Culbin Sands, Forest and Findhorn Bay

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Culbin Sands, Forest and Findhorn Bay is a huge area of coast and countryside and an SSSI in Moray, Scotland, stretching from just east of the town of Nairn eastwards to the village of Findhorn and its bay. All of the areas are very important for wildlife in general and are strongly protected by law. The Culbin Sands are known in Gaelic as Bar Inbhir Èireann.

Culbin Forest[edit]

The eastern end of the Culbin Forest from the north west with the Moray Firth in the foreground and Burghead Bay and Findhorn Bay beyond

This huge forest is almost completely owned by the Forestry Commission.[1] It is split by several large paths and smaller tracks in between. The densely covered areas off these paths are difficult to traverse. Most walks are taken beginning at the south of the forest at Wellhill Car Park[2] and ending at the beach. Among the trees there are several strange monoliths bearing messages, and at one tree there is a small plaque commemorating its planting by Prince Charles. Although mostly made up of tall pines and coarse ground cover, Culbin also has many more open, sandy patches in the forest, where small younger trees have recently been planted. The grassland areas are very suitable for butterflies. There are several ponds which act as oases to the local animals. Hill 99, a towering wooden structure which blends in subtly with the canopy, provides an excellent viewpoint. The wildlife amongst the trees is very discreet although birds can clearly be heard singing everywhere.

The forest hosts breeding crested tits.[3] The forest is also an important site for the Kentish glory moth (Endromis versicolora),[4] which exploits the forestry activity carried out by the Forestry Commission. The timber felling generates spaces for birch saplings to take root, the larval food plant of the moths, which prefer saplings under three metres tall. The moths follow the timber felling around the forest, and the adults can be seen in April and May.

Culbin Sands[edit]

Nowadays the name "Culbin Sands" means a beach, but formerly the name meant a large area of loose dune sand desert which is now the Culbin Forest. In its heyday, the dune system was the largest in Britain.

This long strip of pristine beach is owned by the RSPB,[5] due to its excellent bird habitat, home to Eurasian oystercatchers, Eurasian curlews, common redshanks and other birds. It is made up of a curious mixture of sand and long grass, but gets muddier further westwards. Much natural driftwood ends up on the sands. Three sand spits enclose a large salt marsh known as 'The Gut'. The largest, known as 'The Bar', is the largest spit in Scotland.

Towards Nairn, the beach is home to a wintering population of pale-bellied brant geese, one of only two in Scotland.[6] The birds belong to the Svalbard population.

In 1888 and 1889, the dunes hosted breeding pairs of Pallas's sandgrouse, the only time this has ever been recorded in Scotland.[7]

The sands had a reputation for shifting, engulfing homesteads.[8] This was due to removal of marram from the dunes for thatching, as the roots helped to hold the soil together. The Forestry Commission sought to stabilise the dune in much a similar method by planting scrub,[8] before giving the land over to forestry.

Findhorn Bay[edit]

Aerial photo of Findhorn Bay, with the east end of the Culbin Forest at right and the estuary of the River Findhorn at centre.

The 'Bay' is not a true bay at all, but a large tidal basin. It is enclosed by the villages of Kinloss and Findhorn to the east, and Culbin Forest to the west. It drains the river Findhorn and the Muckle Burn.

Opposite Findhorn Village, the beach is home to a mixed colony of grey and common seals. Common eiders can be seen offshore and European herring gulls fly around the general area. On the southern side of the bay, there is a brackish pool frequented by waders such as the greenshank in migrant season.

In the winter, the bay is home to a roost of at least 10,000 pink-footed geese.[9] The flock is exploited by fowlers, leading to some tensions locally with animal lovers.

The bay is deepest in the channel leading out to the Moray Firth, reaching up to 10 metres. Other than that, the bay is predominantly shallow, the average depth being circa 2 metres. Due this safety, and lack of strong swell, the bay is popular with amateur sailors and windsurfers.


Formerly the area which is now the Culbin Forest was loose blowing sand dunes, called the Culbin Sands. The area had been fertile farmland, but was gradually covered in loose sand, particularly during a windstorm in 1694. The area remained largely dune desert for two centuries, sometimes referred to as "Scotland's Sahara". In the 20th century the Forestry Commission planted the area with forest. [10][11][12][13][14]


  1. ^ "Culbin - Forestry Commission Scotland".
  2. ^ "Welcome to Scotland's forests - Forestry Commission Scotland".
  3. ^ The Breeding Birds of North-East Scotland. Aberdeen: Scottish Ornithologist's Club. 2011. pp. 296–297. ISBN 978-0-9561126-3-7.
  4. ^ "Butterfly Conservation: Highland Branch - moth species list". Retrieved 2016-01-23.
  5. ^ "Culbin Sands".
  6. ^ The Birds of Scotland. Aberlady, East Lothian: Scottish Ornithologist's Club. 2007. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-0-9512139-2-6.
  7. ^ Birds of Scotland. Aberlady, East Lothian: Scottish Ornithologist's Club. 2007. pp. 872–873. ISBN 978-0-9512139-3-3.
  8. ^ a b "Culbin's human history timeline - Forestry Commission Scotland". Retrieved 2016-01-23.
  9. ^ The Birds of Scotland. Aberlady, East Lothian: Scottish Ornithologist's Club. 2007. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-9512139-2-6.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-07-27. Retrieved 2010-08-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) The Moray First Infozone: 64. Culbin Sands
  11. ^ The Culbin Sands
  12. ^ Abandoned Communities ..... Shifting Sands, part 5
  13. ^ Walking Scotland: Culbin Forest
  14. ^ BBC Radio Scotland radio feature "Walking Through Landscape", Episode 5, on Culbin Forest and Sands

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 57°37′55″N 3°43′34″W / 57.632°N 3.726°W / 57.632; -3.726