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About mammals

Scotland's land mammals

Mammals are one of the secret Kingdoms of Scotland.  Did you see a mammal today? (Other than the rabbit or the grey squirrel - both introduced - or something the cat brought in?)  Our largest remaining mammals are all restricted to the sea and our wild land mammals have learned to come out mainly at night.  Despite that an abundance of mammals live around us from the miniscule pygmy shrew (weighing about 5 grams - that is about the same as a penny) to the humpback whale (weighing in at 36,000kg - that is more than 2 double decker buses).  Read a little more about them here. 

Mammals under pressure

The main historic threat to our land mammals was hunting, particularly once the firearm and game management came together.   The wild cat and the pine marten were widespread in Britain until about the 19th Century but survived only in the Highlands of Scotland because this was still a relatively wild place.  Legal protection may ensure their precarious survival.  Today the main pressures on land mammals are from habitat change and loss.  The water vole and the red squirrel are also threatened by the impact of introduced species.  Our marine mammals can suffer disturbance, injury and death as a result of human activities. These include entanglement in fishing nets, reductions in fish populations, chemical pollution and underwater noise.

Discovering the Secret Kingdom

Scotland is a superb place to see wild mammals although it takes a little extra effort.  Twenty-three species of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) have been recorded in Scottish waters - about seven of these can be seen regularly from a boat or even from our coasts. You can also find seals all around our coasts, and they can sometimes be curious and easy to observe. Otters are harder to spot, but you can see them playing and feeding near the shore, particularly in the western and northern isles.

On land what could be more spectacular that a herd of a several hundred red deer? Try driving up a quiet highland glen on a summer evening or during the day in winter.  To watch other mammals you need to spot the signs and read the wind carefully.  But badgers are quite an easy start: they can be watched in most parts of Scotland.  There are special hides to start you off at Lanark and near Grantown.  On the mountains look out for the almost tame mountain hares - bright white in winter.  Foxes mate in January and can often be seen then or when they are anxious to feed their growing cubs in early spring.  For other mammals, such as the beautiful roe deer, dawn and dusk in summer are your best times when they are out in good light. 

To find out how mammals are protected in Scotland and Scottish waters, go to our species protection  and licensing pages

What should I do if I see a mammal?

Mammals are poorly recorded in much of Scotland so every observation may help.  There are several schemes for recording mammals accessible from the Tracking Mammals Partnership external site page including mammals at home, winter mammal survey, mammals on roads and the national bat survey. 

If you encounter any marine mammals, please make sure you follow the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code external site . Sightings of live cetaceans can be reported to the Sea Watch Foundation external site . Any live stranded animals should be reported to the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals (SSPCA) external site . Contact your local SSPCA office or contact the Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999 for details. Any dead cetaceans, seals or otters should be reported to the Scottish Agricultural College external site which runs the Scottish Strandings Scheme (01463 243030).

Last updated on Tuesday 4th April 2017 at 09:17 AM. Click here to comment on this page