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14 Jul 2023

Why we love Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve

Why we love Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve


Two voices: Martin Lyall and Ciaran Hatsell

My name's Martin Lyall. I'm a ranger for the National Trust for Scotland and I'm based at Grey Mare's Tail, which is where we are today.
The Grey Mare's Tail is a nature reserve about 10 miles east of Moffat.
Our main attraction is of course the waterfall -- the Grey Mare's Tail.
It's 60 metres tall, the fifth highest in Scotland. The reserve is 922 hectares in size.
We're part of the Southern Uplands SSSI because of the wide variety of habitats that we contain, from montane heath all the way down to low-level grassland.
There is a lovely walk that takes you up to Loch Skeen, which is very picturesque.
We also have a surrounding ring of hills including White Coomb, which is the highest part of Dumfriesshire.
People come here mainly for walking, but also this place is very popular with birdwatchers. Along with our peregrines and our kestrels, you might even see an eagle as we're in the range of the South of Scotland Eagle Project release programme.
I just really love working here because I'm outdoors in the wild all day.
It's just a beautiful bit of Scotland -- we seem to have a little bit of everything here.

My name's Ciaran Hatsell. I'm the Head Ranger here at Grey Mare's Tail Nature Reserve for the National Trust for Scotland.
We're up here at Loch Skeen -- the magnificent Loch Skeen.
If you're lucky, on a beautiful calm day, you might get to see ospreys fishing in the loch.
It's a lovely tranquil place to come and just take five, have your picnic and immerse yourself in nature.
When you jump out the car at the car park, it's a bit of a steep hike -- it's a real test for the legs but it's definitely worth it!
What you get when you come up the path is what we call the 'big reveal'.
You come round and the loch's completely hidden until you poke your head over the brow of the hill and wow! there it is, right in front of you.
It's absolutely stunning.

Loch Skeen was formed by glaciation, so over millions of years it was a glacier.
You can still see in the landscape around it the moraines -- or the lumps and bumps, the knobbles and bobbles on the landscape.
It's left a really, really interesting landscape from both a visual perspective and from a botanical perspective as well.
Something that we're really keen to do here is to maintain the diversity as much as we can.
The range of habitats is really special: we've got montane heath, montane scrub; we've got blanket bog; we've got acid grasslands. Some of the plant life in there is beautiful and special.
As part of that, we get quite a few dragonfly species and butterflies, and that has a knock-on for the wider biodiversity for the site.
Something that we've done on our land as well in recent years is some peatland restoration.
What we've done is, through local contractors and stakeholders, we've managed to work as a team to reprofile those hags.
It's something we can do hopefully to really help sequester carbon and it will also restore the habitat for a much wider range of species going forward.
A bit of a hidden secret of Loch Skeen up here is the vendace.
The vendace is one of the rarest freshwater fish in the UK but they thrive here in Loch Skeen.
It's about 11 metres deep so they like the cool waters.
They find shelter and then they come to the edge to feed and to spawn as well.
You might not see it but we are doing our best to try and conserve it and look after it and preserve its future in the UK.

On our site here, we've got a really cool feature called a kettle hole.
What that is is basically when the glacier retreated, it's left a massive block of ice stuck in between some rocks, and it's slowly melted and it's created a really intensely deep pool.
We don't actually know how deep it is but it's one of the little quirks of the site.
It's a really cool thing to just poke your head in.
So when you come up to Loch Skeen, if you go up and right on the steep hill just above it, it's just there in front of you.

I love Grey Mare's Tail because it's so different.
It's a really special place for so many reasons.
I would say that one of the coolest things about it is just to focus on the small things and find your nooks and crannies because there's so much more to this site than just the waterfall.
I've spent years working on seabird islands, surrounded by the coast.
Coming to the uplands here, it's just so different but it is so special.
There's so many different nooks and crannies, so many ecological niches to explore and there's such a really wide diversity of plant life and of wildlife.
Even the layman can get involved! It doesn't matter whether you're an expert or a beginner, you can come out here and you can love it.
You can absolutely love it and get involved in it.

I really love the Grey Mare's Tail just because it's got everything.
We've got our hills and our loch, our merlins; we've got an amazing selection of wildlife.
The waterfall itself is absolutely amazing.
It's just got a really nice vibe. People should come and visit.
It's great to experience the wildlife and Scotland's amazing scenery, and just knowing that you're part of the National Trust for Scotland's plans to preserve it for future generations.

With a mesmerising waterfall and a spectacular ‘surprise’ loch, members of our ranger team share some of the reasons to explore this nature reserve near Moffat.

Where, deep deep down, and far within.
Toils with the rocks the roaring linn;
Then, issuing forth one foamy wave,
And wheeling round the giant’s grave,
White as the snowy charger’s tail
Drives down the pass of Moffatdale.

(Excerpt from Marmion, Walter Scott)

As you venture beyond the fifth highest waterfall in Scotland, the secrets of this landscape gradually unfold to reveal a spectacular mountain loch, precious restored peatland and breathtaking views across the Moffat Valley.

Plan your visit today

We are very grateful for the support of NatureScot and the Tweed Forum on our peatland restoration work.

Please note that permission for drone flying was granted by the National Trust for Scotland. Please contact for recreational and commercial drone filming enquiries.

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