In August, the creation of the UK's largest National Nature Reserve (NNR) moved a step closer to reality.
A press release from the RSPB revealed the Board of Scottish Heritage has approved plans for the designation of the Great Trossachs Forest as an NNR.
Located within Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, the site will cover some 16,500 hectares, making it the largest of its kind in the UK. It is within one hour's drive of 80 per cent of the Scottish population.
A wide range of wildlife, habitats and landforms can be found within the Great Trossachs Forest, including some that are of national or international importance, such as upland wood pasture, ancient woodland and wet woodland.
Commenting on the approved plans, Scottish Natural Heritage chairman Ian Ross stated: "The Great Trossachs Forest NNR clearly displays the key features associated with an NNR - it is nationally important, well-managed and is inspiring and accessible to the public, offering a host of attractions for visitors to experience, savour, and enjoy.
"This stunning location is an inspirational backdrop for people to responsibly enjoy Scotland’s outstanding natural heritage.”
Co-managed by the RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Woodland Trust Scotland, the Great Trossachs Forest is currently undergoing a restoration project that aims to restore the ground to a more natural mosaic of open hill ground and woodland. Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund has helped to make this possible.
An important haven
It is hoped this work will boost diversity of life in the area and provide a helping hand for declining species such as the Black Grouse. Numbers of these birds have fallen dramatically thanks to overgrazing and habitat loss and they have now disappeared from most of England, although populations remain in Scotland and Wales. Found on farmland and moorland close to scattered forest, Black Grouse have red conservation status, meaning they are at serious risk of becoming extinct in the UK. As a result, the Great Trossachs Forest will represent an important haven for the species.
What other wildlife can be found in the new reserve? Two of the UK's most impressive birds of prey - the Golden Eagle and Osprey - can be found here. According to the RSPB, the combined breeding UK population of these species is no more than 700 pairs, so, once again, the Great Trossachs Forest will serve as an important haven.
The reserve is also inhabited by some of the UK's most impressive mammal species. The Red Squirrel and Water Vole, both endangered, can still be found here, as can the Pine Marten and Otter, two carnivores that came close to disappearing from Britain but have begun to recover in recent years. Perhaps the most impressive mammal inhabitant of the Great Trossachs is the Wildcat. Fewer than 100 of these predators remain in the UK, with hybridization with domestic cats meaning the genetically pure wildcat population is steadily declining. If the species is to survive in the UK, protected areas such as the Great Trossachs will be vital.
One final rare inhabitant of the reserve that you may not have heard of is the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly. Also known as the woodman's friend, the species has declined rapidly in recent years and Scotland now represents its stronghold.
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