Kintail and West Affric not only have some of Scotland’s best scenery but also some of the most diverse range of habitats. Famous Highland wildlife species, including red deer, golden eagles and otters, make their home here. One of the real wildlife surprises of the area is the healthy badger population which is widespread across the open countryside, with setts even found high on mountainsides. There are small populations of mountain hares and ptarmigan on the mountain tops, several pairs of greenshank breed near the rivers and lochs each summer, while the vast areas of peatland support important populations of the nationally declining water vole. These peatlands are also a very important ‘carbon sink’, storing large quantities of carbon dioxide.

Much of Kintail comes under crofting tenure and is grazed by sheep and cattle. The famous goats of Kintail strictly speaking aren’t native to Scotland. Long before sheep were ever brought here, the clan folk that lived in Kintail kept goats as their livestock, to produce milk and for their meat. Goats were first brought to the UK from the Middle East in prehistoric times. During the Highland Clearances these goats were often abandoned when the people were forced to leave, and the wild population of today are likely their descendants.

Meadow pipits are by far the most common bird in the area, breeding in the open grassland and heather moors. Ring ouzels, wheatears and whinchats also return each summer to join the stonechats that are resident all year. You may spot dippers on the rivers and streams, which are also home to a small and vulnerable Atlantic salmon population and otters. Otters are also common along the sea coast – look out for common porpoises in the loch too over the summer.

The National Trust for Scotland has been working to increase native woodland cover over the last few decades, in collaboration with the local crofters at Kintail and the charity Trees for Life in West Affric. By now, 18 areas have been fenced off from deer and sheep to allow trees to regenerate, and these are excellent areas to spot wildlife including woodland birds, insects and signs of pine martens.

You can also check out our wildlife spotter’s guide for Kintail, and see how many you can spot during your next visit:

Wildlife spotter’s guide: Kintail