Fowlsheugh is a coast
A coastline or seashore is the area where land meets the sea or ocean. A precise line that can be called a coastline cannot be determined due to the dynamic nature of tides. The term "coastal zone" can be used instead, which is a spatial zone where interaction of the sea and land processes occurs...

al nature reserve
Nature reserve
A nature reserve is a protected area of importance for wildlife, flora, fauna or features of geological or other special interest, which is reserved and managed for conservation and to provide special opportunities for study or research...

 in Kincardineshire
The County of Kincardine, also known as Kincardineshire or The Mearns was a local government county on the coast of northeast Scotland...

, northeast Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, known for its seventy metre high cliff formations and habitat supporting prolific seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

A nest is a place of refuge to hold an animal's eggs or provide a place to live or raise offspring. They are usually made of some organic material such as twigs, grass, and leaves; or may simply be a depression in the ground, or a hole in a tree, rock or building...

ing colonies. Designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest
Site of Special Scientific Interest
A Site of Special Scientific Interest is a conservation designation denoting a protected area in the United Kingdom. SSSIs are the basic building block of site-based nature conservation legislation and most other legal nature/geological conservation designations in Great Britain are based upon...

 (SSSI) by Scottish Natural Heritage
Scottish Natural Heritage
Scottish Natural Heritage is a Scottish public body. It is responsible for Scotland's natural heritage, especially its natural, genetic and scenic diversity. It advises the Scottish Government and acts as a government agent in the delivery of conservation designations, i.e...

, the property is owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Bird Notes and News was first published in April 1903.The title changed to 'Bird Notes' in 1947. In the 1950s, there were four copies per year . Each volume covered two years, spread over three calendar years...

. Fowlsheugh can be accessed by a public clifftop trail, or by boats which usually emanate from the nearby harbour at the town of Stonehaven
Stonehaven is a town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It lies on Scotland's northeast coast and had a population of 9,577 in 2001 census.Stonehaven, county town of Kincardineshire, grew around an Iron Age fishing village, now the "Auld Toon" , and expanded inland from the seaside...

. Tens of thousands of pelagic birds return to the site every spring to breed, after wintering at sea or in more southern climates, principal species being Puffins
Atlantic Puffin
The Atlantic Puffin is a seabird species in the auk family. It is a pelagic bird that feeds primarily by diving for fish, but also eats other sea creatures, such as squid and crustaceans. Its most obvious characteristic during the breeding season is its brightly coloured bill...

, Razorbill
The Razorbill is colonial seabird that will only come to land in order to breed. It is the largest living member of the Auk family. This agile bird will choose only one partner for life and females will lay one egg per year. Razorbills will nest along coastal cliffs in enclosed or slightly exposed...

s, Kittiwake
The kittiwakes are two closely related seabird species in the gull family Laridae, the Black-legged Kittiwake and the Red-legged Kittiwake . The epithets "Black-legged" and "Red-legged" are used to distinguish the two species in North America, but in Europe, where R...

s, Fulmar
Northern Fulmar
The Northern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, Fulmar, or Arctic Fulmar is a highly abundant sea bird found primarily in subarctic regions of the north Atlantic and north Pacific oceans. Fulmars come in one of two color morphs: a light one which is almost entirely white, and a dark one which is...

s and Guillemots
Common Guillemot
The Common Murre or Common Guillemot is a large auk. It is also known as the Thin-billed Murre in North America. It has a circumpolar distribution, occurring in low-Arctic and boreal waters in the North-Atlantic and North Pacific...


Due to global warming
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

, the plankton
Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. That is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification...

ic species previously present that prefer cold water are not available in the quantity required to support the historically large sandeel population. Added to the problem has been overfishing
Overfishing occurs when fishing activities reduce fish stocks below an acceptable level. This can occur in any body of water from a pond to the oceans....

 of the Scottish sandeel, further reducing the numbers of this dietary staple for Puffins and other local seabirds.

Geology and topography

The sheer cliff
In geography and geology, a cliff is a significant vertical, or near vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are formed as erosion landforms due to the processes of erosion and weathering that produce them. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers. Cliffs are usually...

s of Fowlsheugh are actually undercut in some places by erosive force of the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 wave action and associated strong marine winds, giving rise to cliff overhangs in numerous stretches of the blufftop trail. (Off shore winds commonly attain mean velocities of 80 kilometres per hour here, especially in winter months.) The underlying rock formation is known as Old Red Sandstone
Old Red Sandstone
The Old Red Sandstone is a British rock formation of considerable importance to early paleontology. For convenience the short version of the term, 'ORS' is often used in literature on the subject.-Sedimentology:...

, which occurs from Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland, about two miles south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th–16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been an early fortress of the Dark Ages...

 five kilometres north to the town of Catterline seven kilometres south. This sandstone formation may be as thick as 2700 metres.

In places the fissured red and green coloured sandstone is replaced by picturesque conglomerate with roundish stones varying in diameter from two to thirty centimetres (historically known as pudding stone in this region of Kincardineshire). In other places more greenish volcanic extrusions are evident as harder veins within the sandstone
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized minerals or rock grains.Most sandstone is composed of quartz and/or feldspar because these are the most common minerals in the Earth's crust. Like sand, sandstone may be any colour, but the most common colours are tan, brown, yellow,...


Where the rock faces meet the North Sea, there are several sea caves accessible only by small boat. The deepest cave known locally as the “Gallery” intrudes a full hundred metres westward beneath the fertile barley fields high above. In the northern extremity of the Fowlsheugh is an offshore skerry
A skerry is a small rocky island, usually defined to be too small for habitation. It may simply be a rocky reef. A skerry can also be called a low sea stack....

 named Craiglethy
Craiglethy is a small island/skerry off Fowlsheugh on the east coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland in the North Sea. As it is part of Fowlsheugh, it is an SSSI, with many seabirds and seals living on it...

, and slightly further a skerry
A skerry is a small rocky island, usually defined to be too small for habitation. It may simply be a rocky reef. A skerry can also be called a low sea stack....

 called Gull Craig. These lower lying rocky outcrops are an integral part of the Fowlsheugh Preserve, hosting seabird nests as well as a few harbour seals on Craiglethy, who can be seen hauling out or sunbathing on summer afternoons. Craiglethy is composed only of sandstone and volcanic material, any original overlying conglomerate material having been long eroded. There are also some volcanic
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

 sea stacks along the shoreline, vestiges of the harder rock formations surviving the erosion of surrounding softer rocks by millennia of wave action and salt spray.


Historically there has been human recognition of Fowlsheugh as a unique bird area for at least five centuries, culminating in its present day designations of Important Bird Area (IBA), Special Protection Area
Special Protection Area
A Special Protection Area or SPA is a designation under the European Union Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds.Under the Directive, Member States of the European Union have a duty to safeguard the habitats of migratory birds and certain particularly threatened birds.Together with Special...

 (SPA) and SSSI (as noted above). The earliest known writing on Fowlsheugh is (as relayed through Archibald Watt) by the Scottish poet William Dunbar
William Dunbar
William Dunbar was a Scottish poet. He was probably a native of East Lothian, as assumed from a satirical reference in the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie , where, too, it is hinted that he was a member of the noble house of Dunbar....

 (born 1480) who wrote:

This historic interest has also translated into reasonably good bird counts over at least the last century. As a glimpse into Fowlsheugh in early Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 times, James Anderson wrote:

"a remarkable rock of the conglomerate
Conglomerate (geology)
A conglomerate is a rock consisting of individual clasts within a finer-grained matrix that have become cemented together. Conglomerates are sedimentary rocks consisting of rounded fragments and are thus differentiated from breccias, which consist of angular clasts...

 or plum pudding species called Fowls Heugh, about a mile long and two hundred feet high, quite perpendicular and in some places overhanging, often visited by sportsmen on account of innumerable sea fowl
Fowl is a word for birds in general but usually refers to birds belonging to one of two biological orders, namely the gamefowl or landfowl and the waterfowl...

, of the kittiwake species, which resort to it in the breeding season; finding convenient places for depositing their eggs in the recesses formed by the vacant beds of pebble
A pebble is a clast of rock with a particle size of 4 to 64 millimetres based on the Krumbein phi scale of sedimentology. Pebbles are generally considered to be larger than granules and smaller than cobbles . A rock made predominantly of pebbles is termed a conglomerate...


It is documented that in the 19th century not only did hunters journey to Fowlsheugh to shoot seabirds, but rock climbers would rappel down the steep cliffs in search of the prized seabird eggs, much in the manner described of Saint Kilda
St Kilda, Scotland
St Kilda is an isolated archipelago west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean. It contains the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The largest island is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the United Kingdom and three other islands , were also used for...

. The rappelers would likely have anchored their piton
In climbing, a piton is a metal spike that is driven into a crack or seam in the rock with a hammer, and which acts as an anchor to protect the climber against the consequences of a fall, or to assist progress in aid climbing...

s in the rock itself, as the loose soil above is not endowed with much fastening strength; however, these sandy loam soils are ideal for rabbit
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world...

- Definition :Warren refers to a network of underground interconnecting rabbit burrows, a place where rabbits breed and live, or an overcrowded place or building.- Geographical names :* Warrens, Saint Michael, Barbados* Warren, Manitoba, Canada...

s that are time-shared by the Puffins when the latter are in residence at Fowlsheugh.

About the year 1900 the Crown leased fishing rights at the base of Fowlsheugh to private interests, who proceeded to fish the North Sea close to the cliff faces using extensive systems of nets. The resulting entrainment of Guillemots led to such great bird mortality, as well as to public outcry, that fishing lets were abandoned the following year. In 1920 Fulmars arrived at Fowlsheugh to breed from St. Kildas on Orkney.

Conservation status

International recognition of Fowlsheugh has been established primarily due to the large and productive seabird colonies present. On August 31, 1992 Special Protection Area (SPA) status was conferred with .EU code designation of UK9002271. The Fowlsheugh extent has been recorded as an area of only 10.15 hectares in size, making the seabird density on of the greatest in Europe. There is actually more land area as measured on the vertical cliff faces than the horizontal plan view official area record!


In excess of 170,000 birds inhabit Fowlsheugh at the peak breeding season between April and late July. This value places Fowlsheugh as the second largest seabird colony in Britain and surpasses the criterion of 20,000 birds to qualify as a protected area of international seabird importance under European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 Directive 79/409. Bird species present are primarily auk
An auk is a bird of the family Alcidae in the order Charadriiformes. Auks are superficially similar to penguins due to their black-and-white colours, their upright posture and some of their habits...

s and gull
Gulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders...

s, which feed in nearby offshore waters as well as more distant North Sea reaches. Most of the nest
A nest is a place of refuge to hold an animal's eggs or provide a place to live or raise offspring. They are usually made of some organic material such as twigs, grass, and leaves; or may simply be a depression in the ground, or a hole in a tree, rock or building...

s are constructed on precarious perches nestled in the virtually vertical cliffs of the basalt and conglomerate. During breeding season the bluffs are dense in birds arriving, departing and feeding in the waters below. Sound levels from birds have been measured as high as 69 dBA
A Weighting curve is a graph of a set of factors, that are used to 'weight' measured values of a variable according to their importance in relation to some outcome. The most commonly known example is frequency weighting in sound level measurement where a specific set of weighting curves known as A,...

 for a one hour interval.

As of 2005 about 18,000 breeding pairs of Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) return to Fowlsheugh each year, making their nests on some of the most vertical parts of the landscape from muck, seaweed
Seaweed is a loose, colloquial term encompassing macroscopic, multicellular, benthic marine algae. The term includes some members of the red, brown and green algae...

 and local grasses. This population level significantly decreased from the 1992 kittiwake count of 34,870 breeding pairs of this seabird. The 1992 value represented 1.1 percent of all North Atlantic breeding pairs of Kittiwakes. This population level caused the site to qualify under Article 4.2 of the European Union Directive 79/409 by supporting populations of European importance of this migratory species. From the cliff overhangs above, it is easy to view the parent feeding of these chicks by regurgitation.

Under the 1992 bird count there were 40,140 breeding pairs of Guillemot (Uria aalge), representing at least 1.8 percent of this breeding East Atlantic seabird population. Smaller numbers of other seabirds nest at Fowlsheugh, including Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula Arctica), Razorbill (Alca torda), Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), and Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis). Occasionally a Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon , also known as the Peregrine, and historically as the Duck Hawk in North America, is a widespread bird of prey in the family Falconidae. A large, crow-sized falcon, it has a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and "moustache"...

 disturbs nesting kittiwakes as it swoops by the cliff edges. Lesser numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
The Lesser Black-backed Gull is a large gull that breeds on the Atlantic coasts of Europe. It is migratory, wintering from the British Isles south to West Africa...

 Larus fuscus, Great Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
The Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull in the world, which breeds on the European and North American coasts and islands of the North Atlantic...

 Larus marinus and Common Shag
Common Shag
The European Shag or Common Shag is a species of cormorant. It breeds around the rocky coasts of western and southern...

 Phalacrocorax aristotelis are also to be found.

Marine life

In the North Sea waters at the base of the cliffs can be found certain marine mammals, including the common seal (Phoca vitulina) and the Grey seal
Grey Seal
The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the family Phocidae or "true seals". It is the only species classified in the genus Halichoerus...

  (Halichoerus grypus). Seals can be observed in summer months hauling out on the rugged rock formation of Craiglethy Skerry
A skerry is a small rocky island, usually defined to be too small for habitation. It may simply be a rocky reef. A skerry can also be called a low sea stack....

. Further offshore are frequently sighted dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

s. Bony fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

es found in the offshore waters include Atlantic shad
The shads or river herrings comprise the genus Alosa, fish related to herring in the family Clupeidae. They are distinct from others in that family by having a deeper body and spawning in rivers. The several species frequent different areas on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea....

 (Aosa sapidissima), Atlantic salmon
Atlantic salmon
The Atlantic salmon is a species of fish in the family Salmonidae, which is found in the northern Atlantic Ocean and in rivers that flow into the north Atlantic and the north Pacific....

 (Salmo salar) and Brown trout
Brown trout
The brown trout and the sea trout are fish of the same species....

 (Salmo trutta). Marine algae occurring immediately offshore at the Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve include Dudresnaya verticillata, Sauvageaugloia griffithsiana and Streblonema infestans.

Terrestrial flora and fauna

On the clifftops are found a variety of flowering plants and grasses that offer additional biota infrastructure for the extensive butterfly populations resident at Fowlsheugh. Most of the blooming species flower in the period April through August. Representative flowering plants that occur at Fowlsheugh are: Achillea millefolium, Achillea
Achillea is a genus of about 85 flowering plants, in the family Asteraceae, commonly referred to as yarrow. They occur in Europe and temperate areas of Asia. A few grow in North America. These plants typically have frilly, hairy, aromatic leaves....

, Carex
Carex is a genus of plants in the family Cyperaceae, commonly known as sedges. Other members of the Cyperaceae family are also called sedges, however those of genus Carex may be called "true" sedges, and it is the most species-rich genus in the family. The study of Carex is known as...

, Carlina vulgaris, Festuca arundinacea, Salix viminalis, Sambucus nigra, common rockrose and viola
The viola is a bowed string instrument. It is the middle voice of the violin family, between the violin and the cello.- Form :The viola is similar in material and construction to the violin. A full-size viola's body is between and longer than the body of a full-size violin , with an average...

. Common rockrose is the only host plant for the Northern Brown Argus butterfly. Some of these species cling to the rough cliff vericals where patches of soil are found, while most of these species grow on the fertile blufftop soil tangent to the agricultural soils immediately west, which grow barley and other grains as well as afford pasture for sheep and cattle.

Numerous species of butterfly
A butterfly is a mainly day-flying insect of the order Lepidoptera, which includes the butterflies and moths. Like other holometabolous insects, the butterfly's life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Most species are diurnal. Butterflies have large, often brightly coloured...

 are found at Fowlsheugh, including:
  • Aglais urticae
  • Argynnis aglaja, Dark Green Fritillary
  • Aricia artaxerxes, Northern Brown Argus
    Northern Brown Argus
    The Northern Brown Argus is a butterfly in the family Lycaenidae.-Appearance, behaviour and distribution:This species has confused British entomologists for years. Since its discovery in Britain it has been thought to be a form or a subspecies of the Brown Argus Aricia agestis and as well as a...

    , designated as a Biodiversity Action Plan
    Biodiversity Action Plan
    A Biodiversity Action Plan is an internationally recognized program addressing threatened species and habitats and is designed to protect and restore biological systems. The original impetus for these plans derives from the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity...

     Priority Species in the UK
  • Coenonympha pamphilus, Small Heath
    Small Heath (butterfly)
    The Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus is a butterfly species belonging to the family Nymphalidae, . It is widespread in Eurasia and northwestern Africa, preferring drier habitats than other Coenonymphae...

  • Erebia aethiops, Scotch Argus
    Scotch Argus
    The Scotch Argus is a Palaearctic butterfly of the Nymphalidae family.It has a wide range including the French Alps , Germany , Balkans , Apennines , Asia Minor , the Urals, Caucasus and Sajan. In Britain it occurs in certain coastal areas of eastern Scotland such as Fowlsheugh.In Europe and...

  • Hipparchia semele, Greyling
    Grayling (butterfly)
    The Grayling is a species in the brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae. It sometimes occurs in coastal areas of northeast Scotland such as the Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve. It can also be found near the coast around England, such as Fire Beacon Hill...

    , designated as a Biodiversity Action Plan
    Biodiversity Action Plan
    A Biodiversity Action Plan is an internationally recognized program addressing threatened species and habitats and is designed to protect and restore biological systems. The original impetus for these plans derives from the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity...

     Priority Species in the UK (marked decline)
  • Lycaena phlaeas, Small copper
    Small Copper
    The Small Copper, American Copper, or the Common Copper is a butterfly of the Lycaenids or gossamer-winged butterfly family.- Description :thumb|left|Larva...

  • Maniola jurtina, Meadow Brown
    Meadow Brown
    The Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, is a butterfly found in European meadows, where its larvae feed on grasses, such as Sheep's Fescue.Similar species are Gatekeeper and Small Heath ....

  • Pieris brassicae, Large White
    Large White
    The Large White , also called Cabbage Butterfly, Cabbage White, or in India the Large Cabbage White, White cabbage butterfly is a butterfly in the family Pieridae.-Distribution:...

Practical information

The Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve is most readily accessed on foot from the hamlet
The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, or more simply Hamlet, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1599 and 1601...

 of Crawton, which is situated and signposted about one kilometre east of the A92 coast highway
A highway is any public road. In American English, the term is common and almost always designates major roads. In British English, the term designates any road open to the public. Any interconnected set of highways can be variously referred to as a "highway system", a "highway network", or a...

. There is a small carpark near the trailhead
A trailhead is the point at which a trail begins, where the trail is often intended for hiking, biking, horseback riding, or off-road vehicles...

, with limited turnaround capability for larger vehicles. There is no limitation as to time of access of the trail as of 2006 and there is no admission cost for using the trail. By boat, out of Stonehaven Harbour, there are regular small craft trips available for a moderate charge during the months of May to July, which reach the cliff bases of Fowlsheugh and even traverse some of the marine waterway
A waterway is any navigable body of water. Waterways can include rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, and canals. In order for a waterway to be navigable, it must meet several criteria:...

A cave or cavern is a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter. The term applies to natural cavities some part of which is in total darkness. The word cave also includes smaller spaces like rock shelters, sea caves, and grottos.Speleology is the science of exploration and study...


External links

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