I recently spent a very enjoyable week wildlife-spotting on the Isle of Mull, just off the west coast of Scotland. The island’s biodiversity is excellent, primarily due to the wide variety of habitats on offer. Oak woods, coniferous forest, moorland, marshland, sandy beaches, sea lochs, machair, hill lochans, streams and rivers, mountains, estuaries and around 300 miles of coastline: Mull has it all. And the seas that surround the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides are arguably even more species-rich, with an abundance of fish, crustaceans and other marine life.
Its main attractions of otter and white-tailed eagle are ubiquitous, with the latter having returned naturally to the island following a reintroduction to sites on Rhum and in Wester Ross. They’re now thriving, with the highest nesting density of anywhere in Britain by a considerable margin. Both, however, proved elusive during our trip – but that is unusual. Sightings of birds of prey in general though were plentiful, with numerous common buzzards spotted at close quarters, along with fleeting glimpses of hen harrier, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle and possibly a red kite. With merlin, goshawk, peregrine falcon, sparrowhawk, kestrel, osprey and four species of owl all found on Mull too, its reputation for being the raptor capital of Britain is well deserved.
Along with some 261 species of bird recorded on the island, Mull is also home to an impressive array of mammals. From the native red deer and the introduced fallow deer, common and grey seals, stoats and weasels, mountain hare and the unwelcome mink, to polecats and pine marten. You may be surprised to hear that Mull used to be one of Britain’s main strongholds for the now extremely rare polecat, and that it is now home for an increasing number of pine marten. They’re thought to have come across on timber boats sometime during 2004.
You also have a good chance of spotting a variety of marine mammals including: harbour porpoises, common and bottle-nosed dolphins, minke whale, basking sharks, and even orca are known to visit these waters.
For those seeking a close encounter with a reptile or amphibian, there’s ample opportunity, with frogs, toads, palmate newts, adders, common lizards and slow worms all resident on the island.
And as you’d expect, Mull is also home to an impressive assortment of invertebrate life; particularly butterflies, moths and dragonflies.
So this Hebridean haven really is a genuine biodiversity hotspot and a precious microcosm of Scottish and British wildlife. Even if you don’t get the encounter you’re looking for, there’s always something interesting to see and it should be high on the list for any birdwatcher or otter and marine mammal enthusiast. Had we visited later in the spring or summer, or in better weather, I’ve no doubt that our species sightings list would have grown considerably.
We stayed at the delightful Hideaway Lodges at Gruline, where the wild, introduced fallow deer made daily appearances around the lodge. See below for a small selection of the wildlife shots we got while on the Isle of Mull. We will be back…