Balranald Nature Reserve

An extensive area of protected habitat on the west coast of the island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, the Balranald Nature Reserve lies to the south of Hougharry and 13 miles (21 km) west of Lochmaddy. Created in 1966, the reserve is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and extends to 658 ha (1625 acres). Ownership is divided between the Scottish Government, the Church of Scotland and North Uist Estates.

Forming part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area (SPA), it comprises rocky foreshore and sandy beaches, located alongside dunes, machair, grassland and small lochs. This is an important area for breeding, migrating and wintering wildfowl. The machair and associated croftland provide a nesting site for many species of wading birds, but the reserve is best known as a sanctuary for the secretive corncrake, of which there are now around 40 individuals. Several species of wading birds occur in numbers which are of international importance (Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone) and of national importance (Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Shoveler and Snipe). Occasional otters can also be observed.

A visitor centre explains the importance of traditional crofting agriculture for wildlife and a nature trail guides approximately 5000 visitors per annum through the various habitats.

The reserve was the focus of the EU-funded Machair Life project (2010-14), which has shown that traditional crofting practices have a sustainable future. The managed by RSPB in partnership with NatureScot, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

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