There are many different and interesting creatures to be found in Glen Nevis. Below, we have listed some of them past and present, common and not-so-common. If you’ve been out and about in the glen and have any interesting sightings to tell us about, or photos to show us, please pop in! We always like to know what our visitors see!
The Wild Past of Glen Nevis:
Wolf – Wolves survived on a diet of red deer, small mammals, and allegedly even humans! As much-feared creatures, they were hunted down and were last known to have been in the Glen Nevis area in the 18th Century.
Wild Boar – Bones found of these creatures suggest the wild pigs could have weighed up to a quarter of a ton. These were last known to be living in the Glen Nevis area in the 17th Century.
Northern Lynx – Europe’s only big cat can still be found in the forests of Sweden. In Scotland, however, it is thought to have been hunted to extinction by Neolithic man. These were last known to be living in the Glen Nevis area in the 3rd Century.
Beaver – The beaver’s waterproof pelt was a prized fashion accessory in medieval Scotland and the animals themselves were also hunted as a food source. Beavers were last known to be living in the Glen Nevis area in the 16th Century.
Brown Bear – These animals were once commonplace. The brown bear was hunted to extinction for its fur and as a food source. They were last known to be living in the Glen Nevis area in the 10th Century.
Wildlife found today
Land dwelling animals: The most common of these are our Red Deer.
Red Deer are the 4th largest deer in the world with size differing per country. The stags (males) are very large with antlers on their heads, whereas the hinds (females) are much smaller with no antlers. In the Summer, when food is plentyful, they roam freely wherever they wish. However, in the winter months, as food becomes harder to find, they tend to be confined to lower slopes, which tends to cause more frequent interaction with humans. As they have no natural predators left in Scotland (due to the extinction of wolves), it is sometimes necessary for a professional cull to take place. The reasons for this are numerous and include: the herd has become to large to sustain itself; they are becoming a nuisance by causing damage to farms/private property/land and causing more traffic accidents; and causing damage to trees, woodland flora and other wildlifes habitats. From around August into early winter our forests become alive with the roars of the stags during mating season, this is called the “rut” . Stags will roar and fight for their right to mate and if none of them back down from the fight serious injuries are sustained, only stags in their prime will be sucessful.
Foxes – These are quite a common sight in cities these days, but up here in Glen Nevis they are rather shy and are not seen very often. They are nocturnal animals so you’ll need to be out at night to catch a glimpse of one.
Badgers – These are also very shy, nocturnal creatures. Badgers live in dens called “setts” which are dug quite deep into, normally, impermeable soils. This is why they have such sharp claws. Badgers also have a heightened sense of smell as they don’t have great vision, but they don’t need to as they live underground and are mainly nocturnal..Their young are called “kits”.
Red Squirrel – We are quite lucky in the fact that we don’t have the invading Grey Squirrel up North yet so our native Red Squirrels can have the chance to thrive! Despite what people think, these animals don’t actually hibernate: they come out thorughout the winter, when hungry, to munch on stores of food they have ‘squirreled’ away all summer to survive the winter. They live in “dreys” and have produce young named “kittens”. We do have some busy feeders placed throughout the glen. You could be lucky to get a sighting, so do pop into the centre and ask about them.
Otters – These animals are extremely shy towards humans, and are very difficult to spot. It is much easier to view them from afar. Otters are semi-aquatic animals that both live in water and on land. They have their “holts” near to water as that is where they hunt for food. They eat small fish but also eat land creatures such as small reptiles. They are most likely to be seen playing in water as they are very sociable creatures and are more likely to be with their “pups”.
Pine Marten – These little creatures mainly live in woodland, although they are also found on rocky moorland on hillsides. They are cat-sized creatures, quite slender, with long dark chestnut coloured fur and a bushy tail, distinguished by creamy yellow throats. They are carnivorous and eat a variety of foods including small birds, small mammals, small rodents and beetles.
Golden Eagle – This is one of the most well-known birds of prey. These birds are dark brown with lighter golden-brown plumage on their napes. Younger eagles typically have white on their tails and white patches on their wings. They use their agility and speed, combined with powerful feet and massive, sharp talons to snatch up their prey. They eat mainly hares, rabbits, marmots and other ground squirrels. They build their nests high up on cliffs, which they re-use for many years, and can be sighted at the top of our glen floating on thermals above the crags.
Buzzard – This bird of prey is a very common sight in our glen and all around the highlands. If you see a bird of prey sitting on a telegraph pole or suchlike, it is most likely a buzzard and not an eagle, as the two are often confused. Despite its size, the Buzzard is not a major predator, it prefers a diet of carrion and earthworms.
Woodpeckers – In Glen Nevis we have Great Spotted Woodpeckers around our forests and these are more likely to be heard than seen. However, at our visitor centre, we do often see a pair that frequent our very active feeders and have done so for a few years, with chicks in tow in the season. It is easy to tell the sexes apart as only the male has a red patch on the back of his neck. The juveniles have a red patch on the top of their heads.
Snow Buntings – These are large buntings with distinct ‘snowy’ plumage. These birds have an amber status in Scotland, evident by the fact that one third of Scotland’s mating pairs of the whole population of this species are located on Ben Nevis.
Garden Birds – We have a massive range of garden birds in Glen Nevis, and if you pop into the visitor centre you will get the chance to see them on our very busy feeders including the Bull Finch and the Golden Finch. When it is the season, we have a camera in one of our nest boxes which has been active with chicks for two seasons in a row. This can also be viewed at the visitor centre.
Chequered Skipper – This species of butterfly is now unfortunately extinct in England and its entire population now exists in Lochaber. It frequents open spaces within damp woodlands. In warm weather, adults are extremely active so you should look out for them in the glen between mid-May and the end of June in sunny, sheltered areas with plenty of nectar plants. The forests of the glen are the ideal place for them to float around.
Peacock (Butterfly) – This is unmistakeable with very distinct markings and is steadily spreading North and West through the Highlands where it was previously not seen this far up.
Dragonflies – We have lots of these winged creatures flying along our burns through the summer. They are beautiful creatures that have two sets of wings which means they don’t have to beat their wings as much to fly. In fact, bees have to beat their wings around 300 beats per second whereas dragonflies only have to beat theirs 30 times per second! However, don’t believe everything you hear because although they look like they have a sting, they don’t and will only hover around people for a short amount of time out of curiosity. They are not to be confused with the smaller and different coloured/wing-shaped damsel flies.
We have a wide variety of plants and wild flowers in the glen. Some are commonplace and easy to spot while some extremely rare and less likely to be seen. Below we have named just a few to whet your appetite.
Wood Anemone – These typically open in sunlight and close at night. Common throughout Glen Nevis.
Violets – These delicate flowers of early summer were cultivated for their medicinal properties by the ancient Greeks as early as 4000BC. Violets also provide essential food for the larvae of fritillary butterflies.
Common Spotted-Orchid – This is a robust and familiar orchid of grassland, woodland and roadside verges. The flowers range from pale pink to pink-purple but are marked with darker streaks and spots on the lip. It flowers from June to August.
Lesser Butterfly-Orchid – Slightly rarer than the previous orchid, this flower favours undisturbed grasslands, moorlands and woodland. These flowers are greenish white with a long, narrow lip, a long spur and pollen sacs that are parallel, borne in rather open spikes. They appear around May to July.
Butterwort and Sundews – These are the rarest flowers we have in the glen and on the lower slopes of Ben Nevis. They are carnivorous plants and are mainly found in peat bogs. They both have sticky substances on the leaf hairs this is, in fact, a digestive enzyme which traps then digests insects (including midges!). This gives the plants essential nutrients to survive as their habitats’ soils are so poor. Sundews are used for homeopathic reasons as they have a naturally-occurring antibiotic believed to cure anything from common viruses and fungi to tuberculosis bacillus.