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24 Jun 2022

Herons return to Inverewe

Written by Jenni Fulton, Volunteer at Inverewe Estate
A heron on the nest high above the jetty at Inverewe Garden
Grey herons frequent the shores and fields across the UK and beyond, most distinctive when wading through shallow water, flying with their huge wingspan in long slow wingbeats or when giving their distinctive sharp call.

The heronry at Inverewe has been established for many years. We are fortunate that it is located within the garden and so can be easily viewed by our visitors. In previous years the herons were even recorded on camera, as can be seen by the cables still in place up the favoured but now fragile trees. One single, old, gnarly pine tree seems to be the herons’ place of choice still, but as it declines and the branches become more brittle there are fewer suitable areas to support the heron nests.

As a Trust volunteer I have been keeping an eye on the nests. In 2022 at the start of the season there were just four attempted nests on that Scots pine – loose arrangements of sticks brought in by the prospective parents. One of these was no more after this year’s storms. Storm Malik and Storm Corrie definitely took their toll.

But herons can be surprisingly tolerant of humans, and whilst the gardens were still quiet at the beginning of the season a new nest was formed on a beech tree not far from the original heronry. Laying began early, although I suspect there were fewer eggs than in past years, and by May it was evident that there were at least three chicks hatched from the remaining nests.

Quietly approaching the areas where the nests can just be picked out, young could be seen sitting preening, occasionally making the clacking sound that is their food-soliciting call. The adult birds have a surprising range of vocalisations; most common is that squawk and they can be startled off the nest.

The beech tree nest has experienced mixed fortunes – it appears to have fallen in at one point and there are too many heron feathers for a bird to have survived. Was it an adult? Some of the feathers are rather dark for a young chick. One healthy chick remains in situ, no doubt nearly ready to fledge.

One or two adults can be seen fishing close to Camas Glas most of the time. Another nest is abandoned and a further one still has an adult present, weeks after hatching should have taken place. A late laying perhaps, still to hatch, or failed eggs? We may never know.

However, around the shore by Poolewe this week there are two healthy young herons each following a parent around and making food-soliciting calls, although quite possibly able to fend for themselves. They must have flown there as it’s a long and awkward walk! Smaller than the adults who have a more clear grey with black and white markings, the chicks are harder to spot in their drab colours. Herons might stand tall at around 1m, but they are light in weight, only around 1–2 kg.

We will continue to observe the Inverewe herons, hoping that this year’s drop in numbers is just a glitch, as happens in nature. With luck, and as the forests themselves change, we hope they will find new sites to nest and keep the colony going.

As for me, well there are plenty more delights after the short heronry season is passed. Passing through one morning, a large flock of long-tailed tits were working the birch trees – I was churred at by a curious youngster! Tree creepers, spotted flycatchers, goldcrest, all the finches and a whole range of other species abound. As a keen learner but no expert, my own Inverewe bird species list is around 60 already!

If you are visiting, walk down to the wildlife hide just outside the gardens, take a look at the information and add your own sightings. We input these to the National Trust for Scotland Biological Records, which is a central database helping to build a more full picture of the wonderful variety of wildlife here at Inverewe.

We will update this story as the season progresses. If you are visiting Inverewe, do tell about us your sightings via our Facebook page or email us at

The unexpected storm damage wreaked on Inverewe Garden puts a strain on our charity’s resources.

As well as the wildlife affected, many of the trees that came down at Inverewe were mature specimen trees of pine, beech, eucalyptus and silver fir, with some dating back to Osgood Mackenzie’s original plantings. Amongst the 90 large shrubs and rhododendrons, Inverewe has lost some of its national champions. The loss of the largest Scots pine at over 30m in height has been particularly heartbreaking for the team at Inverewe and for those who know the garden well. For many of our wonderful volunteers and guests these trees were like old friends. If you would like to donate to the National Trust for Scotland to help Inverewe recover, please see our storm damage appeal page.

Thank you.

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