on how to look for some of our favourites, but remember, wildlife doesn’t play by the rules!

Otters occur in most rivers, lochs and coastal areas around Scotland, from the Water of Leith in Edinburgh to the Outer Hebrides. They can be active at any time all year round as they need to eat often, so where to look?

Your best bet for seeing otters is on the west coast of Scotland. Look for quiet areas of rocky coast with calm bays away from big waves, sit down (the hour before dusk is a good time), get your binoculars out (though you might not need them!) and just wait. The coast around Iona and Balmacara are especially good for them.

Red Squirrels
Red squirrels are found throughout Scotland, including Fife and the Borders, although the Highlands remain their stronghold. They especially like conifer woodlands as they like to eat pine seeds (look out for gnawed pine cones on the ground).

Early morning is the best time to see them as they are usually less active in the afternoons and in winter. Simply walk along any forest track, stop every 100m or so and watch for a while. If this is too taxing, they regularly come to bird-feeders. Great places to spot them include Crathes, Brodick (beside ranger centre), Killiecrankie (beside visitor centre) and Threave (hide next to Gardens).

Roe Deer
Roe deer are on the increase in Scotland and are now regularly spotted within our towns and cities, including on grassy verges alongside the M8 & M77 in Glasgow in the evenings. Smaller than red deer, they tend to be a species found in our lowlands and woodlands rather than our mountains.

They often graze fields, marshes or woodlands in small groups or as individuals all year round, especially early morning or at dusk when near settlements, though away from people, it’s common to see them in fields during the day - look out your window next time you travel through Scotland on a train - a great way to see them! Easy to identify by their white bottoms, white chins, red/brown coats and very small antlers (a lot smaller than red deer). Roe deer young have spots on them and often sit quietly in the grass if threats, such as people, approach. If you come across one like this, move away quickly and let it be; ‘Mum’ will be nearby! Roe deer are present on most NTS properties, as many gardeners will tell you(!), but you’d be unlucky NOT to see one at Threave (by the wetlands and fields), House of Dun and Mar Lodge.

These beautiful birds are on the increase as they move north with our ever-warming climate. Until the last few years, they did not breed on NTS properties, but these colourful birds are now breeding at properties like Threave, Newhailes, Culzean Country Park and Malleny Garden. They especially like mature woodlands and are often spotted probing for insects on the sides of trees and branches (not to be confused with tree-creepers which are much less colourful!). To learn what they look like, check out the video at www.nts.org.uk/natural as part of Year of Natural Scotland 2013!

Basking Sharks
If you’re out anywhere near the sea up the west coast of Scotland from June to September, you have a good chance of spotting Scotland’s largest fish, the basking shark. Basking sharks ‘appear’ during the summer months (where they go in winter is still largely unclear), their very big fins cruising the surface as they feed. They are easiest to see when the sea is calm and they can come very close to the shore (you don’t need to be on a boat).

Large groups of basking sharks can be seen off the islands of Coll, Tiree and Canna, though you have a good chance of seeing them off Arran, Mingulay and most islands up the west coast. Indeed, the sharks are so big (they grow up to 12m in length) they have been spotted in the sea from several hundred metres up the hill to Goatfell! If you want to get up real close and personal with one of these sharks, try a NTS kayaking trip!

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