Guest blog: Tentsmuir NNR

This week we have another guest blog from another SRUC student at another NNR. This time it’s Tentsmuir NNR, a reserve that I mentioned a couple of weeks back as I’d been planting a new reedbed/filter bed system at Morton Lochs.

 Tentsmuir NNR is a fantastic place to work and visit! My name is Ruari Dunsmuir and I’m the Tentsmuir SNH student placement. The Reserve is situated at the north-east corner of Fife (the tip of the Scottish Terrier’s ear) and is, in reality, not a single reserve but three smaller separate areas. Morton Lochs became and NNR in 1952 (the second place in the UK to be declared a NNR) with Tentsmuir Point added in 1954 and Tayport Heath in 1988. In 2003 SNH combined these sites to become Tentsmuir NNR.


A frozen Morton Lochs

Tentsmuir Point is an extensive area of dunes and mudflats which continues to grow seaward and is an internationally important area for waders and wildfowl as well both grey and common seals. Further inland Morton Lochs is a wetland area with open water attracting both wintering and breeding ducks as well as a variety dragonflies and damselflies. In addition, Tayport Heath is an area of dune heath extending along the shore of the Tay adding further richness to the Reserve.

Managing an NNR is never easy and Tentsmuir is a special challenge. It is an area that is in constant flux, so our aim isn’t to preserve what you see at Tentsmuir today, but to ensure the continuity of the processes which will allow Tentsmuir to change naturally in the future. We need to manage the dunes to achieve their fullest potential for biodiversity and to minimise pressure on birdlife. As for Morton Lochs we want to keep a haven for wildlife and restore the natural habitats that once thrived around the lochs while the challenge at Tayport Heath is to maintain the open heathland by controlling scrub.


Creating a wildflower meadow

As for myself, my role at the Reserve means that I carry out a wide variety of jobs. These include practical conservation management tasks such as species/habitat management, tree and scrub removal, new planting, herbiciding of invasive species and aquatic plant management. There are practical maintenance and management duties such as fencing and path work, while I also lead volunteer work parties and assist with educational visits. Though by far my favourite is the species monitoring – waterfowl, raptors, waders, invertebrates (dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies, and moths), and rare plants.


Kingfisher and a pair of Common Darters mating


The Tentsmuir White-tailed Sea Eagles

With such a diverse range of habitats the Reserve therefore has a wide range of species that can be seen with a keen eye and depending on the time of year. Around the coastal areas you can see Grey and Common Seals, Ravens, Otters, thousands of Eider, Dunlin, Grey Plover, and over wintering geese. Around Morton Lochs there are the playful Red Squirrels, Teal, Treecreepers, and clouds of Common Darters in summer. And this is only a small selection of what you may spot.

Though there is one species that everyone asks about: the White-Tailed Sea Eagles. These unmistakable birds have quickly become an iconic species around Tentsmuir and the nearby Eden Estuary with their massive 8ft (2.45m) wingspan giving rise to the nickname: The Flying Barn Door.The return of this eagle to Scotland is one of the great conservation success stories with the last native bird shot in 1918. Though mostly associated with the rugged west coast they have been seen regularly at Tentsmuir since 2013 with the Tay and Eden Estuaries providing the perfect environment.


Oystercatchers and a Grey Seal in the background


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