THE Scottish Highlands are famed throughout the world as the realm of the red deer and golden eagle.

Tourists flock to the area’s remote mountainsides and glens, hoping to see stags rut and birds of prey swoop down on unsuspecting hares.

But it seems there’s much more to its plant and animal life than the iconic natural spectacles which dominate TV documentaries.

Newly compiled data from the National Biodiversity Network Atlas suggests the Highlands has by far the widest range of flora and fauna in Britain, boasting no fewer than 16,273 distinct types of plants, animals, fungi and micro-organisms. This is 2,052 more than second-placed Gwynedd in Wales.

Neighbouring Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire, and Perth and Kinross also rank highly, with each home to at least 9,000 species.

Adders and wild boar are among the less photographed and filmed creatures which can be found in the Highlands, while those scanning the skies might see a Daubenton’s bat or even the fulmar – a relative of the albatross.

Plant lovers, meanwhile, may come across the sneezewort, the Broad Buckler-fern, the dazzlingly coloured but poisonous monk’s hood, or even the Alpine blue-sow thistle.

The City of London, with a much smaller land area than the Highlands, finished bottom of the UK table. Just 159 species were recorded there.

North of the Border, Dundee City was found to be the least biodiverse region.

Experts said a number of major projects were helping to preserve plant and animal populations.

Stressing that nature lovers should obey travel and social distancing restrictions while the coronavirus outbreak is brought under control, Dr Christopher Ellis, who heads-up Scottish Science and Conservation at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: “It would be normal practice to compare biodiversity for equivalent areas, and because the Highlands is so large it does have an unfair advantage when calculating its number of species, compared to the other locations in the report. Nevertheless, the Highlands has a stunning array of wildlife that visitors experience, from alpine plants in mountain tundra, also home to ptarmigan and dotterel, through to boreal pinewoods with rarities such as capercaillie and twinflower. Globally important is its Atlantic rainforest, adorned with epiphytes.

“RBGE is involved in the conservation of many of these species and habitats.” But, we also seek to bring biodiversity closer to people’s homes in urban areas. Now, more than ever, with social distancing and travel restrictions, this local biodiversity is so important in benefiting people’s physical and mental wellbeing.”

The data, compiled by staff at the website, was extracted from NBN’s online tracker, with each recorded species having at least one occurrence within the boundaries of a given local area.

Areas with the highest total number of distinct species were deemed more biodiverse and areas with a lower count of distinct species were placed further down the ranking.

The strong showing for the Highlands comes after other studies raised fears over biodiversity levels north of the Border.

Figures in the State of Nature 2019 Scotland report found that average numbers across 352 species of mammals, birds, butterflies and moths had fallen by nearly a quarter since 1994.

The UK-wide decrease was 13%.

But Dr Debbie Basset, biodiversity strategy manager at Scottish Natural Heritage, said current efforts to protect species were having a positive effect.

“We are working with many partners to protect and help populations of red squirrels, pearl bordered fritillary butterfly and seabirds such as Manx shearwater and petrels.Ground-breaking work to conserve special genetic diversity is underway in the Highlands. SNH’s Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, with its ancient Caledonian pine forest, has been formally recognised as the UK’s first area designated for genetic conservation,” she said.

“Working with Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, we are establishing the beautiful and endangered Alpine blue-sow thistle at popular tourist spot, the Water of Clunie, Braemar. Work further afield includes restoration of our very own ‘rainforests’ which are home to ancient oaks and hazel woods, and support a huge variety of ferns, mosses and fungi.”

To access the NBNA/HolidayCottages biodiversity map, visit