Aberlady Bay was designated as
Britain's first Local Nature Reserve in 1952 and is managed by
East Lothian Council. The Reserve is also part of a Site of Special
Scientific Interest, due to its botanical, ornithological and
The aim of the Reserve is to conserve the habitats, flora and fauna found within the area and the resultant landscape character. Management of the Reserve, which has a full-time Warden, is grant-aided by Scottish Natural Heritage.
The Reserve covers an area of 582 hectares (1,439 acres), of which two-thirds falls below the high-tide mark and consists of tidal sand, mud flats and pioneer salt marsh.
Geological surveys have indicated that 5,000 years ago the sea level was some 6m (20ft) higher than now, and most of what we see now as dry land on the east side of the bay was formerly shoreline. Since then, the prevailing winds and the drop in sea level has led to an accumulation of sand on the east side of the bay, which has subsequently become colonised by vegetation. These processes continue to this day, and a look across the bay during a westerly gale leaves the observer in little doubt as to how easily the sand shifts in the area!
Almost 550 species of higher plant have been identified at the site with a number of these rare in Scotland and many others considered scarce in the Lothians - for example the salt marsh on the Reserve represents one of only two areas in East Lothian. Only by visiting monthly, from April to September, can a visitor appreciate the sheer variety of plants here.
The marshlands are dominated by rushes and sedges, but also support a wide variety of colourful flowers such as Water Mint, Yellow Iris, Meadowsweet, Marsh Marigold, Bogbean and Orchids. The drier areas consist largely of typical dune grassland species such as Marram, interspersed with Thistles, Viper's Bugloss, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Cowslip, Weld and Wild Thyme. Areas of short turf support a particularly diverse plant community with Rest Harrow, Forget-me-nots, Speedwell, Rue-leaved Saxifrage and Crosswort all common.
Aberlady Bay is arguably best known for its ornithological interest. In the winter months, nationally important populations of several species of wader and duck roost or feed in the area, while at dusk, up to 15,000 thousand Pink-footed Geese fly in from the surrounding farmland. In October 1993, 26,000 were counted. Spring sees the arrival of summer migrants and the start of the breeding season. Several birds whose numbers are in serious decline nationally, are abundant here, with, for example about 45 pairs each of Skylark and Reed Bunting nesting annually. Other breeding species include Eider, Shelduck, Lapwing, Lesser Whitethroat & Redshank in small numbers, while Willow and Sedge Warblers are common in most years.
Summer is often a quiet time for birds, but the returning winter birds as well as passage waders may begin to appear in late July. By the autumn, up to 10,000 waders may be present, with Lapwing and Golden Plover the most numerous. Several hundred Widgeon feed in the bay, while one or two Short-eared Owls may be hunting over the marsh.
The site, over many years, has acquired a reputation for attracting rarities! Ospreys are now fairly regular in spring, while a female King Eider has appeared for seven successive summers. A Caspian Plover seen in 1988 was at that time, only the third seen in Britain. In 1997, however, a Western Sandpiper (a small American wader), which commuted between the bay and Musselburgh Lagoons, attracted about 2,500 human admirers from all over Britain during its five-day stay. This was the biggest "twitch" in the Reserve's history. What will be the next rare bird?
A small population of Roe Deer lives on the Reserve year round. Small mammals such as shrews and voles can be very common, with their associated predators, stoats and weasels also widespread. Rabbits are much scarcer now than formerly, due to sustained control by the adjacent golf courses, but Brown Hares seem to be showing a welcome increase in the area.
Frogs and toads are abundant, particularly in wet springs. A few Smooth Newts are occasionally noted. Offshore, Grey and Common Seals are seen regularly, with Porpoises seen more scarcely.
Unlike the birds and plants of the Reserve, the invertebrates of the area have been little studied. Recent studies of butterflies and dragonflies on the Reserve have enabled their habitat requirements to be considered while appraising management options for the Reserve. About 15 species of butterfly are seen in an average year, ranging from the abundant Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Common Blue to the scarcer Dark Green Fritillary.
The best time to visit Aberlady Bay is at dusk or dawn, when in addition to the bird life, wild deer can be seen. The main walk as far as the beach and back takes about one and a half hours, allowing for a fifteen minute stop when you get to the beach. The paths beyond the wooden bridge are clearly defined, if muddy, and only sturdy footwear is required for the main part of the walk, though you may want waterproof boots or shoes if you are exploring the wrecks of two midget submarines out on the sand bar. Take care with the tide, which is very fast. The only facilities in the reserve are some rather basic toilets by the car park. There are more details about the walks on the Internet at: www.walkeastlothian.co.uk.
Please note that visitors are asked not to take their dogs onto the nature reserve.
For further information about the Reserve contact: -
Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve
Tel: 01620 827847
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web - www.eastlothian.gov.uk
Nigel Tranter (1909 - 2000) was a distinguished and popular author who lived at Quarry House near the Nature Reserve for the last 50 years of his life. His works included many historical novels on Scottish themes. His book "Footbridge to Enchantment" tells of his musings on his daily walks across the timber bridge to the Nature Reserve. There is a memorial cairn by the entrance to the car park at the Reserve.