Enjoying a natural high

Beinn Eighe is Britain’s oldest National Nature Reserve. It’s also a vast site, covering in the region of 48 square kilometres. Rugged peaks, towering ridges and scree-covered slopes, along with swathes of ancient Scots pinewood, draw visitors year after year.  But now those who like the smaller things in life have an attraction they too can revel in – the Beinn Eighe pollinator trail. 

Increasingly some visitors happen upon Beinn Eighe NNR almost by accident. Often that’s thanks to the North Coast 500, which runs right past the front door at Beinn Eighe’s visitor centre, and what a fantastic visitor centre it is. The road outside the centre is as dramatic as any, rather like Les Corniche on the Côte d’Azur, South of France (which features in the classic film ‘To Catch a Thief’)  mesmerising scenery draws the eye irresistibly.

But whilst our eyes are accustomed to the big views and the grand scenery, the pollinator trail here aims to explain why the very little things in life matter deeply.

Our appreciation of the role of insects in the world is clearly ever increasing. There are plenty of them around Beinn Eighe, and the pollinator trail highlights some of them by tagging onto the Buzzard Trail which starts from right outside the popular visitor centre.

Mind you, that said, walkers, cyclists and motorists will actually spy their first pollinator sign before they have even settled, for it sits on the grass verge immediately outside the visitor centre. This is a wildflower patch that nestles in between the road, the large welcome sign and the centre.  Here the pollinator trail panel ‘Mow less, give more’ explains the benefit of the reduced mowing principle. 

Once you join the pollinator (or buzzard) trail you come quickly to a sign explaining the virtues of helping pollinators. On a lovely, even, path you are soon invited to consider hoverflies, and role of trees and shrubs in helping pollinators.  The information panels are housed in local wood and both sensitive to the special surroundings and easy on the eye.

As the trail meanders beneath the trees the role of deadwood in providing insects with hibernation, shelter and nesting opportunities is followed by a panel that takes a closer look at the early season value of willow as a food source for emerging insects in spring.

Up to this point the trail has been in calming woodland, but things get a bit more dramatic when a series of beautifully laid, and easy to negotiate, steps take the visitor higher up the reserve. When you emerge from the smell of pine trees it is fitting that you quickly come across a sign devoted to another Scottish icon – heather.

Visitors will surely enjoy a sign that celebrates this widespread plant and the chances are they will be equally captivated by the next panel which is intriguingly titled ‘The Hardy Highlander’. It takes a look at the blaeberry bumble bee, also known as the bilberry or mountain bumble bee. It’s a subject you can read more about on our blog.

As the trail gradually descends back into the woodland there is time for one more sign – devoted to the power of flowers. Having something pollinator-friendly in flower from early spring to autumn is crucial for emerging pollinators and those heading into hibernation. 

The trail went out at the start of April, when the primroses were in flower, but it wasn’t feeling very spring-like with snow on the ground. It will stay out over the summer and right through to the end of October, so there is still plenty of time to pay a visit, talk a walk around and pick up some interesting facts. If you are out visiting the pollinator trail be sure to take your camera and submit photos to the Beinn Eighe photo competition that is running over summer to celebrate Beinn Eighe’s 70th anniversary.

The aim of the trail is to raise awareness of species and habitats, and to encourage folk to go home with an idea or two on how they could improve their local patch for bees and other pollinators.

There is of course so much more to see at Beinn Eighe than the pollinator trail. The stunning Mountain Trail, the calming Woodland Trail, and the sheer pleasure of relaxing in such nature-rich surrounds are a fantastic way to spend time. But we are rather taken by reserve manager Doug’s excellent pollinator trail, and – returning our earlier Mediterranean analogy – it surely glitters as brightly as the jewels in ‘To Catch a Thief’.

Find out more about Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve