The Winter Wildlife of Cairnsmore of Fleet

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere recently completed a series of sessions exploring one of the core areas of the Biosphere, Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve. ‘Connecting Cairnsmore’ was a series of discussions and guided walks exploring the wildlife, habitat and history of Cairnsmore of Fleet, one of the wildest and most remote landscapes in southern Scotland and an area of extremely high conservation value. Owned and managed by NatureScot, Cairnsmore of Fleet NNR is also a site of Special Scientific interest (SSSi) with nationally important blanket bogs and rare upland plants, and is one of the largest unforested uplands left in the Galloway Hills. 

Cairnsmore of Fleet is still full of life during the Biosphere’s coldest months. The Clints of Dromore offer the perfect hunting ground for peregrine falcon, the fastest animal ever recorded at a mindboggling speed of 242mph!  Peregrines prefer to hunt by flight-diving, flying above their target and then diving down on their prey. It is no coincidence that the B-2 Stealth Bomber followed the same body design. 

Once extinct in Scotland, red kites have made a remarkable recovery and can now be found throughout the Biosphere. They are superb at scavenging animal remains, helping reduce outbreaks of disease. They are, however, opportunistic and some rural populations have taken to human food with sandwiches, Gregg’s sausage rolls and even steak reportedly being swiped by these birds. 

Fox moth caterpillars (locally called ‘hairy grannies’!) and drinker caterpillars can still be found nestled in the stems of grasses, hibernating until spring. Both wear a hairy coat...but not for warmth. Rather, the hairs irritate predators making them unpalatable, allowing them to stay safe out in the open. 

Winter is the best time to see rare mountain hares, our only native lagomorph (rabbits & hares). It is smaller and greyer than the brown hare and in snowy winters dons a white coat. They were once widespread throughout mainland Britain though the introduction of brown hare & rabbit has now restricted them to upland habitats. Look out for these hiding in grassy tussocks, if you blink you might just miss them! 

If you would like to explore Cairnsmore of Fleet for yourself, don’t forget there is a visitor centre with toilets, and a newly sign posted In-Bye path to follow, and plenty of wildlife to spot at any time of year.

Mountain Hare

Euthrix potatoria caterpillar Kirkconell Flow May 2022

Euthrix potatoria caterpillar top

Macrothylacia rubi caterpillar side Caerlaverock September 2021

Red kite back wings