Heather Beaton, RSPB Scotland Warden on Uist, shares her thoughts on our newest reserve, Loch Druidibeg, South Uist, Outer Hebrides…

An introduction to Loch Druidibeg

“This is the best nature reserve I’ve ever visited.”

Those words, music to the ear of any warden, were said to me earlier this year by a visiting ecologist. He and his partner had explored the reserve prior to coming on a guided walk, and as he gazed out over the hills surrounding the loch, I realised that I too probably had that same wistful look on my face every time I spoke of Loch Druidibeg, South Uist.

This year has been a fast-moving, exciting year in terms of Loch Druidibeg community nature reserve. From the moment that we put the first post marking the start of our new trail over the moorland in place, progress has been swift. The community around us are supportive, and the crofters appreciative that we’re linking conservation to the ‘forgotten’ eastern side of Uist.

One local, Hazel Smith, a runner, explained just what Loch Druidibeg means to her: “I run on the trails and road near Loch Druidibeg almost every week, year-round: its peaceful setting and views never fail to refresh me, body and soul. It’s the perfect spot to casually encounter a great variety of wildlife, drawing you in to hunt for even more.” This place enables runners and walkers, locals and tourists, bird watching enthusiasts and the layperson to enjoy wildlife on a casual, relaxed basis, creating special memories from unexpected sightings.

Our interpretation panels are up, documents are signed and Loch Druidibeg is, after over five years of hard work behind the scenes, a community nature reserve, to be treasured for future generations. The land is owned by the community – South Uist is the largest community estate in Scotland - worked by the two local crofting villages, and will be managed as a nature reserve by us, the RSPB. A true community reserve indeed.

The reserve itself covers 1100 hectares, 300 of which is the freshwater loch for which the reserve is named. The rest is made up of moorland, blanket bog and a network of small burns and watercourses. The islands dotted throughout the loch have native woodland, and there’s a small woodland on the main part of the reserve which we encourage visitors to walk through and enjoy. 

It wasn’t long after the reserve was set up that I was interviewed by the local paper, the editor of which, Iain Stephen Morrison, is a Druidibeg crofter. We bonded over our love of this portion of the wild eastern side of Uist: a place where the heather is shaped by the wind, and where hen harriers nest in the secret places, below the lanky stalks.

Iain told me: "I have lived and worked on the east coast of South Uist all my life and have a real appreciation for its incredible scenery and wide biodiversity, which is often overlooked. It is great to see the hill and all the life it supports opened up and celebrated through the new reserve at Loch Druidibeg.

"I have seen myself how visitors have flocked to the reserve in substantial number and this no doubt results in a welcome economic boost for South Uist." Iain didn’t hold back: all are welcomed to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us here at Loch Druidibeg on South Uist.

The work we carry out in the wider area is enhanced thanks to our links to Loch Druidibeg. We cut rushes on the fertile grasslands to improve them for waders; we’ve helped crofters access funding streams that enable them to work their crofts for the wildlife as well as their livestock; and, we’ve given them a platform in which wildlife conservation becomes part of the daily conversation.

 Loch Druidibeg has been an important part of the local lives out here for far longer than living memory allows for, and at the start of this new chapter we, together with the crofters and the non-crofting community, will make a commitment that the way is paved for a safe and protected future for all the wildlife that makes this area so special.

From the buff-tipped moth, by way of the wolf spider and through the fascinating array of species that we so often overlook, to the flagship species: the eagles, the cuckoos, the black-throated divers: we will work together for a sustainable and successful future of the reserve.

Find Loch Druidibeg on South Uist, Outer Hebrides. Take the B890 east from the main trunk road, and park up on the car park a couple of miles along the road to the right. Pick up a leaflet and explore! Website page coming soon.

Photo Credits: Heather Beaton

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