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Insh Marshes RSPB Reserve (Kingussie)

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Address: Kingussie / Highland / Scotland

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      20.06.2009 15:12
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      One of Europe's most important wetlands.

      Insh Marshes is located within the Cairngorms National Park near Kingussie. The marshes are one of the most important wetlands in the whole of Europe, and the reserve is owned and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The importance of the wetland was recognised in 2003 with the area being designated as a National Nature Reserve. The marshes are a low lying flood plain of the River Spey which bisects the area. The scenery here is spectacular; the marshes cover an area of over 1000 acres and, as a backdrop, the Cairngorms' snow capped peaks loom majestically over the river valley. The marshes flood in winter to a depth of around eight feet, providing habitat for thousands of wintering ducks, geese, and swans. This is an amazing sight (and sound) that is well worth seeing. The RSPB manage the reserve to benefit its wildlife, particularly its breeding birds, but they also provide facilities for the 15,000 visitors that come here every year. There are three marked nature trails of between 1.25 and 2.8 miles in length. These trails meander through open woodland which in spring is carpeted in flowers. The trees are covered in lichen; the feathery strands give the trees a ghostly appearance and glow greyish green in the sunlight filtering through the leaves. The lichen is a sign of the purity of the air; any pollution would prevent it from growing. If attempting the trails be aware that the area can be wet (it is marshland, after all!) and stout, waterproof footwear is advisable. There are two hides on the reserve, one lower down near the valley floor, and the other on the upper side of the valley giving commanding views over the whole of the marsh. This hide is fully glazed (most hides just have slots for people to look through) so in cold weather (this IS the Highlands!) shelter and some warmth can be obtained whilst searching for the special wildlife of the area. Volunteers are often on hand here, to show visitors the wildlife and answer any questions they may have. The wildlife is what makes this reserve so special. Although filled with animals and birds, there is a lot of cover on the reserve, so the visitor should not expect to see creatures lined up to be viewed. Rather, searching patiently is required. Patience will be rewarded eventually with intimate encounters with some of Scotland's iconic species. Waders such as redshank, curlew, lapwing, and snipe all breed here. From the vantage point of the upper hide, the visitor will see these birds rise up to defend their nests from marauding gulls or crows, calling loudly. An extremely rare bird, the spotted crake, also breeds here, but is almost impossible to see. If, however, you hear a 'whip, whip, whip" call, it's certain that a spotted crake is around. The reserve is fabulous for birds of prey. Hen harriers will be quartering the marsh until late April, whilst ospreys can be seen fishing on the loch. A peregrine falcon may choose the reserve to hunt for its breakfast, stooping at up to 200 mph onto an unfortunate wader or duck. Roe deer are common here. If you're quiet on your walk, you can encounter them almost anywhere and perhaps get within a hundred yards or so before the animal flees showing its white rump as a goodbye! A better chance of seeing them is from one of the hides where you'll be hidden from view and so may possibly get closer, more prolonged sightings. Entrance to the reserve is free but there are few facilities; no toilets or refreshments are available, and none of the walks are suitable for wheelchairs. There is, however, a beautiful picnic area with fabulous views over the reserve to the Cairngorms. I can think of few places nicer than this to enjoy a picnic. Insh Marshes is close to the impressive Ruthven Barracks (the road to the reserve goes past the barracks) and a visit here is recommended too. Visitors to the Cairngorms who want a quiet relaxing walk, with the chance of seeing some of the area's shy wildlife should give Insh Marshes a try.

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