Outdoors: Wild Spring marked by diverse wildlife

DUMFRIES and Galloway is one of Scotland’s most environmentally diverse areas that includes wild mountain scenery combined with rolling lowland countryside that is bounded by the long southern coastal flank of the Solway Firth, which in itself draws in many fine rivers with broad sweeping estuaries rich in geese, ducks and waders.

Indeed, I always find it somewhat perplexing that many people look to the Highlands as Scotland’s principal wildlife destination when the south-west of Scotland offers so much. For example, more species of butterfly and moth can be found in Dumfries and Galloway than in any other part of Scotland. The forests are home to red squirrels and in a few parts of the coastal “merse” there are rare natterjack toads. The more mountainous parts hold peregrine falcons, golden eagles and wild goats. In some lower lying areas red kites are expanding their range due to a successful reintroduction scheme; whilst in the damp woodlands you can find willow tits – a nationally scarce and declining bird. The 300 square miles of wildness in the Galloway Forest Park is also home to the nation’s first sky park.

To celebrate this natural diversity, Dumfries and Galloway’s 10th annual Wild Spring Festival (29 March to 31 May) will feature more than 100 wildlife events, many free and most hosted by local wildlife guides. Recognising the important role the Wild Spring Festival plays in making the area a world class place for nature, this year’s event is supported by The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere – the first place in Scotland to be awarded the status of Unesco Biosphere under the current scheme and one of less than 600 Biosphere reserves worldwide.

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The biosphere status was achieved in July last year, and according to Ed Forrest, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere project officer, its core principles including conserving nature and developing the economy in a sustainable way – will also be reflected in the Wild Spring Festival.

“We are delighted to be supporting the Wild Spring Festival as it truly showcases the core vision of the Unesco Biosphere in making life in the area better while caring for the natural environment,” he says. “As festival-goers will discover, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire has awe-inspiring landscapes and wildlife, as well as communities that care passionately about protecting and conserving our environment for future generations.”

This year’s Festival will highlight the region’s diverse wildlife by holding a varied range programme, including more child-friendly events than ever before including Easter scavenger hunts, fun-orientated tales about salmon, and badger-watching at night. Other events include a guided walk around the RSPB reserve on the Mull of Galloway, and for stargazers there will be an opportunity to learn about the night sky at the new Scottish Dark Sky Observatory near Dalmellington.

One of the highlights for the wildlife enthusiast is the Caerlaverock and Mersehead nature reserves, where barnacle geese can be seen in early spring before they head off to their summer breeding grounds in Svalbard. The importance of the Solway Firth for these geese is such that it holds the whole Svalbard population during winter. Another hotspot for visiting (in May) is the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Castramon Woods near Gatehouse of Fleet, which is rated as one of the top bluebell woods in Britain.

Chris Rollie, RSPB area manager Dumfries & Galloway, says the Unesco Biosphere is acknowledgement of the work by communities and organisations in conserving the area’s rich natural heritage – and the Wild Spring Festival will be a celebration of this joint approach.

“The Dumfries and Galloway Wild Spring Festival will provide visitors to the area with unique opportunities to learn about the fascinating projects that earned Galloway and Southern Ayrshire this prestigious status,” he says. “They can also discover some of the simple ways in which they too can help to protect Scotland’s most precious natural species and resources.”

• www.wildspringfestival.com