The vast wilderness of Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms is a natural paradise. With its spectacular mountains, lochs and glens, Royal Deeside is home to more than 100 species of rare and endangered animals and plants.

Much of this wildlife can be seen in its natural habitat on the numerous estates which are dotted across the landscape. Mar Lodge Estate is internationally recognised as the most important nature conservation landscape in the British Isles. The estate contains four of the five highest mountains in the UK. It includes the upper watershed of the River Dee and remnant of the ancient Caledonian pine forest which is of national importance. Glen Tanar Estate has a magnificent native Caledonian pinewood with a wide array of plants and wildlife.

Many notable native species are associated with the River Dee – including the European otter, water vole, dipper, kingfisher, red-breasted merganser, salmon, freshwater pearl mussel and lamprey. The rare freshwater pearl mussel is still found in the fast-flowing river on its stony beds. They are dependent on the presence of salmonid fish as hosts for their larvae. The high proportion of the river accessible to salmon has resulted in it supporting the full range of life-history types found in Scotland, with sub-populations of spring, summer salmon and grilse all being present. The headwaters which drain the southern Cairngorm and northern Grampian mountains are particularly important for multi sea-winter spring salmon, but there has been a significant decline in their abundance in recent years. The otter Lutra lutra is found throughout Dee catchment, from its mouth at Aberdeen to many of the high-altitude lochs. The river system contains extensive areas of suitable habitat for otter feeding, resting and breeding, including watercourses with a high fish biomass and islands and marshy areas for resting.

Golden eagles soar above Loch Muick, ospreys swoop for prey along the River Dee, while magnificent capercaillie forage in pinewoods. The roar of rutting stags can be heard as they clash antlers on higher ground close to the Glenshee Ski Centre and if you’re very lucky you might catch a tune or two from the Scottish crossbill – a bird that is unique to the Cairngorms. Otters, pine martens and even wildcats prowl this diverse landscape, which is also home to the endangered red squirrel.

Links – to local wildlife organisations