Moving with the tides
Loch Fleet was once a wide-open bay, embracing a sea loch that reached as far inland as Rogart. Southward-sweeping currents gradually dragged shingle across the loch entrance, and reduced the mouth to a narrow channel through which tidal currents race in and out twice every 24 hours.
These tides led the Vikings to name the loch 'fljótr', the Old Norse word for 'flood (in Gaelic it is still known as Loch Fleòid). Each rising tide scatters fine particles from sea and river across the shallows, carrying food for small plants and animals that live there. Each ebb pulls back the covers from the loch bed, exposing rich pickings for other wildlife. The Loch's north-western boundary represents a historic piece of civil engineering. The Mound Causeway was built by Thomas Telford in 1816 and has provided a secure foundation for a road crossing of the estuary ever since. Large sluice gates at its northern end allow salmon and sea trout to migrate past the Mound to and from spawning areas upriver.
Wind and waves have shaped the sand dunes and coastal lands that fringe Loch Fleet to north and south. These seaward defences and home to plants and creatures that can cope with sandblasting, salt spray dousing and extremes of heat and cold.
Marram and lyme grasses bind the dunes with their roots and runners. Hollows or 'slacks' behind the foredunes are damper and cooler, giving prime sites for small pioneers such as sea-milkwort, purple milk-vetch and bird's-foot-trefoil.
On Ferry Links, nectar from heather and other flowers in the coastal heathlands fuels butterflies and day-flying moths. Green hairstreak, grayling and dark green fritillary and some of the fairweather fliers here.
Living on the loch
Common seals, otters and shore crabs are a few of the animals that live on and around the loch. But it's the birds you can't fail to notice as they make use of the loch-fed dining opportunities in different ways. Oystercatcher probe the mud for cockles, shelduck sieve the water for snails, wigeon nibble seagrass, eider dive to devour crunchy young mussels and red-breasted merganser plunge to chase small fish. Some of these birds will be here on any day of the year; others change with the seasons.
Bar-tailed godwits, dunlin and other waders migrate from their northern breeding grounds to spend the winter in the relative shelter of estuaries like Loch Fleet. Icelandic greylag and pink-footed geese also migrate south, swelling the ranks of native greylags that overwinter here. Flocks of geese are easily recognised by their loud cackling calls and 'V' shaped flight formations.
Summer brings common, artic and little terns up from Africa to their coastal nest sites. Look out for their long white wings and bouncy flight as they patrol the offshore in search of small fish.
Protection of Loch Fleet
In recognition of the importance of Loch Fleet for wildlife it has been chosen as a National Nature Reserve. Loch Fleet also forms part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area, and the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar Site. This means that Loch Fleet is recognised as part of a habitat which one of the most valuable in the whole of Europe.