Dunnet Bay and the area inland of the dunes provide a wealth of interest for those who enjoy wildlife and beautiful scenery.
The sands stretch for two miles just to the south of the Old Red Sandstone cliffs of Dunnet Head; Scotland's most northerly point. They are backed by a high ridge of dunes with areas of active sand movement between the stable marram covered ridges. Inland of this, blown sand has formed a machair-like area known as Dunnet Links most of which lies within the National Nature Reserve.
The seashore, dunes and links each provide habitats for a wide variety of flowering plants. On a walk along the foredunes sea rocket and sea sandwort can be seen growing on the sand itself whilst on the rock platforms sea pink, scurvy grass and sea plantain predominate.
|The links area is the richest botanically with both lime loving plants, where the sand has inblown, interspersed with wetland plants in the ditches and streams. A wide variety of orchids grow here along with mountain everlasting, grass of Parnassus and the rare northern plant, the Scottish primrose. The ditches are bright with marsh marigold, watercress, mint and water forget-me-not. In all the Reserve boasts over 230 plant species.|
Much of the Reserve is privately owned but it is possible to see these plant communities in Dunnet Forest, owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage, to which the public have access. This forest, planted in the 1950s, is currently being managed to maintain the forest structure whilst enhancing the plant and invertebrate interest by opening up areas to restore the original grassland species. There is a small parking area at the southern end of the forest.
|A summer visitor to the forest will be able to see large numbers of butterflies including dark green Fritillary, common blue, meadow brown and the rarer small blue. The three ponds provide homes for frogs, toads, palmate newts and the nymphs of damsel and dragonflies.|
Nor will the birdwatcher to the area be disappointed. Sea birds including terns, gannets, auks and gulls feed in the bay. Waders such as dunlin, ringed plover, turnstone and sanderling winter along the shore and the moors provide breeding grounds for curlew, oystercatcher and redshank.
Visitor Centre and Ranger Service
At the Northern end of the bay there is a Natural History Visitor Centre funded by Highland Regional Council. A Countryside Ranger is based there and advises and informs on the natural history of Caithness and Sutherland. There is a programme of guided walks for those interested in a closer look at the flora and fauna. The centre also has displays and information of interest to all ages.
The opening hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 2-6 p.m. from April to the end of September. The guided walks last 2-3 hours. To book or for further information phone 01847 82531.
in conjunction with
Caithness & Sutherland Enterprise