Loch Ness is the largest body of water in the British Isles. Most famous for its monstrous inhabitant ‘Nessie’ it’s become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Highlands. Most visitors come for the loch, the monster, and the castles. However, the surrounding woodlands, hills, and moorlands are home to some spectacular wildlife. Highlights include pine marten, Scottish wildcat, red deer, badgers, red squirrels, golden eagles, and even the occasional white-tailed eagle.
This special part of the Highlands is also home to the AECOM / Lifescape Project / University of Cumbria rewilding experiment – the ‘Natural Capital Laboratory‘. As well as a new rewilding centre set up by Trees for Life who have been working since the 1980s to restore the ancient Caledonian forests that once covered the region. If that’s not enough, it’s a short hop from here to the Moray Firth where you can see bottlenose dolphins and minke whales!
Average rating: 4.9 (very good)
Average cost: like everywhere in Scotland it’s free to wild camp and most of the wildlife can be found by walking around yourself. Costs are likely to depend on where you stay and what you eat. Most people need a car to get around which can cost around $25 a day.
Best time to visit: the Scottish Highlands are spectacular at any time of year. The (notoriously bad) weather is best from May to September although the warmer months are also the most midge heavy. If you want good weather and no midges go for May or September.
How to get there: the easiest way to get to Loch Ness is from Inverness, which is around 30 mins drive away. You can get a bus from Inverness or even cycle to the loch (see here for details) although it’s usually easier to go via car. Especially if you’re looking to get away from the loch and explore the surrounding area in search of wildlife.
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, camping, hiking, walking
Number of reports: 9
WILDLIFE IN Loch Ness
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Golden eagle – 30% OF wildside users (3/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Golden eagle populations are on the rise in the Loch Ness area – thanks in part to the work of sporting estates and public sector bodies through the Highland golden eagle project. The project has been so successful, some of the Loch Ness estates are now starting to help golden eagles to re-establish themselves in the south of Scotland. We’ve seen them when walking through the high peat bogs on the hilltops around Ardochy. If you go looking there are some good tips for eagle watching in Scotland here. There are reports of eagle sightings on some of the cruises on Loch Ness. You could also check out the Trees for Life rewilding project at Dundreggan which has just had their first successful breeding eagles for 40 years! Alternatively, head to the nearby Findhorn Valley for a great spot to see these amazing birds.
Pine marten – 0% OF wildside users (0/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Loch Ness area supports a good population of these incredible creatures – although they are difficult to see! At the laboratory site we have lots of camera trap videos of pine martens but have never seen one in real life. Some of the best spots to look out for them are B&B gardens which leave food out for birds and squirrels. It’s not uncommon for hungry pine martens to arrive looking for peanuts. According to reports on TripAdvisor the Craik Na Dav B&B is a great spot to see them thanks to a resident pine marten called Peanut that regularly visits the garden. Each room has a window facing the feeders and the owners will even knock on your door to give you pine marten alerts!
Red squirrel – 30% OF wildside users (3/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Loch Ness is also an important place for red squirrels. And like pine martens, one of the best places to see them is in the gardens of local B&Bs. Craik Na Dav B&B again seems to be a popular place to spot these adorable creatures.
At the laboratory, we’ve been monitoring the red squirrel population by counting the number of pine cones eaten. It seems there’s a population of between 5-9 individuals using the site. The camera traps are full of videos of them scurrying about looking for food – and we’ve even seen them from the windows of the cabin. They’ve also been spotted at the Trees for Life Dundreggan estate north of the loch. You can learn more about the pioneering red squirrel work by Trees for Life here. Alternatively, check out the red squirrel walk at the Falls of Foyers for a great spot to look out for them.
European Badger – 0% OF wildside users (0/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
There are plenty of badgers in and around the Loch Ness area – although being nocturnal creatures they are pretty difficult to see! We get plenty of them stumbling across the camera traps at the laboratory site but haven’t actually seen any in the flesh. There are some reports on TripAdvisor suggesting that the Serendipity B&B is a good place to look out for badgers. Although you might have to be patient and happy to sit outside in the dark if you want a chance of seeing any!
Red deer – 60% OF wildside users (6/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Red deer are a common sight in the Loch Ness area year-round. They spend the summer up in the hills before moving lower down in the winter where food is more readily available. This means you often have a chance to see them up close – especially in winter. It’s not unusual in the remoter areas, such as south of the loch, to find red deer in gardens munching on shrubs and buses! One of the challenges at the laboratory is to keep hungry deer away from the trees we’re planting. Keep a lookout when you’re walking, cycling, or driving and you’ll have a good chance of spotting one. Note, the lack of reports on TripAdvisor is due to people not specifying the type of deer they have seen. Not a lack of deer!
White-tailed eagle – 0% OF wildside users (0/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
White-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK in 1918 due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1975 they were reintroduced to the Isle of Rum in Scotland. Since then they have spread throughout the Highlands. Chances of seeing one in the Loch Ness area are low – although there have been sightings reported on cruises around the loch. As well as on the nearby Loch Mhor. They are more likely to be seen perching, on the ground, or flying low down than golden eagles. For more info there’s a fascinating article about the lives of white-tailed eagles in East Scotland here.
Wildcat – 0% OF WILDSIDE USERS (0/10) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The Scottish wildcat – or Highland Tiger – is the UK’s only remaining cat. Once widespread across the UK, they are now restricted to northern Scotland. This is due to a combination of habitat loss, hunting, and interbreeding with domestic cats. It’s estimated that there may only be around 30 to 430 individuals left – making them one of the rarest cats in the world. While there may be wildcats in the Loch Ness area – there are priority areas to the north and east of the loch – any population is likely to be extremely small. There are some nice tips on how to look out for wildcats here. But sadly, your chances of seeing one in the wild are about the same as seeing Nessie.