Outer Hebrides Tourism and RSPB Scotland have joined forces to launch a new Bird of Prey Trail in the Outer Hebrides.
Both organisations wish to highlight one of the islands’ greatest natural assets: the abundance of birds of prey.
RSPB Scotland’s Robin Reid said, “The Outer Hebrides is a stronghold for several of Scotland’s most iconic predators including both golden eagles and sea eagles. For many visitors to the islands, an eagle encounter is the highlight of their stay. The Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey Trail links the best places to watch birds of prey throughout the islands and aims to attract more visitors to enjoy these spectacular birds.”
Although the Outer Hebrides comprises less than one- twentieth of Scotland’s land area, the archipelago is home to almost one third of Scotland’s sea eagles, a fifth of our golden eagles and merlins, and one tenth of our hen harrier population. The national golden eagle survey carried out in 2015 found almost 100 occupied golden eagles territories across the Outer Hebrides. Birds of prey thrive here along with an abundance of other wildlife as a result of sympathetic land management, rich feeding areas and large expanses of remote terrain free from disturbance.
With big skies and vast open vistas, the islands are one of the best places in Europe to watch birds of prey. Here, birds of prey are surprisingly tolerant of human activity and the chances of an encounter are just as good watching from the roadside as on a hike to one of the remote peaks. However, without some knowledge of the birds habits, and the best places to look they can still be illusive.
The trail is a self guided journey from the island of Barra in the south to Ness at the tip of Lewis in the north linking thirteen locations ranging from cafes and ferry routes to long distance footpaths. Interpretation at each site provides information and tips on how to spot the birds of prey in the area.
Robin Reid, who is also chairman of the islands’ bird of prey study group, said. “We already run a guided walks programme throughout the islands which attracts hundreds of participants each year. The RSPB’s eagle walks in Harris and bird of prey walks at Loch Druidibeg on South Uist are always very popular. It’s a great feeling to be able to show visitors and local residents views of birds they have wanted to see for many years. The Eagle Observatory in North Harris, which attracts 5,000 visitors a year, has shown how much of a draw these birds are and it is hoped that the trail will attract further visitors to the islands. It is also hoped that the trail will enable tourism providers to better promote local wildlife species to their guests.”
Ian Fordham form Outer Hebrides Tourism said “We were delighted to work in partnership with RSPB on this project to further enhance the Outer Hebrides as a nature based tourism destination. The Bird of prey Trail is great way of promoting to visitors the magnificent birds of prey we have here. Not only do the locations mark the best places to see them, but also the interpretation panels and our website will give both visitors and tourism providers a better understanding of these spectacular predators”
Each trail location is sign posted by a metal cut-out of an eagle. Robin added, “We worked with bright brands to create a bold identity while using materials sympathetic to the landscape. The cast iron panels will rust to blend in with the heather moorland and the timber posts will take on the silvery grey of the rocks that dominate so much of the landscape.”
The website for the trail is hosted on the Outer Hebrides destination website www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk where you can also find out about other places to visit, stay and eat close to the trail locations. Leaflets are available at Tourist Information Centres.
The Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey Trail has been developed in partnership between RSPB Scotland and Outer Hebrides Tourism, supported by funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local council, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The partnership has also worked with a number of community and private landowners who have hosted the trail locations.