In the countryside around Newton Stewart, the natural features, the flora and fauna, provide a wealth of interest for visitors. On the shore and in the hills there are unique examples of wildlife systems, often protected in local, national or international nature reserves.
The RSPB Wood of Cree Bird Reserve, only 4 miles north of the town, is the largest ancient wood in southern Scotland, and is home to a variety of birds, including seasonal visitors. Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts(left), Woodpeckers, Willow Warblers, Tree Pippits, Long tailed Tits, Whooper Swans, Teal, Buzzards and Barn Owls are just a few of the bird species that may be seen here.
The Wood of Cree forms part of a project by Cree Valley Community Woodland Trust to re-connect native woodlands along the Cree Valley from source in the Glentrool area to the sea at Wigtown Bay, creating a Forest Habitat Network for wildlife. The Trust organises guided walks and conservation volunteering.
The RSPB Crook of Baldoon Reserve is a breathtaking panorama of saltmarsh, mudflats and hills, 10 miles to the south of Newton Stewart, which hosts large numbers of migrating birds, such as geese, swans, fieldfares & redwings. It is adjacent to the Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve, which includes the estuaries of the Rivers Cree and Bladnoch, the biggest in the British Isles and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The salt marshes – the “inks” – are grazed by sheep all year and in winter by huge flocks of wild geese which have migrated from the arctic. There are viewing hides at the Martyr’s Stake car park in Wigtown and at Wigtown Harbour, where a special wetland area has been established.
The list of birds seen around the Newton Stewart area runs to at least 150 species, including all the common birds of farm, garden, seashore and woodland. Common raptors include kestrel, sparrow hawk and buzzard with occasional sightings of hen harriers, merlin and, in the mountains, golden eagles.
Ospreys (right) have returned to Galloway in recent years, and can be seen in the summer months, via a CCTV camera, in Wigtown County Buildings.
Birdwatching in Dumfries & Galloway – PDF file, produced by Dumfries & Galloway Council, giving details of the best and most accessible birdwatching sites in the region.
Due to the sparsely populated and ‘unimproved’ nature of the area, wildlife is abundant, with a wide range of mammals, including rabbits, hares, foxes, badgers, stoats and weasels, commonly seen.
Native red squirrels (left) have not been significantly threatened by the grey in this part of Galloway, and may be seen in the woods around the town, and at the Balloch Wood at Creetown. There is a red squirrel feeding station at Kirroughtree Visitor Centre, with CCTV. Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is an active conservation project to protect this delightful endangered animal.
Wild otters (right) live on the River Cree. From the car park at the Wood of Cree, there is a trail to an observation platform at the edge of the Loch of Cree, where they can sometimes be seen foraging by the river.
Wild goats (left) were once common in the hills, and can still be seen from time to time. A substantial number have been gathered together at the Wild Goat Park, 7 miles north east of the town, beside the A712 road to New Galloway.
Roe Deer (right) are common in the area, and are often seen grazing by the roadsides, and Fallow Deer, an almost white variety, are to be seen around Cumloden deer park, just north of Minnigaff.
Just beyond the Goat Park, you can see Red Deer close up, in their natural environment, at the Galloway Red Deer Range.
The wild flowers of Galloway need a book to themselves, and offer attractions at almost any time of the year, due to the mild climate. In spring, the woods are full of snowdrops, a sight uncommon elsewhere. Primroses can also still be seen in the oak woods of the Cree Valley. The hedgerows blossom with Hawthorn, Blackthorn and Elderflowers. There are magnificent displays of rhododendrons and azaleas, some in gardens open to the public, but many also fringing the roadside. In May, bluebells carpet the woods, a stunning sight combined with fresh green beech leaves. Swathes of yellow cover the hillsides when the gorse and broom are in flower. Amongst the forest plantations, birch , beech and larch trees provide a wonderful display of autumn colours, while heather-clad hills and moors lend the whole landscape a rich purple hue.
RSPB Reserve at Wood of Cree – information on bird species resident at different times of the year
Cree Valley Community Woodlands Trust – map of native, broadleaved woodlands network
Wigtown Bay Local Nature Reserve – mudflats and saltmarshes, overwintering geese & waders
Dumfries & Galloway Wild Seasons – regionwide wildlife & natural history info and events
Natural History in Galloway – Ranger Keith Kirk’s images of local flora and fauna
Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere – Scotland’s 1st Biosphere reserve