By Gabbi Armstrong
Communications Project Manager for the North Coast 500
Published: 9th May 2018

Meet our countryside rangers!

We spoke to Imogen Furlong, Outdoors and Activity Manager at High Life Highland about the work their countryside rangers do around the North Coast 500. Each ranger is located in a different area around the route. Find out what makes each region so special and unique. Discover the best places to spot wildlife and rare species, such as whales, dolphins and puffins. Did you know North Sutherland and northern Caithness are the two last remaining areas on the mainland to still host populations of the extremely rare great yellow bumblebee?

Find out more from their rangers below…

High Life Highland Countryside Rangers

Countryside Rangers run many events and guided walks which aim to help raise awareness and encourage appreciation of the scenery, wildlife and heritage of the Highlands. This wide range of events and activities are aimed at local communities and visitors alike. We make no charge for these events but we rely on your donations to help us protect our Highland wildlife and heritage. Booking is usually required for events and can be found here: https://booking.highlifehighland.com/nonmember-activities/

The Countryside Rangers also have responsibilities for; the promotion of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code; contributing to the Highland Council’s Biodiversity duties; work with local communities for conservation projects and are involved in the management of a large number of countryside sites throughout the Highland area.


High Life Highland Countryside Ranger for Easter Ross and South East Sutherland

Meet Marcia Rae, High Life Highland countryside ranger for Easter Ross and South East Sutherland. Find out what makes this area so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

I have lived and worked in the Highlands for 5 years now, initially working on an internship to assess the biodiversity of ponds in Inverness. I started working full time as a Countryside Ranger 2 years ago so I am relatively new as rangers go, but I bring a lot of enthusiasm and new ideas to the role, and have already been interviewed on Radio 4 about my recent Lichen Safari in Golspie. My particular interests are pond life, amphibians and lichen.

Visiting the area

Easter Ross and South East Sutherland is a fantastic area. I work from North Kessock up to Golspie and as far west as Bonar Bridge and Garve. This area includes an amazing array of firths, hills, moorland and forests. This includes the Dornoch Firth which is a National Scenic Area (NSA) and the least industrialised firth in the country, together with Loch Fleet it is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) for its large populations of wintering wildfowl. Balblair Wood in the Loch Fleet Nature Reserve is also home to some very special Caledonian Pine wood flowers. The One-flowered wintergreen, classified as vulnerable, and the Twinflower are found nowhere else in this area.

The Black Isle was the site of the first re-introduction of the Red Kite to Scotland and these birds can frequently be seen from the A9 itself, now as far north as Golspie. There is also the most northerly resident population of Bottlenose Dolphins in the Moray Firth, which can be seen incredibly well at Channonry Point. This is arguably the best site in the UK for viewing these animals.

Travelling a bit further inland from the North Coast 500 route will also provide gems like Black Rock Gorge at Evanton Community Wood. This spectacular 120ft deep gorge carved out of old red sandstone conglomerate by the Allt Graad. The surrounding woods are also home to red squirrels, Roe deer and a variety of birds. Aldie burn woods in Tain are home to a population of Cappercaillie, the largest grouse species in Scotland and also the rarest.

It is a pleasure to spend my days exploring, educating and recording highland wildlife in Easter Ross and South East Sutherland. I highly recommend stopping off to see all the area has to offer and come along to one of my many High Life Highland Countryside Ranger led events if you can.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


High Life Highland Countryside Ranger for East Caithness and North East Sutherland

Meet Kirsty Rosie, High Life Highland countryside ranger for East Caithness and North East Sutherland. Find out what makes this area so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

I grew up in the fishing village of Keiss, just south of John O’ Groats, which if you don’t just drive through it, you can go down the village street to enjoy our postcard perfect harbour and views. As a child I assumed everyone had the pleasure of opening their door to a wildlife haven every morning. Living atop the harbour brae we had almost 360 degree views of white sand beaches, clifftops adorned with lighthouse and castles, the sparkly depths of Sinclair’s bay to explore on our dad’s fishing boat. The secrets of the rockpools to uncover beneath our feet were all framed by the diminutive yet perfectly formed Caithness hills on the horizon. I left Caithness to study and work, but needless to say I never found anywhere that compared and have happily returned to stay. I have worked as a Countryside Ranger here for 8 years and it’s a great privilege to share my passion for Caithness with our visitors. I’m a born and bred ‘Gollach’, a name the Gaelic Highlanders across the rest of the NC500 would give a person from Caithness. Translated roughly as the ‘strangers who don’t speak Gaelic’ it will give you a glimpse of our intriguing past; of commerce, of migration and of strong overseas ties that flavour our unique corner of the route. You will notice the landscape flatten, the population increase and even the stones beneath your feet change as you arrive in Caithness, ‘the lowlands beyond the highlands’.

Visiting the area

The East Caithness cliffs are a very special habitat. The coastline offers breath taking formations such as natural arches, sea stacks and caves. The internationally important and protected cliffs are home to thousands of breeding seabirds over the summer months and include guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shags, fulmars and puffins. Tysties (black guillemots) often paddle close by on the sea and breed in the crevices along the cliffs. Below your feet are colourful plants such as sea pink and spring squil. Our endemic primula scotica can also be found in some locations. Soaring seabirds overhead and out to sea, often the fin of one of our cetacean species, which may include an orca, minke whale or bottlenose dolphin. The inquisitive grey seal is never too far away and can be seen basking on rocks close by. Elusive otters also use the steep sided ‘geos’ to access feeding grounds and can be spotted by lucky onlookers.

It is a truly dramatic landscape filled with colours, scents and sounds of wildlife all around. We would be delighted if you could come on one of our walks to see for yourself and feel inspired by what nature has to offer.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


High Life Highland Countryside Ranger for East Caithness

Meet Marina Swanson, High Life Highland countryside ranger for East Caithness . Find out what makes this area so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

I was born and brought up in a small crofting village near Plockton on the West coast and have lived and worked in Caithness as a Countryside Ranger for almost 20 years. My interest in wildlife and the outdoors led to studying Countryside and Environmental Management at Aberdeen University. After graduating, travelling and working abroad, I returned to the Highlands and now live on our family farm with my husband and two children. I have a great passion for our local environment and associated wildlife and feel privileged to share my knowledge and experience to visitors to the area and locals alike.

Visiting the area

East Caithness is an excellent place to see Puffins, a bird known as the clown of the ocean. The first signs they have arrived back to Caithness are the white trails outside their burrows usually mid to late April. They will then reproduce, tending to their young pufflings through the summer until it’s time to depart back to the sea in August.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


High Life Highland Countryside Ranger for North Sutherland and North Caithness

Meet Paul Castle, High Life Highland countryside ranger for North Sutherland and North Caithness. Find out what makes this area so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

My family and I moved to north Caithness in 2000 and I have been working with the Countryside Ranger service since 2001. Every day I realise how lucky I am to live and work here and appreciate the wide open spaces, wonderful landscapes, friendly people and the amazing wildlife found in the north Highlands.

Visiting the area

The mountainous, wild, rugged landscape of Sutherland sits abruptly against the more agricultural, flatter, expanses of Caithness. Both areas offer the local and visitor alike countless opportunities to discover magical spaces. Roam free and undisturbed under huge skies, along deserted beaches, amongst rolling moorland and internationally important peatlands.

The peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland are the largest complete expanse of blanket bog in the world and are of international importance for their associated wildlife and have huge carbon storage abilities, helping to reduce the harmful effects of global warming.

Caithness particularly has a growing reputation for wonderful sightings of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) along its coastline. Duncansby Head, Holborn Head, Thurso Bay and Sandside Head are particularly productive sites for watching killer whales, Risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise and Minke whales. Strathy Point in north Sutherland is also a great site with deep water close to shore often allowing close views of passing cetaceans.
Not all the local wildlife encounters are of the large dramatic kind and taking your time to slow down and watch more closely can result in wildlife experiences on a much smaller scale but of no less importance or rarity. North Sutherland and northern Caithness are the two last remaining areas on the mainland to still host populations of the extremely rare great yellow bumblebee, Bombus distinguendus. This large yellow bumblebee, with one black stripe across the thorax was once found throughout the UK but is now restricted to these areas and some of the northern and western isles. Farr Glebe bumblebee reserve in Bettyhill is a great place to visit in July and August to see the great yellow bumblebee feeding at the mass of wildflowers such as greater knapweed and field scabious.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


High Life Highland Countryside Ranger for North West Sutherland

Meet Donald Mitchell, High Life Highland countryside ranger for North West Sutherland. Find out what makes this area so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

I have lived for over 30 years in the northwest of Scotland and am now living in and based in the crofting village of Durness on the tip of the northwest corner of the UK mainland. It is a very beautiful, relatively quiet if rugged place to be; surrounded by sky, sea and air, walking on some of the oldest rocks on the earth [the 3,000 million year old Lewisian gneiss].

Visiting the area

This is an area on the NC 500 which can inspire the spirit or calm the soul, one of the least inhabited regions of Europe per square kilometre. We have many beautiful beaches such as Balnakeil and Sandwood bay, glorious mountains; Foinaven, Arkle, Ben Hope, wild sea cliffs and mysterious misty moorlands.

The internationally famous geological diversity also gives us an amazing biological diversity, most of the area I cover as a ranger lies within the Northwest Highland UNESCO Geopark, an area known as ‘the cradle of geology’ which is visited by many students from across the globe.

Others travel far to see our notable wildlife; the special protection mountain area for golden eagles, the free ranging herds of red deer or the more diminutive unique wild flowers such as the Scottish primrose, a flower indigenous to Scotland at Durness on the NC500 . Yet another special species which may be found or heard only around Durness is the Corncrake, a secretive migrant bird with a quite unmistakably distinct loud rasping call, a sound singularly evocative of the Scottish coastal crofting communities and the Hebrides. Otters are common on the west coast and with patience and perseverance can sometimes be seen by the seashore. The great Smoo cave is a must see and a visit to Cape Wrath – the most north westerly point on the UK mainland, is worth a trip.

As a High Life Highland Countryside Ranger in this superb northwest ‘corner’ I value each day and take great pleasure in introducing this part of the Scottish Highlands to our visitors, so please take time to stop, to look and to listen, we will welcome you on our tours.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


Countryside Ranger for Assynt and Senior Ranger for North Highlands

Meet Andy Summers, High Life Highland countryside ranger for Assynt and Senior ranger for the North Highlands. Find out what makes Assynt so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

I have the pleasure of being the Senior Ranger for North Highlands and the whole of the NC500 and I am based in Assynt. I have lived near Lochinver for over twenty years. My wife and I moved here because we are passionate about the wildlife, the landscape, the history and the culture of the West Highlands. We have a small croft in the Clachtoll township and keep a flock of the original black multi-horned Hebridean sheep that used to live here before the Highland clearances. Our croft is on the machair and in summer it is full of wildflowers and orchids. I spend my spare time monitoring our local golden eagles population and looking for whales and dolphins.

Visiting the area

Assynt has some of the oldest rocks in Europe and the dramatic “cnoc and lochan scenery” of West Sutherland is the focal point for the geologists that come from all over the world to see the North West Highlands Geopark. Assynt has the largest area of limestone in Scotland, and is unsurprisingly home to the longest cave in Scotland. In many of these caves, bones have been found of species such as lynx, reindeer and polar bears which once roamed these hills. This limestone area around Inchnadamph is a botanists mecca. Mountain avens, fragrant orchids and globeflowers dance in the wind throughout the months of May and June.

The lochs and lochans in spring resound to the eerie calls of the red and black-throated divers; the moorlands are home to red deer, cuckoos and greenshank. Golden eagles soar around the Assynt mountain tops such as Suilven, whilst ptarmigan eke out a living on the summits. Guillemots and kittiwakes breed on the Torridonian sandstone cliffs at Stoer and ringed plovers nest on the beautiful sandy beaches. Do not forget to visit Stoer lighthouse, one of the best places in the Highlands to watch for whales and dolphins and maybe spot an otter.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


High Life Highland Countryside Ranger for Wester Ross

Meet Jenny Grant, High Life Highland countryside ranger for Wester Ross. Find out what makes this area so unique and what wildlife, flora and fauna you can see when visiting the area..

About me

I grew up in lovely East Sutherland, not very far away from my ranger patch of Wester Ross but to me, the two coasts of the Highlands were worlds apart. As a family we would visit the west and I still feel as excited about it now as I did as a child; captivated by its rugged beauty, colours and wildlife. We used to go fishing in Badachro and climb Stac Pollaidh and I can remember those days as clear as yesterday because I loved the experience so much. I’m keen to give others a real experience of Wester Ross, to fall in love with it and appreciate it.

Visiting the area

Wester Ross stretches from the Coigach peninsula in the north, to Garve in the east and to Strathcarron in the south. It has a striking combination of high hills, ancient pine forest and bog, fringed with a fascinating and intricate coast line. Each of these habitats, not only have a spectacular visual appeal, but have the geology and wildlife to match. By the sea shore will find incredible biodiversity; otters and shore birds love the rocky coast line and white-tailed sea eagles are more common a sight than they were a decade ago. In the water, much of it part of Marine Protected Areas, you can see the very big, whales and dolphins, to rare invertebrates such as the stunning flame shell.

We don’t have as many trees in Wester Ross but you can still see some excellent examples of ancient Caledonian Pine Forest at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve and some other sites. In some places in Wester Ross, red squirrels have been reintroduced so please slow down, take in the view and watch the roads for our newest residents.

As a High Life Highland Countryside Ranger it is my job to help others to be active and engage with their environment and to encourage people using the countryside to care deeply about it, so that we can all look after it. I do this by teaching how everything connects and is interdependent. I love everything from the fabulous fungi in our woods to beasties in our rivers and marine mammals along the coast. The communities living in Wester Ross tend to be really proactive and in tune with their environment, and we hope our visitors will be too.

I arrange guided walks and events for tourists and local people, where I can interpret the landscape for you. I meet lots of inspiring people on my travels, so I hope to show you around Wester Ross and if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to get enough of this vast and beautiful land and sea.

For more information about the High Life Highlands Ranger Service or if you want to get in touch to find out about guided walks or events or report wildlife sightings please find our details at our website https://www.highlifehighland.com/rangers/


A message from Highlife Highland:

High Life Highland Countryside Ranger Service around the NC500 make no charge for interpretive events, however they rely upon donations to help them protect Highland wildlife and heritage.

LEAVE NO TRACE
They ask you adhere to the following simple steps to conserve this special place:
1. If the bin is full, please take your litter away with you; don’t leave it beside the bin
2. If you have to toilet in the wild bury your faeces well away from water courses
3. Please pass on this message to others

There is lots of other guidance on access responsibilities including wild camping on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.

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