The climate of Arran is relatively mild due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. This is evident in the island's year-round rich diversity of plant life. Even in the winter, up to 50 species of wild flowers can be found, the most common being Gorse - whose flowering season starts in November and reaches its peak in late spring.
In the Spring the first flowers to appear are Marsh Marigold, Wood Anemone, Lesser Celandine and Golden Saxifrage. Later come colonies of Ramsons, Bluebell, Pignut and Bugle.
In early summer you can see a wide variety of colourful plants in wetter areas of the island, such as the colonies of Yellow Iris beside the Brodick to Corrie road. However, most damp-loving plants are at their best after July on Arran, when stands of Purple Loosestrife, Meadowsweet, Marsh Ragwort, Valerian and Hemp Agrimony can be seen. Brooklime and Water Mint can be found at the side of burns, and it's always worth looking out for Marsh Cinquefoil.
If you intend to explore the hills and glens of Arran, you will not see much much in the way of plant variety - you will mostly find large quantities of Bracken, Heather and Bilberry. In boggy places you might also discover the carnivorous Butterwort and Sundew. On the tops of the hills you can find Alpine Ladys' Mantle, Dwarf Willow and Mountain Sorrel, and higher still you might spot Roseroot, Mossy and Starry Saxifrage.
The great majority of the 900 or so flowering plants present on Arran can be found somewhere on the shore or the cliffs behind. Some of them will grow only, or mainly, near the sea. Where the cliffs are steep and generally bare of vegetation, Thrift, Sea Campion and Navelwort often cling to the ledges and cracks. Grass-covered slopes offer more shelter for plants, so there is a greater variety, such as Wood Vetch and Bloody Cranesbill, which are found on the south coast.
Just beyond the normal high tide mark you will probably find Skullcap,
Wild Carrot and Woody Nightshade, if conditions are dry. In wetter places, you'll probably find Gipspywort and Bog Myrtle. A favourite flower with visitors, Grass-of-Parnassus is likely to be in this zone, perhaps with Ragged Robin if the grass and other vegetation is not high.
Red deer are the largest wild animal on Arran, and one of the most populous. Stags and hinds live in separate herds on the high open moorland of Arran for much of the year but come together rather vocally each autumn in the breeding season, or rut. A stag may mate with up to twenty hinds in a given year. Calves are born in June.
There are over 2,000 red deer running wild on Arran - and they are easily seen north of the String Road at most times of the year. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a rare albino, the source of the legend of the White Stag. In late Autumn they come down from the hills to browse in the valleys and are a common sight in the villages, such as Lochranza, at this time of year.
The northern and western coasts of Scotland are a stronghold for the Eurasian otter. While numbers declined across Britain as a result of persecution and pollution in the mid 20th Century, the Highlands and Islands - including Arran - retained a relatively healthy population and remain prime otter-watching territory. Spotting these shy creatures usually requires luck or patience. You must stay silent and keep very still. Look out for signs, such as droppings, known as spraint, or webbed footprints in the sand, and keep a close eye on still water in the early morning or evening.
|The Red squirrel|
One of Scotland's most recognisable and popular mammals is the Red squirrel. It has been forced out of much of its original habitat in the UK since the introduction of its larger grey cousin. However, the red squirrel still florishes in some parts, and Arran is one of the remaining strongholds for these small mammals.
The grey squirrel is not present on Arran - which is why our red squirrels are so happy! They are more difficult to observe than grey squirrels, but these woodland characters with their tufted ears and bushy tails are nevertheless, unmistakeable.
For those who may not have the chance to explore the wilder parts of Arran, it is possible to take a ranger-led tour of Brodick Castle's leafy grounds - where you are very likely to encounter red squirrels.
The Basking shark is the second largest in the world, reaching 11 metres long and weighing up to 7 tonnes. The species is usually seen slowly swimming close to the surface with the huge fin, up to 2 metres high, breaking the water along with the tip of the tail fin and the tip of its nose. As it swims it opens its mouth, which is itself over one metre wide, allowing hundreds of litres of seawater, equivalent to a swimming pool-full an hour, to flow out through its widely-stretched gills. These gills trap all kinds of plankton.
One of the best places on the island to see Basking sharks is the Cock of Arran, just north of Lochranza, where the sharks can be seen offshore in the autumn months. They are following the plankton and so are annual visitors to the seas around the island.
Bottlenose dolphins can be seen all around the coast of Scotland - including in the waters of Arran. The dolphin's body is beautifully streamlined and extremely well suited to its life in the marine environment. A single nostril or blowhole allows the dolphin to take in air when it comes to the surface. Their bulging forehead contains an organ called the melon, which holds a mass of fat and oily tissue. The melon is important as it allows dolphins to echolocate food and to communicate with each other.
The Common seal is roughly 1.5 to 2 metres long with the male (bull) weighing up to 250 kilograms and the female (cow) half of that. The sexes are similarly coloured, with a dark grey back and a lighter, mottled underside. Common seals are found all around Arran, and can often be seen basking on rocky outcrops just off shore. They fish over a wide area, feeding on anything from shrimps to whole herring, and breed between June and July.
The Grey seal is around 2 metres long with the bull weighing in at up to 300 kilograms, and the cow a third less. The sexes are distinguishable in that the bull has a heavier muzzle and enlarged 'Roman nose'. The fur of both sexes ranges from dark brown to grey with light spots, though the cow is generally paler. They feed on all types of fish, plus crabs, squid and sandeels, and breed in the autumn.
There are also Porpoises living in the seas around Arran - and you may get a sight of a Minke whale from the shore, or from the ferry.
On Arran, heron, mallard, shelduck, merganser and eider are present all year round, joined in the winter months by widgoen, golden eye and teal. In the northern mountains golden eagles can be seen in flight, sharing the air space with buzzards, peregrines, kestrels, hen harriers and sparrowhawks.
The Golden eagle is a huge bird of prey - only the white-tailed eagle is larger in the UK. With its long broad wings and longish tail, it has a different outline to the smaller buzzard. It likes to soar and glide on air currents, holding its wings in a shallow 'V'. Eagles have traditional territories and nesting places which may be used by generations. They have been persecuted in the past and are still occasionally poisoned, or have their nests robbed. The species inhabits the high moorland and mountains of Arran, where there are plenty of open areas to feed over.
The White-tailed eagle is the largest UK bird of prey. Although it does not live on the Isle of Arran, it has been sighted here recently. It is a coastal species and is most likely to be seen near cliffs and coastal mountains. It has brown body plumage with a pale head and neck which can be almost white in older birds, and the tail feathers of adults are white. It was persecuted to extinction in the UK in the early 19th century and is now being re-introduced - initially on the island of Rum.
The Osprey is a spectacular fish-eating bird of prey that has white or slightly mottled under-parts, and so is easily identified from below. The osprey does not live on Arran, but passes through while migrating and so may be sighted occasionally in the spring and autumn.
|Hen Harrier at nest|
Male birds are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food.
The hen harrier lives in open areas with low vegetation and they are found on the upland heather moorlands of Arran, where they breed. In winter they move to lowland farmland areas, marshland and conifer plantations.
The Peregrine falcon is a large and powerful bird. It has long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. It is blue-grey above, with a blackish top of the head and an obvious black 'moustache' that contrasts with its white face. Its breast is finely spotted. It is swift and agile in flight, chasing prey. The strongholds of the breeding birds in the UK are the uplands and coasts of the north and west where it nests on crags and cliffs. Peregrines have suffered persecution from landowners, and been a target for egg collectors, but numbers have lately recovered.
The Red Kite is unmistakable with its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail. It was saved from national extinction by one of the world's longest running protection programmes, and has now been successfully re-introduced to Scotland, initially in the Black Isle though the population has now spread. Kites like deciduous woodland with farmland and grassland nearby. They feed on carrion, worms and small mammals.
The Ptarmigan is a plump gamebird, slightly larger than a grey partridge. In summer, it is a mixture of grey, brown and black above with a white belly and wings. In winter, it becomes totally white except for its tail and eye-patch, which remain black. It breeds on the mountains of Arran, and the birds seldom move far from their breeding sites. Arran is the most southern point where ptarmigan can be seen in Scotland. In severe cold weather, birds may move from the highest ground to the edge of forests. Ptarmigans feed on shoots, leaves, leaf buds, berries and insects.