More than a million visitors are estimated to have visited Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (NNRs) this year as people sought an outlet from lockdown isolation.  

Analysis from Government body NatureScot has found that numbers getting out into the great outdoors soared by more than 350,000 compared to recent years, with the surge starting as doors began closing across the country in March. 

And it is hoped that the trend will continue into winter with a number of spectacular sights and activities taking place during the colder months.      

NatureScot Chief Executive Francesca Osowska said: "People throughout Scotland have been enjoying spending time outdoors more than ever in 2020.  

“Nature is helping us all cope with anxiety throughout this difficult time and strengthening our resilience.  

“I’d encourage people to get out and enjoy their local national nature reserves over the holiday season, following the latest government guidelines. “ 

The Herald:

Loch Level Nature trail pic: Louise Clark

Ms Osowska added: “Our nature reserve staff have highlighted some spectacular sights to see on our reserves this winter.” 

In Tayside, at Burleigh Sands at the Loch Leven nature reserve, staff have set up their own take on the 12 days of Christmas.  

READ MORE: Scotland’s 10 best nature reserves​

Visitors are urged to follow the signs to find the 12 Birds of Christmas, with the trail ending at a bird hide where they can try and spot all the birds and identify them. 

In North East Scotland at Forvie reserve, the Ythan Estuary is buzzing with birdlife as swans, as well as pink-footed geese from Iceland and a myriad of waders and ducks from Arctic regions gather here. 

Visitors might cross paths with an otter at dawn or dusk, while the number of grey seals will gradually increase over the winter. 

The Herald:

Coire Ardair in winter Pic - Lorne Gill

In South Scotland, birdwatchers in winter at Caerlaverock reserve can watch the geese in their characteristic V-shaped skeins during morning and evening. Barnacle geese can also be seen settled on the saltmarsh most days.  

There are also oystercatchers, curlew, redshanks, shelduck, pintails, and knot on the reserve now. This year, the reserve has seen a good number of little egrets, with their distinctive black legs and yellow feet, with over 40 recorded at the latest count.  

In the Highlands, a walk around the lower trails at Creag Meagaidh reserve will reveal large flocks of finches, such as chaffinches, brambling, linnet and goldfinches, feeding on wildlife-friendly crops.  

READ MORE: Stunning murmuration filmed in Scotland as falcon attacks

There are also a wide range of woodland birds, including black grouse, which have a strong population on the reserve.  

The higher path is likely to have snow at this time of year, but offers amazing views, with possible sightings of red deer, raven and golden eagle. 

Ms Osowska had some final words of advice for those visiting nature reserves: “It’s been amazing to see so many people enjoying our reserves this year, but we’d also like to remind people to protect our reserves for future generations,” she said.   

“For example please don’t litter or light campfires, as these can damage plants, trees and wildlife.”