A wildlife haven - Publicly Used, Privately owned

The Caerlaverock Estate consists of a remarkable variety of landscape and geology, and has some of the rarest habitats within Scotland, much of which is now within one of the two nature reserves on the estate: Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Eastpark Farm. These features all helped in the successful bid for “heritage status” that most of the estate achieved in the early 1980’s.

The Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve, established in 1957, extends to a massive 8000 hectares, of which much is in private ownership by Caerlaverock Estate and Mansfield estate, with the remained owned by the Crown Estate. Made up of Merse and mudflats the NNR is one of the few places in Britain where the age old natural processes of growth and erosion of saltmarsh continues unhindered by man. The reserve was established by the late Duke of Norfolk, who recognised the demise of the Barnacle Goose population due to post war hunting, and divided the merse into a sanctuary, an area where controlled shooting would be allowed by the public and a small section retained for private use.

The NNR is well known for its huge numbers of Svalbard Barnacle Geese, but it is a winter refuge for thousands of wildfowl and waders in the winter, whilst in the summer the merse bursts into colourful growth and is alive to the sound of Skylarks. Access to the reserve is free and there are walks through woodland as well as open merse, with the only exception being the WWT sanctuary area.

The Wildfowls and Wetland Trust at Eastpark Farm, (1 of 5 WWT reserves in UK) was established in 1970. Careful management has created a ‘honeypot’ for both wildlife and people. Unlike the NNR, WWT make a charge to their visitors, and in turn pay a small rent to the estate. What this allows is unique, as the ‘farm’ is managed to feed the wild geese, ducks and waders, and the roadways, pond and hides all help the visiting public better access to this wildlife wonderland.

Conservation and more traditional farming co-exists also. The grazing of the merse by cattle helps maintain the short fine grass which attracts the geese in the winter. Natural ponds are maintained to help maintain the Natterjack Toads, being fenced off from trampling hooves whilst spawn and young toadlets develop. Caerlaverock Estate is committed to conservation of wildlife, landscape and historical features across the estate. The estate employs a conservator/gamekeeper (who is third generation of same family) to ensure that farm wetlands, rough areas and small woodlands are maintained for wildlife within the normal farming routines.

The reserves at Caerlaverock bring vast numbers of visitors to the area, which has a positive impact on the tourism in the area. As the geese winter at Caerlaverock, the visitors are even more welcomed, as they arrive in ‘off-season’. Similarly the wildfowling, which is still permitted on parts of the reserves, brings winter visitors to the tourism businesses locally.

More recently, the reserve has attracted visitors in the form of the national BBC TV programme ‘Autumn-watch’, which exposed the reserves and its surrounding areas to a vast viewing population and will undoubtedly increase the visitor numbers to the reserves and the surrounding areas.