In recent times—recent,
that is, geologically—no sea separated Britain from the Continent. The
present bed of the North Sea was a low plain intersected by streams. At
that period, then, the plants and the animals of our country were
identical with those of Western Europe. But the Ice Age came and crushed
out life in this region. In time, as the ice melted, the flora and fauna
gradually returned, for the land-bridge still existed. Had it continued
to exist, our plants and animals would have been the same as in Northern
France and the Netherlands. But the sea drowned the land and cut off
Britain from the Continent before all the species found a home here.
Consequently, on the east of the North Sea all our mammals and reptiles,
for example, are found along with many which are not indigenous to
Britain. In Scotland, however, we are proud to possess in the red grouse
a bird not belonging to the fauna of the Continent.
The flora of Great Britain has been divided, as regards climatic types,
into four classes—(i) Alpine; (2) Sub-Alpine; (3) Lowland; (4) Maritime.
Kincardineshire, with its diversified soil and situation and with an
elevation reaching over 2000 ft., has representatives of all the four
classes. The county as a whole is remarkably rich in the number and the
variety of its wild plants, while several spots within it have acquired
more than a local reputation as a hunting ground for the botanist. Thus,
we have on the coast the well-known St Cyrus braes, where, owing to
favourable conditions, a large number of plants occur that are not found
in other parts of the. county. Here the volcanic rocks decompose into a
light brown soil, extremely suitable for the growth of wild flowers,
unless when exposed to continuous drought, which in our climate does not
often occur. The exposure of'the rocks, forming cliffs almost 200 ft.
high, facing south and east, adds to the warmth afforded by the soil.
Here, during the summer, may be seen in abundance the pretty little
maiden pink, the prolific rest harrow, bladder campion, viper’s bugloss,
bloody crane’s bill, hemp agrimony, common cudweed (the herba impia of
old writers), butterbur, marjoram, goat’s beard, red poppy, field
peppervvort, soft knotted clover, rough podded yellow vetch, field
garlic, wild sweet pea, Nottingham catch-fly, and others.
On the loose sands along the banks of the North Esk and in the salt
marshes at its mouth grow the lesser meadow rue, the sea rocket, the
thrift or sea pink, the prickly saltwort and other similar plants. Close
to the river, on ground liable to be flooded at high tides, may be found
sea pearlwort, sandwort spurreys, sea milkwort, jointed glasswort, sea
arrow grass, and several varieties of sedges. Grass wrack, one of the
few flowering plants of salt water, grows in the mud at the old mouth of
The braes and seashore of Muchalls, though inferior to St Cyrus in
number and variety of specimens, are of great interest to botanists.
Besides some of the commoner plants already mentioned, Muchalls supplies
lamb’s lettuce, sea wormwood, white campion, the lovely oyster plant,
and several varieties of worts, willow herbs, vetches and sedges.
Inland, wild flowers abound, especially along the rivers, in the
sheltered glens, and on the wooded hills. To mention only a few, we have
lung wort, wintergreen, cordalys, v'ood bitter vetch, celery-leaved
crowfoot, buckbean or bogbean, water plantain, comfrey ; with such
commoner forms as ragged robin, greater and lesser celandine, lady’s
bedstraw', knapweed, golden rod, eye-bright, field gentian,
forget-me-not, and ground ivy. The Alpine flora includes Alpine lady’s
mantle, willow herb, mountain and water avens; and in the bogs and
marshy slopes, sundew (Drosera rotundifolia and D. latifolia), very
plentiful in Netherley moss, butter-wort, bog orchis, bog violet, and
Numerous varieties of the mosses of north-east Scotland occur in
Kincardineshire, in the wet and boggy parts by river banks, as at the
Burn or along the Dee valley, and at the seaside. Of ferns, beside the
common polypody, which is very abundant, we find the beech fern, the
graceful oak fern, five varieties of the Aspidia (including the rough
Alpine shield and. the close-leaved prickly shield), the bladder fern.
Five or six spleen-worts (including the wall rue spleenwort and the sea
spleenwort) grow along the cliffs in the south of the county and as far
north as Muchalls and Portlethen, where also the black spleenwort has
The fauna of Kincardineshire includes the ordinary animals of the
country. The fox is not so numerous as he was in the early years of the
nineteenth century, when fox hunting, now entirely given up in the
shire, was indulged in by some of the county gentlemen. The brown hare
has, however, increased very much in numbers, not always to the
advantage of the farmer’s crops. The blue or mountain hare is plentiful
on the Grampian slopes. Wild rabbits, known only as children’s pets in
the county before 1808, abound everywhere. The otter is occasionally
seen by the side of the larger streams, but the badger and wild cat are
now extinct. Squirrels, unknown in the county a century ago, are now
fairly numerous. Roe deer are found in the lower Grampian slopes, and
red deer sometimes in the Glen of Dye and elsewhere. Grouse and
partridge are numerous, while the heron builds in the high trees by the
North Esk and the Bervie, and may be seen feeding in the river pools.
The capercailzie has come by Dye and Feugh to Dec.
To the sea birds the cliffs afford a secure retreat and a fitting
nursery. The guillemot, credited erroneously with being a stupid bird,
asserts his superiority in number over the kittiwakes, tommie-nories, or
Greenland parrots, gulls and coots, which inhabit the precipitous ledges
of their summer home.
With the increase of
woods and other shelter the smaller birds have increased in number. The
yellow-hammer, hedge sparrow, chaffinch, stonechat, and other similar
birds are everywhere in evidence by the roadsides and fields, while the
blackbird, the starling, and the mavis are not averse to sampling the
products of the fruit garden in summer or early autumn.
The goldfinch and the siskin are now extremely rare, while the magpie is
decreasing in numbers. The ptarmigan is extinct. The golden -eagle is
practically extinct, though one or two have been sighted in the hills
above Drumtochty. Rare visitants are the quail, snow-bunting, great
spotted woodpecker, Bohemian waxwing, little auk, Manx shearwater, hen
harrier, peregrine falcon, and common buzzard ; but these can only be
regarded as accidental visitors, driven thither by stress of weather or