NATURE has been a saviour for many of us over the last few tumultuous months. When there has been little else to do to fill our time, the healing power of the natural world has proved to be the perfect antidote to the turmoil of this difficult year. And although we are heading into the depths of winter, the good news is that Scotland still has plenty still to see within its many dedicated nature reserves. You might not be able to visit them all due to current Covid restrictions, but there’s plenty to see when the rules loosen in the future.

Loch Leven National Nature Reserve, Kinross

This is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Loch Leven, the largest natural shallow water body in lowland Britain, is home to more breeding ducks than anywhere else in inland Europe. Ducks aside, the loch is renowned for having vast numbers of pink-footed geese, with October seeing around 10% of the world population of the species arriving at its shores. Come early in the morning or late in the evening to see them at their most spectacular – heading off to feed or returning to roost. There’s a pleasant – albeit crisp – 13-mile trail that you can walk or cycle around the loch which is traffic-free apart from a stretch of just 100 metres. There are different points at which you can start your exploration but there’s also various cafes around the loch’s circumference, so you can take several pitstops if necessary to help you complete the whole thing. It’s a great option for a family day out, but make sure that you don’t disturb any wintering birds on your way.

Galloway Unesco Biosphere Reserve, Dumfries and Galloway

Being named a UNESCO Bisophere Reserve is no mean feat. Awarded by the United Nations in recognition of being a site that promotes sustainable development, biodiversity management and positive interactions between social and ecological systems, these reserves are lauded as a ‘local solution to global challenges.’ The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere was the first to be named in Scotland, in recognition of its diverse countryside as well as the conservation efforts of the people who live there. With its boundary stretching from Ayr down to Whithorn and Kirkcudbright and from Cairnryan to Sanquhar and Thornhill, there’s probably too much to try and see at once, but the dedicated Biosphere website has a list of itineraries to be explored at your own pace. These highlight how you can aid conservation and learning as well as enjoying the nature on offer.

www.gsabiosphere.org.uk

RSPB Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire

£3 for adults, £1.50 for children

It might be less than half an hour from Glasgow city centre, but the tranquil wetlands of RSPB Lochwinnoch feels a world away from urban life. And while many other wildlife might be heading into hibernation, this RSPB nature reserve is still teaming with birds- recent sightings include the arrival of whooper swans from Iceland. These elegant birds, which take one of the longest migratory routes in the world, are also a particularly romantic species who stay with their mate throughout the year, sometimes for life. If their partner dies then they may not ever mate again! You can also see goldeneye, goosander, occasional hen harriers and kingfishers, which are most commonly spotted between now and March.

www.rspb.org.uk

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

Eternally popular, with both locals and tourists alike, Loch Lomond is surely one of the most iconic natural sights in Scotland. The loch itself is the largest freshwater loch, by volume, in the country, but the national park has much more to offer beyond that. With 21 Munros to climb – as well as many other smaller peaks – it also has woodlands, beaches and wetlands that can be explored in relative peace and quiet despite being within close reach of Glasgow and Stirling. It straddles the dividing line of the Highland Boundary Fault, so it offers a taste of the dramatic scenery that can be seen further north without having to venture too far from the central belt. Winter wildfowl numbers at their peak at this time of year, making it the ideal time to visit the Endrick Mouth. Looking its best at sunrise or sunset, you will be able to see flocks of these spectacular birds leaving or coming in to roost on the reserve. Make sure to bring your camera.

St Cyrus National Nature Reserve, Montrose, Angus

The inland cliffs and sand dunes at St Cyrus protect its delicate flora and fauna from the ravages of a Scottish winter. This is one of the richest and most diverse reserves in the country, with winter bringing otters on the southern part of the reserve, birds including the short-eared owl, redshank and curlew, and seals and whales offshore. The reserve has been busy over the last few months but if you arrive to find the car park full, you are kindly asked to avoid parking on the road verges.

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Torridon, Wester Ross

Beinn Eighe was the UK’s first National Nature Reserve – set up in 1951. It offers some of the most dramatic scenery in the country, with the rugged Torridon Peaks offering spectacular views in themselves. But beyond that, the park also includes an ancient Caledonian pine forest, where some of the trees date back for more than 350 years, with pine martens, red deer and crossbills if you want to try and spot them. Even more impressively is the soaring golden eagles which can be seen throughout the reserve. Yet the real piece de resistance must be Loch Maree, the most quintessential example of a Highland loch.

Clyde Valley Woodlands Nature Reserve, Lanark

It might not be the best-known nature reserve on our list, but the Clyde Valley Woodlands is well worth a visit. It contains Scotland’s oldest forest, with dramatic gorges and waterfalls that are home to a variety of flora and fauna. These steep gorges made timber harvesting impossible, which means that woodlands have survived for hundreds of years relatively undisturbed and are wonderfully lush as a result. Spring is the best time to see the woodland floor while carpeted with bluebell and primrose – but winter brings perks of its own. The waterfalls and burns are at their most powerful and awe-inducing, while the paths are quieter and more suited to social distancing, thanks to the November chill deterring the wimpier walkers among us.

Forvie National Nature Reserve, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

The huge sand dunes at the Forvie Reserve are renowned across the country. Popular with birds including waders and snow buntings, there’s also plenty of plant life to admire. Yet perhaps the real draw of this area is the sand itself, which provides a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for a wintry walk.

Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, Aviemore, Cairngorms

Really, the entire Cairngorms National Park is a nature reserve of sorts. But it is in Craigellachie, near Aviemore, that visitors can experience the best of this wonderful region, with woodland, lochs and mountains to be explored. Winter brings sightings of both roe and reed deer among the silver birch trees, with birds also seen skimming along the water’s edge. But arguably the best sight of all is not of wildlife, but of the snow-capped Cairngorm mountains, which arguably look better at this time of year than in any other season.

Possil Marsh, Glasgow

Milton, in the north of Glasgow, isn’t widely known for its lush nature reserve. But that is exactly what is on offer in the Possil Marsh, sandwiched between Milton and Summerston, which is a designated nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. It boasts a shallow freshwater loch that’s surrounded by marsh, swamp and grassland, which support rare flora and fauna as well as wildfowl – which can be spotted in a visit during winter. The marsh was once part of a system of lochs and wetlands that stretched throughout the west of Scotland, but were destroyed by industrialisation and urbanisation. The marsh was designated as a bird sanctuary in the 1950s, but the real excitement came back in 1804 when a meteorite fell nearby, one of only four to be recorded in Scotland. Parts of it remains in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University.

Please follow current Scottish Government restrictions