The Spey Bay area is the largest vegetated coastal shingle complex in Scotland, second only to Dungeness in Kent in terms of its importance to the vegetated shingle resource in Britain. Its interest is both physical and biological.
In terms of coastal geomorphology, the Spey Bay area is a site of outstanding importance on several accounts. Firstly, it includes the finest active shingle ridges in Scotland. These are developed on a massive scale over a distance of 8km, considerably beyond the extent of the SWT reserve and provide almost unique evidence for short and medium-term dynamic coastal processes. Secondly, there is the delta and related forms at the mouth of the Spey, a complex and shifting area with a documented history of dramatic changes. Thirdly, the active margin is backed by a magnificent strandplain of post-glacial shingle ridges, recording the progressive history of coastal development. The scale of development, juxtaposition and inter-relationships of these key elements make Spey Bay one of the most important coastal physiographic sites in Britain.
A wide range of plant communities occurs, ranging from pioneer shingle heath to birch and Scots pine woodland on drier ridges, and from wet shingle slacks to reed beds and fen and carr woodland in damp hollows. Large areas of the reserve west of Kingston have been modified by commercial gravel extraction, resulting in large "artificial" hollows which now support outstanding slack and freshwater marsh vegetation. The delta of the river is also of considerable interest with its extensive areas of mobile shingle, brackish saltmarsh and alder-dominated alluvial woodland. The two major habitat types (the vegetated coastal shingles and the floodplain alder woods) are of European importance.
The flora of the whole area is extremely rich with many local species and it has long been recognised as one of the most exceptional localities in the district. The wide range of habitats also support many species of breeding birds, including arctic terns, and diverse invertebrate communities. The waters immediately offshore are of international importance to large populations of wintering sea duck and divers, bottle-nosed dolphins are regularly seen, and the mouth of the river supports a wide range of waders and wildfowl. Foraging osprey frequent the area.
Commercial gravel extraction no longer occurs, but the area is heavily used for informal recreation by local residents throughout the year, by visitors during the summer months.
Visit the Moray Firth Wildlife Centre (www.wdcs.org/mfwc) website for more information about Spey Bay and its wildlife.