Bute’s mammals – a checklist


Mammals: a Checklist of the Mammals of Bute

The British mammal fauna is somewhat impoverished compared to that of mainland Europe due to the short period of time between the last glacial period and the flooding of the land bridge between Great Britain and the rest of Europe. This ‘window of opportunity’ for land mammals to reach Britain prior to the formation of the English Channel probably occurred from about 12,000 to 6,000 years ago. Similarly the short stretch of water between Bute and the Scottish mainland has acted as a significant barrier to many land mammals, resulting in the Island of Bute having a less diverse selection of species than that of neighbouring mainland Scotland. Nevertheless, with healthy populations of otters, deer, seals, cetaceans and many other interesting and exciting mammals Bute can be a great place for mammal watching.

In the introduction to his paper on ‘The Mammals of the Island of Bute’ (Gibson 1970) Dr Jack Gibson started by saying that ‘no detailed account of the mammals of the Island of Bute has previously appeared’. Since then our knowledge has improved in many respects, mainly as a result of a series of papers that he wrote for the Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society. More recently Billy Shields has probably contributed most to our current understanding of mammal populations on Bute. However, the amount of information recorded about mammals on the island varies considerably from species to species and perhaps unsurprisingly, not a great deal is known about many of these.

In addition to those mammals that occur or have occurred on Bute in a natural state, several species have been introduced to the island. Beaver Castor fiber were introduced to Bute in 1874 by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, but the species had died out by 1890. They were at one time reported to be the North American Beaver Castor canadensis, but correspondence in the Bute Archives revealed that the Beavers came from Scandinavia (Gibson 1970, 2000). The 3rd Marquess of Bute also introduced several species of kangaroo and wallabies to Mount Stuart, probably in the early 1870s. Shortly after 1900 the remaining animals, apparently mostly Red-necked Wallabies Macropus rufogriseus, appear to have been ‘turned loose’ and fended for themselves for several years. It is not known whether any feral breeding took place during this time (Gibson 1970, 1990).

Several Feral Ferret Mustela furo have been noted on Bute, but no self-sustaining population is known to have become established, unlike Mink Mustela vison which has become a ‘pest species’ since the feral population, at large throughout much of Britain, reached Bute in 1981. A small population of Feral Goats Capra hircus has been present at the north end of the island since at least the 1960s.

A paper by Professor James Ritchie in 1910 (Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society Vol III pages 67-68), details two instances of the finding in archaeological remains on Bute of Aurochs (Urus) Bos primigenius, an extinct ox and the ancestor of domestic cattle. He also refers to a third Bute record. The last know Aurochs became extinct in Poland in 1627. Although believed to have occurred naturally within the British Isles, its status on Bute is unclear. There is also some circumstantial evidence, from the archaeological excavations in Dunagoil cave, that Wolf Canis lupis may have been present on Bute in ancient times (Gibson 1970).

Bute waters can be defined as being that within the median line between Bute (including Inchmarnock) and neighbouring land (excluding Burnt Islands).  It therefore extends no more than 200m at the narrowest point, between Rhubodach and Colintraive (in the East Kyle of the Kyles of Bute), but 4 km into the Firth of Clyde due east of Ascog, to 4.5 km due west of the south tip of Inchmarnock, to 5 km into the Sound of Bute between Garroch Head and Arran, and 6.5 km into the Firth of Clyde due south of Garroch Head. As might be expected a number of interesting marine mammals have been recorded in the seas around Bute. However, species that remain ‘near misses’ include Fin Whale (Common Rorqual) Balaenoptera physalus reported from Kilbrannan Sound and Loch Fyne (Gibson 1970); Pilot Whale Globicephala melaena of which there have been several recent records from the Sound of Bute, Kilbrannan Sound and Loch Fyne (Gibson 2004); and Sperm Whale Physeter catodon of which there was a sighting in lower Loch Fyne, off Ardlamont Point, near the western entrance to the Kyles of Bute during the last week of August 1998 (Gibson 2004).

One group of mammals about which we still know very little on Bute are the bats. Billy Shields has done some work and more recently in 2013 and 2014 Helen Simmons has also completed several investigations. However, although of bat detectors has helped considerably, our knowledge of population numbers and distribution remains extremely basic. There remains much scope for further studies.

Mammals are a clade of warm blooded amniotes (four limbed animals with back bones and spinal chords that include reptiles and birds). Among the features that distinguish mammals from the other amniotes, are hair, three middle ear bones, mammary glands in females, and a neocortex (a region of the brain). The mammalian brain regulates body temperature and the circulatory system, including the four-chambered heart. The word mammal is derived from the scientific name Mammalia coined by Linnaeus in 1758. Since the time of Linnaeus, species classification within the mammlas has continually been in a state of flux. In more recent times George Gaylord Simpson produced a set of principles in 1945 based on mammal origins and relationships, which was widely adopted until the end of the 20th century. More recently in 1997 Malcolm McKenna and Susan Bell completed a comprehensive revision that appeared in their book Classification of Mammals above the Species Level, which is usually now regarded as the most comprehensive work to date on the systematics, relationships and occurrences of all mammal taxa. For Bute land mammals, we here use the taxonomy, sequence and scientific names used by Batterby (2005), from which we also have taken details relating to status within the United Kingdom.


Many people provided information for this webpage, but we must in particular thank Billy Shields, who provided much recent information, together with photographs and Norrie Mulholland who also made several photographs available. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust provided helpful information about marine mammals and Helen Simmons has contributed information on the status of bats on Bute.

Mammals belong to:-

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia


Species Systematic List

Order Insectivora: insectivores

Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus

(UK: Native, locally common.)

Writing in 1820 Blain (1880) made no mention of Hedgehog, but this may have been an omission as Colquhoun (1866) said it was common. Gibson (1970) said that at the time of writing Hedgehog was ‘common and widely distributed throughout the island’ and that it was increasing in number.

Hedgehog remains common on Bute.

There were no Hedgehogs on Inchmarnock until two were introduced in 1972. Many were subsequently seen, particularly during the period 1975-77, but the animals appeared to be getting smaller, perhaps as a result of inbreeding (Gibson 1980). Gibson (1990) reported that Hedgehogs still occurred on Inchmarnock, but that numbers were reduced. None have been recorded since 1990.

Hedgehog, out for a walk, Stable Cottage, Mount Stuart 29.4.10 © Billy Shields

Hedgehog, out for a walk, Stable Cottage, Mount Stuart 29.4.10 © Billy Shields



Mole Talpa europaea

(UK: Native, common.)

Gibson (1970) said that in 1777, Pennant, recorded that Bute was the only island on which it occurred. However it may either have died out or certainly significantly reduced in numbers as it was not again recorded on Bute until Evans reported having caught one on Barone Hill on 11th January 1895 (Ann. Scot. Nat. Hist. 1905: 241). After this it appears to have staged some sort of recovery as by 1970 Jack Gibson described it as being ‘not really uncommon and is widely distributed throughout the island’. Some indication of the population level can be taken from the fact that a total of 500 were killed in 1978 by a mole-trapper working some 300-400 acres of farm near Ettrick Bay (Gibson 1980).

Mole remains fairly common on Bute.

There are no Moles on Inchmarnock.

Mole, The Straad 6.9.14 © Norrie Mulholland

Mole, The Straad 6.9.14 © Norrie Mulholland


Common Shrew Sorex araneus

(UK: Native, common.)

Gibson (1970) said that this species was ‘very common and widely distributed throughout Bute, but absent from Inchmarnock. It remains very common and widely distributed throughout Bute (Billy Shields pers. comm.).


Pygmy Shrew Sorex minutus

(UK: Native, common.)

Gibson (1970) said that Pygmy Shrew was ‘common and widely distributed’ on both Bute and Inchmarnock. It remains common on Bute (Billy Shields pers. comm.), but its current status on Inchmarnock is not known.

Pygmy Shrew, St Colmac 11.7.14 © Norrie Mulholland

Pygmy Shrew, St Colmac 11.7.14 © Norrie Mulholland



Water Shrew Neomys fodiens

(UK: Native, locally common.)

Gibson (1970) said that Rev John McWilliam had caught several specimens in the 1920s and that at the time of writing Water Shrew was certainly known to be widely if locally distributed throughout the island in small numbers, and that he himself had seen several. Gibson (1976) reported finding a cat with a dead Water Shrew at Ascog on 4 August 1976.

A specimen was caught by a cat in Shalunt Wood, near Rhubodach in September 1980 (Gibson 1980). Two Water Shrews were live-trapped in Beaver Wood, near Kilchattan Bay in June 1979 and several more were trapped there over the next ten years, indicating the presence of a small viable population in the wood (Gibson 1990). In 2000, Jack Gibson reported that ‘during the past few years Longworth traps have regularly caught Water Shrews in many different parts of Bute, so it can be confirmed that the Water Shrew is widely distributed throughout the island wherever there is suitable habitat’ (Gibson 2000).

Its current status on Bute is not known, but in all probability has not changed significantly from the recent past.

Apparently absent from Inchmarnock.



Order Chiroptera: bats

Natterer’s Bat Myotis nattereri

(UK: Native, fairly common throughout much of the UK.)

Gibson (2004) reported that the presence of Natterer’s Bat had been confirmed on Bute through the use of bat detectors, but he did not provide any further details. Jack Gibson’s paper prompted Richard Sutcliffe, from Glasgow Museum, to record a specimen held at Glasgow Museum which had been found dead at Bogany House, Craigmore, Rothesay, having been killed by a cat on 24 September 1988. Mrs Hall who found the bat, believed it may have come from St Brendan’s Church tower, next door. The specimen is preserved as a cabinet skin with the registration number Z.2000.2 (Sutcliffe 2008).

Billy Shields reported that from using a bat detector he had failed to obtain any confirmed records of Natterer’s Bat (Shields 2008) and there had been no recent reports prior to 2014. In 2014 Helen Simmons recorded Natterer’s Bats roosting at Shalunt Farm. The number present has still to be ascertained.


Daubenton’s Bat Myotis daubentonii

(UK: Native, common throughout much of the UK.)

Jack Gibson (1970) said he had no positive records, but that he had seen bats over Loch Fad and other stretches of water on Bute, which he believed to be this species. In 2000 Jack Gibson reported that with the aid of a bat detector, positive identification had been established and that Daubenton’s Bat could be added to the list of Bute mammals (Gibson 2000).

In 2008 Billy Shields reported that no Daubenton’s Bat had been studied in the hand, but that there was ample evidence of their presence by using bat detectors, and droppings had been found with characteristics of this species’ diet of aquatic insects. Three feeding roosts are known in the vicinity of the lochs of central Bute, in 1 km squares NS0861 and NS0762. Daubenton’s Bat can also be seen feeding around Rothesay Castle (Shields 2008). Billy Shields has since found another feeding roost in the south of the island, in the Kilchattan Bay area. He has also recorded them feeding over Kirk Dam and Loch Fad, where he has also found a roost.


Leisler’s Bat Nyctalus leisleri

(UK: Native, widespread, scarce in Great Britain, common in Northern Ireland)

This species may be increasing in the United Kingdom, but in 1995 the Scottish population was estimated at only 250 animals. At that time the only Scottish records came from Dumfries & Galloway, however there have certainly been more Scottish records in recent years and the species is becoming more widespread. The first record for Arran occurred in April 2011 (Voice of Arran) and there has since been a second record for that island and also a record from near Largs (per Billy Shields). It was therefore exciting news, but perhaps not entirely unexpected, when Helen Simmons, who was working for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, recorded Leisler’s Bat at the Bird Hide at Loch Ascog on 25 May 2013 and at the Loch Fad car park the following day.


Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus

(UK: Native, common across the UK.)

Gibson (1970) said that it was common and widely distributed throughout Bute, but this was prior to the species being split from Soprano Pipistrelle, and so his observations may have included that species.

Billy Shields reported that the largest Common Pipistrelle roost, that he found by using a bat detector, contained about 150 individuals. Up until 2008, six roosts of Common Pipistrelle had been discovered (Shields 2008). Since 2008 Billy Shields has found three more roosts and two hibernatical roosts. In July 2014 Helen Simmons recorded 47 emerging from a roost at Shalunt.

Common Pipistrelles, in the losft at Woodend House 21.7.10 © Billy Shields

Common Pipistrelles, in the loft at Woodend House 21.7.10 © Billy Shields



Soprano Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pygmaeus

(UK: Native, common across the UK.)

Gibson (2004) reported that the presence of Soprano Pipistrelle had been confirmed on Bute through the use of bat detectors, but he provided no further details.

Soprano Pipistelle is now known to be the commonest species of bat on Bute. Billy Shields found that Soprano Pipistrelle had the largest bat roosts on Bute. One roost in Rothesay had up to 560 individuals. Up until 2008, twelve roosts of Soprano Pipistrelles had been discovered (Shields 2008) and in 2013 Billy Shields was able to say ‘still doing very well’. In June 2014 Helen Simmons recorded 119 emerging from a roost at Shalunt.

Soprano Pipistrelles, in farmhouse, near Kingarth 2.6.07 © Billy Shields

Soprano Pipistrelles, in farmhouse, near Kingarth 2.6.07 © Billy Shields


pipistrelle bat, probably Soprano Pipistrelle, entrance to Rothesay Golf Course 14 June 2008 © John Williams

pipistrelle bat, probably Soprano Pipistrelle, entrance to Rothesay Golf Course 14.6.08              © John Williams


Brown Long-eared Bat Plecotus auritus

(UK: Native, common.)

Gibson (1970) said that this species was fairly common and widely distributed on Bute.

Two were found roosting in a small rocky overhang in the woods on Inchmarnock in spring 1978 (Gibson 1980), and one was seen flying over that island in June 1984 (Gibson 1990). A Brown Long-eared Bat, found alive in the roof space of a house in Eden Place, Rothesay by Ian Hopkins in October 1985, later died and is now held at Glasgow Museum registration number Z.1986.15 (Sutcliffe 2008).

Billy Shields reported that by using a bat detector two roosts were known in Rothesay and one at Mount Stuart, with each roost holding between 15 and 20 individuals (Shields 2008). Subsequently Billy Shields found another roost, a maternity roost, next to Loch Fad. This is the second maternity roost he has found. In 2014 Helen Simmons found a roost at Sahunt, with at least 12 present.


Brown Long-eared Bat, Mount Stuart 28.8.09 © Billy Shields

Brown Long-eared Bat, Mount Stuart 28.8.09 © Billy Shields



Order Lagomorpha: rabbits and hares

Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus

(UK: Introduced, common in most areas.)

Rabbit was introduced to Bute in the early part of the 19th century, possibly during the 1830s, soon becoming abundant and widespread. Myxomatosis reached Bute in 1954 and the species was nearly exterminated. However, Gibson (1970) said that there were still several small local populations, but sporadic outbreaks of myxomatosis kept the population ‘under control’. By 1990, Jack Gibson had noted a ‘very marked increase in the Bute Rabbit population’ (Gibson 1990). Another outbreak of myxomatosis occurred in spring 1994, mainly in the south-west of the island (Gibson 2000), however, Rabbit remained common and widely distributed on Bute. In 2013, Billy Shields (pers. comm.) suggested that there seemed to have been an increase during the previous few years, but there has been a significant decline since 2013 (I Hopkins pers. comm.).


Rabbit, Rothesay, summer 2012 © Norrie Mulholland

Rabbit, Rothesay, summer 2012 © Norrie Mulholland


Brown Hare Lepus europaeus

(UK: Introduced, common and widespread.)

Brown Hare is not indigenous to Bute, but was introduced to the island prior to 1772. Gibson (1970) said that at that time it was common and widely distributed. Following the 1994 outbreak of myxomatosis, in which a great many Rabbits died, there was a marked increase in the Brown Hare population, but by 1997 numbers had returned to normal (Gibson 2000).

Although less common than formerly, there are still many about (Billy Shields pers. comm.) and it remains fairly common.

Brown Hare, near Kingarth 7.5.11 © Ron Forrester

Brown Hare, near Kingarth 7.5.11 © Ron Forrester



Mountain Hare Lepus timidus

(UK: Native, but widely introduced outside its natural range, locally common in some upland areas.)

Colquhoun (1866) reported that ‘Alpine Hares have been introduced from Argyllshire, but I have never yet moved one, although my watcher saw a couple at different times last winter, after they had donned the snow-white fur’. Gibson (1976), commenting on this report, was clearly of the belief that these must have been introduced to Bute shortly prior to Colquhoun’s report and that they died out soon after.



Order Rodentia: rodents

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris

(UK: Native, but with multiple introductions from the continent of Europe. Near Threatened in England Wales and Northern Ireland; locally common in Scotland.)

Gibson (1970) said that Red Squirrel was not indigenous to any of the Clyde islands, but was introduced to Bute in 1872, doing well for a number of years before dying out. There were then a few records shortly after World War I, followed by isolated records in the early 1940s and around the mid-1950s (Gibson 1976). Stirling Gillespie saw a Red Squirrel near Mount Stuart Reservoir on 23rd August 1988 (per Ian Hopkins).

In 2005 two forestry workers witnessed a Red Squirrel being run over by a car near Beaver Wood. It was presented to Bute Museum and prepared as a specimen by Duncan Ferguson. In November 2007, Alan Ewing reported seeing two Red Squirrels in a field at Shalunt Farm. On 17 May 2008, Phil Kirkham saw a Red Squirrel run across the road just south of Bogany Point and enter a garden in Craigmore Road (Shields 2008). More recently, on 21st September 2014, Jessica Herriot and Gordon Stevenson watched two Red Squirrels at Balnakailly Wood for around two minutes, when initially the squirrels were in the lower branches of an ash tree, then one at a time they came down to the ground and ran up the trunk of a nearby oak tree.



Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

(UK: Introduced, common and increasing.)

On 17th September 1994, a single Grey Squirrel was seen running across the road between Rothesay and Kilchattan Bay, near Torr Wood (NS097593). The observers were John Mitchell, who had been the Senior Warden at Loch Lomond National Nature Reserve for nearly 30 years, and his wife. It is unknown as to whether the squirrel reached Bute by natural means (Gibson 1996).

John Mitchell’s sighting of the Grey Squirrel was followed by other reports, and Jack Gibson was of the opinion that a small breeding population might be established (Gibson 2000, 2004). However, Billy Shields believed that none of these additional reports emanated from an authoritative source, and he had no knowledge of any further reliable reports (Shields 2008). Subsequently, Ross Crichton reported that in Roslin Wood (opposite Rothesay Golf Course clubhouse, at the top of Ministers Brae) on 7th January 2016, his dog chased a Grey Squirrel which eventually escaped up a tree. Ross also saw what may well be the same squirrel, in the same wood, but near the road leading to Loch Ascog on 5th March 2017.  This is only the second confirmed record for Bute.


Bank Vole Clethrionomys glareolus

(UK: Native, very common.)

Gibson (1970) described it as fairly common and widely distributed on Bute, but that it had not been recorded on Bute until 1914. Gibson (1990) said that he had live-trapped Bank Voles in appropriate areas of Bute and suggested that this species remains fairly common locally. Gibson (2004) advised that several adult Bank Voles had been caught near the summit of Suidhe Hill, by using Longworth traps.

Although Jack Gibson believed Bank Vole to be ‘fairly common and widely distributed’ throughout Bute, this may have been based on anecdotal evidence and his limited experience from the Suidhe Hill area. Dawn Collis who has more recent experience of trapping small mammals on Bute, says that she has never caught Bank Vole on the island and that it is certainly absent from most of Bute. Bank Vole is far less common than Field Vole, and clearly if still present it has a restricted range. More research is required to confirm Bank Vole still occurs on Bute and a trapping project in the Suidhe Hill area would be welcome.

No species of vole has been recorded on Inchmarnock.


Field Vole (Short-tailed Vole) Microtus agrestis

(UK: Native, locally common.)

Gibson (1970) said that it was ‘widely distributed and very common on Bute, at times reaching nearly plague proportions’. In 1990 Gibson reported that he had done a significant amount of live-trapping in appropriate areas using Longworth traps and had caught Field Vole and Bank Vole in virtually equal numbers. This would appear to indicate that Field Vole was perhaps less numerous than in 1970.

Dawn Collis (pers. comm.) says that Field Vole is regularly encountered in the Ascog area and Billy Shields (pers. comm.) advised that many were recorded at the Gortans, where Bute Estate have been planting a new plantation. Clearly Field Vole remains common on Bute.


Field Vole (Short-tailed Vole), Scalpsie 25th September 2013 © Norrie Mulholland

Field Vole (Short-tailed Vole), Scalpsie 25th September 2013 © Norrie Mulholland


Field Vole, Bute Produce, Rothesay 30.7.16 - captured as part of a new monitoring study © Ron Forrester

Field Vole, Bute Produce, Rothesay 30.7.16  captured by Dawn Collis © Ron Forrester


Water Vole Arvicola terrestris

(UK: Native, moderately common, although declining.)

L P W Renouf (who was at the time Curator of Bute Museum and later became Professor of Zoology at Cork University), is credited with discovering Water Vole on Bute in 1919 (Gibson 1990). Rev John McWilliam subsequently found several Water Voles on Bute and believed the species to be ‘reasonably common in the right places’. From the early 1940s onward Jack Gibson then saw Water Vole quite regularly at several places on Bute, in particular at Loch na Leighe (Plan Loch), Loch Quien, the Straad (Quogach Burn), Ettrick Burn and occasionally elsewhere.

Gibson (1970) said that Water Vole was ‘locally not uncommon in suitable places on Bute’. However, by 1976, Gibson reported that Water Vole appeared to have decreased considerably and that he had not seen a Water Vole alive on Bute for five years, although he had on two occasions found dead specimens at Loch na Leighe. By 1990 Gibson concluded that Water Vole had substantially decreased in numbers and may even be extinct on Bute. As there were no further sightings, he reaffirmed this view in 2000 (Gibson 1990, 2000). There have not been any certain sightings on Bute since and it is therefore now more than 40 years since Water Vole was confirmed to occur on the island.



Wood Mouse Apodemus sylvaticus

(UK: Native, widespread and very common.)

Gibson (1970) said that Wood Mouse was common and widely distributed all over Bute, but absent from Inchmarnock. Wood Mouse remains common and widely distributed throughout Bute.


Wood Mouse, Gortans 23.8.14 © John Williams

Wood Mouse, Gortans 23.8.14 © John Williams


House Mouse Mus domesticus

(UK: Introduced, locally abundant.)

Gibson (1970) said that House Mouse was common near habitation, but also fairly widely distributed throughout the less populous parts of the island. House Mouse remains common and widely distributed on Bute, particularly in the urban areas and around rural settlements and farm buildings.

In 1970 Gibson reported that it was also fairly common around the farms on Inchmarnock, to where it was accidentally introduced some years previous, however by 1980 the species appeared to have become extinct on Inchmarnock (Gibson 1980).

House Mouse, dead, Ballochgoy, Rothesay 18th December 2013 © Norrie Mulholland

House Mouse, dead, Ballochgoy, Rothesay 18th December 2013 © Norrie Mulholland



Common Rat (Brown Rat) Rattus norvegicus

(UK: Introduced, common.)

Gibson (1970) believed that this species found its way to Bute in the early years of the 18th century. By the time he was writing he found it to be ‘only too common and widely distributed’. Gibson reported that there were Common Rats on the Burnt Island, but that it appeared to have been exterminated on Inchmarnock.

Common Rat remains common and widespread on Bute, particularly around farms.


Common Rat, dead, Tramway Walk, Cnoc an Rath, Bute 3rd August 2013 © Norrie Mulholland

Common Rat, dead, Tramway Walk, Cnoc an Rath, Bute 3rd August 2013 © Norrie Mulholland


Ship’s Rat (Black Rat) Rattus rattus

Writing in 1820 Blain (1880) listed both ‘Muscovy and black rat’ in his ‘History of Bute’, however it has not been recorded since and seems unlikely, although the species was much more widely distributed at that time than it is currently.



Order Carnivora: carnivores

Fox Vulpes vulpes

(UK: Native, common and widespread.)

Gibson (1970) stated that Fox occurred on Bute in ancient times, and that an incisor tooth was found at the Dunagoil excavations. A few Foxes had, some years prior to 1731 swum from Argyll or been brought by some ‘evil-disposed persons and set at large’ where they soon multiplied and became a general pest. John Blain (1880) said that Fox had been exterminated before 1820. A dog Fox was shot at the north end of Bute in autumn 1944, but Gibson was unaware of any further records until there were several reports of Fox at the north end of Bute during late summer 1980 (Gibson 1980).

During the next twenty years, there were occasional reports: Brian Jolly saw one c. March/April 1983 near Garrochty Farm; in April 1989 one was seen near Mount Stuart Reservoir; in August 1998 Mrs Muriel Carlaw saw one near Hillhouse Road, Rothesay; and Willie Reid of Quogach Farm reported a dead one being found at the roadside near Auchintirrie Farm on 26th January 1999 (per Ian Hopkins).

Fox was probably absent from Bute as a breeding species for well over 250 years, however a population has established itself on Bute since the start of the 21st century. In 2001 a dead Fox was found near Barone cemetery and then in 2003 residents of Glecknabae and Kilmichael Farm both reported occasional sightings, with one seen at Kilbride Farm the same year. How the animals reached Bute is a matter of speculation. Angus Hannah (2004) suggested that a female might have swum from the Argyll shore near Colintraive to the Burnt Islands, reaching Eilean Mor by way of Eilean Buidhe and subsequently continuing to the Bute shore. It is also possible that an animal or animals were deliberately released on Bute, whatever the intentions of the perpetrator.

Numbers increased rapidly from 2003 and in the six year period leading up to 2013 no less than 300 were ‘taken out’, leading farmers to express concerns to the Estate Factor (Billy Shields pers. comm.). Fox is now well established on Bute.

Fox, Rhubodach Forest, Bute 11th June 2006 © Graham Clark

Fox, Rhubodach Forest, Bute 11th June 2006 © Graham Clark



Stoat Mustela erminea

(UK: Native, common.)

Gibson (1970) said that Stoat had long been known to occur quite commonly on Bute and he believe it was probably indigenous to the island. A white one was seen near Ballycaul Farm on 11th January 1995 (Ian Hopkins). Stoat can now probably best be described as ‘quite common’ on Bute (Billy Shields pers. comm.).

Although there were no previous records from Inchmarnock, James Middleton saw one there in early 1975 and had many subsequent sightings up to December 1977. It is possible that an animal might have reached the island as a ‘stowaway’ when agricultural machinery was being transported to Inchmarnock (Gibson 1980).



Stoat, Ascog 13.4.05 © Norrie Mulholland

Stoat, Ascog 13.4.05 © Norrie Mulholland


Weasel Mustela nivalis

(UK: Native, common.)

John Colquhoun (1866) said that Weasel was rare on Bute, but Gibson (1970) said that was no longer the case, it being fairly common and widely distributed. Weasel remains fairly common and widespread on Bute.

There are no Inchmarnock records.

Weasel, Kildavannan 28.10.16 © John Williams

Weasel, Kildavannan 28.10.16 © John Williams



Polecat Mustela putorius

(UK: Native, locally common.)

Thomas Pennant, in his Tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772, visited Bute and recorded ‘The quadrupeds of the island are hares, polecats, weasels, otters, seals and a compliment to the soil, moles’. John Blain did not include Polecat in his list of mammals of 1820 (Blain 1880), saying that ‘fulmart … had been earlier exterminated’, so it appears Polecat became extinct on Bute around 1800. Pennant was a reliable reporter and Polecat was widespread in Scotland in 1772, but with the upsurge of interest in agriculture and the widespread establishment of gamekeepers, which took place in most parts of Scotland around the 1830s, the Polecat underwent a rapid decline.  Gibson (1990) was convinced that the Pennant record was reliable and that Polecat once occurred on Bute.



Feral Ferret Mustela furo

(UK: Introduced, common and widespread.)

Gibson (1970) said that Ferrets ‘escape all the time, and I have recent evidence of feral breeding’. Gibson was able to report in 1976 that Ferrets were still breeding ferally, as James Simpson, Bute Estate Factor had seen one with kits on the lawn of his house at Kerrycroy in summer 1975. In 1990 Jack Gibson said that he had no evidence of any feral breeding records on Bute for many years, a fact he confirmed in 2000 (Gibson 1990, 2000).

Fewer Ferrets are now kept on Bute, resulting in less escapes and there has been no evidence of feral breeding in recent times.

In 1977 the Middleton family took eight Polecat-Ferrets to Inchmarnock to control the Rabbit population, but five accidently escaped, resulting in the establishment of a feral population. Breeding was believed to take place in 1979 and 1980 (Gibson 1980). Young ferrets were again seen in 1982 and an adult in 1984, but there have been no subsequent sightings on Inchmarnock (Gibson 1990, 2000).



Mink (American Mink) Mustela vison

(UK: Introduced, common and widespread.)

Gibson (1980) reported that a ‘Mink Farm’ located at Hawkstone Lodge on the east shore of Bute, between Ascog and Kerrycroy, from mid-1961 to mid-1967, held a breeding stock of 80 females and 30-40 males.  However, there was no evidence of any escapes from this source and no ‘wild’ Mink were recorded on Bute until 1981, when there was a series of unconfirmed reports, followed by one being killed by a car on the road to Rhubodach in April 1982. Later in 1982 several more were reported from various places in the north of the island. In 1983 several were trapped and by 1985 there were reports from all over the island and over 60 were trapped by Bute Estate staff. Numbers continued at this ‘high’ level (Gibson 1990).

Billy Shields believed that Mink numbers probably increased further, however, frequency of sightings since c.2010 have reduced from the numbers being observed around the turn of the century. In recent years it has continued to be reported from a variety of locations such as Loch Fad, Greenan Loch and Rothesay Harbour, so is probably still widespread on Bute, although encouragingly there are now more sightings of Otter than that of Mink. It is possible that Otters are now in sufficient numbers to be suppressing the Mink population.

One was watched on the shore at Midpark, Inchmarnock on 20th June 2015 (George McKenzie, Glyn Collis) and Ian Hopkins also saw one on Inchmarnock on 9th July 2015.

Mink, at The Hermitage 8.6.08 © Billy Shields

Mink, at The Hermitage 8.6.08 © Billy Shields


Mink, Loch Fad, Bute 31st July 2005 © Norrie Mulholland

Mink, Loch Fad, Bute 31st July 2005 © Norrie Mulholland


Badger Meles meles

(UK: Native, common and widespread.)

Blain (1880), writing in 1820 said that Badger ‘had been early exterminated’ on Bute. Although not uncommon on the adjacent Argyll mainland, this was the only known reference to indicate that the species has ever occurred on Bute, until c.1966 out on a night visit Dr Tom Morton and his wife had a clear view of a badger crossing the Kilmichael road, and shortly after, presumably the same animal was found dead in a ditch nearby. In 1972, Dorothy Marshall was shown a dead Badger, which had been found just inland from Rhubodach ferry (Gibson 1970, 1976). The origin of the c.1966 and 1972 records remains unknown.



Otter Lutra lutra

(UK: Native, localised, but generally increasing.)

Gibson (1980) said that Otter was long known to be fairly common around shore, and inland at suitable rivers and lochs. He was glad to observe that otters were not much persecuted ‘nowadays’. He also noted that there were many records from Inchmarnock and the Burnt Islands. By 1990 Gibson reported that the population of Otters was ‘well maintained’, with regular reports from many parts of the island.

In 2013, Billy Shields (pers. comm.) suggested that although Otters on Bute could prove elusive, the island at that time held a very good population with four or five family groups. Since then, numbers have probably increased further, with a notable increase in records along the east coast of Bute during 2015, including Rothesay Bay, where a pair were resident at the pier for six weeks during January and February. They are most frequently encountered along the shores, but can also be found at inland lochs.

Otters have a complex social organisation. They range widely, with female Otters in Shetland recorded to occupy group ranges of 5-14 km of coast with little overlap and which are defended against females from outside. Individual females have their own core range within the group range. Males have longer ranges, overlapping several female group areas, but individual males overlap each other (Kruuk 1995). No significant studies have taken place on Bute, but with over 70 km of coast and much suitable inland habitat, there is clearly space to permit further expansion in Otter numbers.

The current status of Otter on Inchmarnock is not known.


Otter, dog, on shore near Southpark 22.3.12 © Billy Shields

Otter, dog, on shore near Southpark 22.3.12 © Billy Shields


Otter, Scarrel shore, 27.11.16 © John Williams

Otter, Scarrel shore, 27.11.16 © John Williams


Wildcat Felis silvestris

(UK: Native, critically endangered.)

Gibson (1970) records that Wildcat bones were found at the Dunagoil cave excavations (Transactions of Buteshire Natural History Society Vol VIII pages 51-52). Gibson presumed that Wildcat became extinct on Bute in very ancient times. There are no further records.



Feral Cat (Domestic Cat) Felis catus

(UK: Introduced, widespread.)

Gibson (1970) reported that domestic cats, gone feral, are common all over the island and sometimes grow to considerable size. He also noted that there were a few on Inchmarnock.



Order Artiodactyla: even-toed ungulates

Wild Boar Sus scrofa

(UK: Localised introduced population.)

Excavations at Dunagoil cave produced seven bones from at least three individuals of this species (Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society Vol VIII pages 52-53). Gibson (1970) said That Wild Boar occurred in Scotland until the 13th century, but was probably extinct on Bute well before that time.



Red Deer Cervus elaphus

(UK: Native, common and increasing.)

Gibson (1970) said that bones were discovered during excavation of Dunagoil cave, but that they became extinct. He went on to say that a few were certainly present and breeding on Bute in the early years of the 20th century and he believed that they had re-established themselves naturally from the mainland. Gibson also noted that a few were occasionally reported, mainly from the north of the island, having presumably swum from the mainland.

The table in Gibson (1980b) indicated that Red Deer had been recorded in south-east Bute (10km square NS15) sometime during the period 1951-1975, with earlier records elsewhere on Bute, but none after 1975.

During the forty years from 1975 the only known sighting was of one at Rhubodach in July 1998 (Mrs Betty Morrow), then Billy Shields saw a small group near Shalunt in November 2005.

Since 2005 Red Deer sightings have continued to increase, with a count of 15 and as far south on the West Island Way as the vicinity of Cnocnicoll Wood (Grid Ref NS093606) (Shields 2008). A calf was seen in the churchyard at the United Church of Bute, in High Street, Rothesay in August 2014 (Ian Maclagan). On 9th October 2016 three groups of Red Deer in Glen More comprised at least 20 animals (John Williams, Paul McTaggart) and on 9th February 2017 near Gray Craig (NS011699) Angus Hannah saw a total of 34 Red Deer, in three separate groups. There is now a resident population which may exceed 100 animals. Red Deer records are coming from all over the Island, including Mount Stuart, and plans are being drawn up to ‘take some out’ (Billy Shields pers. comm.).


Red Deer, stag, Scoulag Moor 18.3.12 © Billy Shields

Red Deer, stag, Scoulag Moor 18.3.12 © Billy Shields



Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus

(UK: Native, widespread.)

Gibson (1970) said that bone excavation at Dunagoil cave showed that Roe Deer existed on Bute in ancient times, but was not recorded by ‘old’ writers, having returned to Bute about the middle of the 19th century. He referred to Colquhoun (1866) reporting that it was far more numerous in the south of the island, a fact that Gibson confirmed was still the case. Gibson believed the population varied between 100 and 150 ‘beasts’, with during the 1950s, at least, between 30 and 40 being killed every year in order to limit damage to young plantations.

In 1990 Gibson reported that Roe deer numbers were at that time substantially higher than 30 years previous, and that it was now a regular visitor to gardens within the town of Rothesay. He also reported that in 1989 Bute Estate staff culled 68 bucks and 43 does, compared to an average of some 35 being shot annually during the late 1950s. Jack Gibson believed that the Bute population might be in the order of 500 ‘beasts’ (Gibson 1990).

Roe Deer remains common and widespread on Bute, with numbers probably in excess of the 500 estimated in 1990.


Roe Deer, buck, Mount Stuart grounds 23.3.09 © Billy Shields

Roe Deer, buck, Mount Stuart grounds 23.3.09 © Billy Shields


Feral Goat (Wild Goat) Capra hircus

(UK: Introduced, well established.)

Gibson (1970) said that at that time there were two small, quite distinct, herds of wild goats on Bute, one at the north end and a smaller one right at the south of the island. He suggested that in 1970 the herd at the north end had around 30 beasts. No mention was made of the size of the flock at the south end of Bute, but it clearly disappeared shortly thereafter. By 1976 Gibson reported that the size of the herd at the north end had diminished and only numbered about 12 animals, but the few goats that remained at the south end had by then completely died out. There were still 12 goats at the north end in 1980 (Gibson 1980). By 1990 Jack Gibson counted 15 in the north end flock (Gibson 1990). The herd of Feral Goats are seen together infrequently, as they often split up into smaller groups, but Ian Hopkins counted 14 on 8th April 1992 and there were ten (including two kids) seen on Ronalds Hill on 15 June 2008 (Shields 2008).

By 2013 the herd at the north end of Bute continued to hold about ten animals (Billy Shields pers. comm.).



Order Pinnipedia: seals etc.

Common Seal (Harbour Seal) Phoca vitulina

(UK: Native, common and widespread around the coast.)

Gibson (1970) said that Common Seal was fairly commonly seen around the Bute shores at all seasons of the year. Jack Gibson also said that it was well known around Inchmarnock and that pups had occasionally been seen there. In 1990 Gibson reported that although Common Seal numbers had dropped markedly in the Clyde over the previous 15 years, partly through disease, numbers on Bute had held up, with regular sightings off the Hermitage in the east, off Ardscalpsie in the west, and on Inchmarnock, with occasional sightings elsewhere. The Sea Mammal Research Unit at St. Andrews has documented major declines in the population of Common Seals around Scotland, with some areas experiencing declines of up to 84% since 2000. However the status of the Common Seal population in the Strathclyde area is unclear, it has not shown a consistent decline but instead has declined slightly after an apparent increase around 2000. The most recent (2007) Common Seal population estimate for the Firth of Clyde was 811 (SMRU, 2011).

Since 1990, Common Seal has continued to be present all around Bute, being particularly common at Scalpsie Bay, with smaller numbers usually present along the shore from Ascog to Mount Stuart, such as 15 there on 11th February 2003 (Ron Forrester). Ian Hopkins counted 34 on the Burnt Islands on 29th April 1992, and in the winter of 1994/95 he counted c. 120 at Ardscalpsie.

Common Seal is usually common around Inchmarnock, but on 14th August 2005, looking across the water from St Ninian’s Point at least 85 Common Seals could be seen on the shore at the north-east corner of Inchmarnock, of which at least 75 were ‘pups’ (Ron Forrester). There were 20 Common Seals at the north-east end of Inchmarnock on 17 July 2003, all adults, and the 2005 observation, is the only known breeding on the island since 1970.

Common Seal remains more numerous around Bute than Grey Seal, but in 2009, Billy Shields counted 156 seals at Scalpsie Bay, with probably the majority being Grey Seals.

Although Common Seals are present around Bute in good numbers throughout the year, we know very little about the population and, for instance, we do not know whether the seals we have are resident or whether they move within the Clyde, with different individual animals present at different times of year. No Common Seal pups have been seen on Bute in recent decades.

Common Seal, pup, Port Bannatyne 29.8.16 © John Williams

Common Seal, pup, Port Bannatyne 29.8.16 © John Williams


Common Seal, Scalpsie Bay 2.2.10 © Billy Shields

Common Seal, Scalpsie Bay 2.2.10 © Billy Shields


Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus

(UK: Native, common and widespread around the coast.)

Grey Seal, pup, Scalpsie Bay 25.5.09 © Billy Shields

Grey Seal, pup, Scalpsie Bay 25.5.09 © Billy Shields

Gibson (1970) recorded seeing two Grey Seals in the sea south of Garroch Head in early May 1967. This is the first recorded sighting of Grey Seal within Bute waters. However by 1976 Jack Gibson was able to report that ‘within the last five years Grey Seals have been seen very regularly just off Bute shores, particularly around Garroch Head and other parts of south Bute’. Gibson had also by then seen Grey Seals between Bute and Inchmarnock and been told of sightings near Rhubodach.

In 1990 Gibson reported that in contrast with Common Seal, within the previous 15 years the Grey Seal, once quite rare in the Clyde, had become widely and commonly distributed throughout the entire Clyde sea area and that the population had increased dramatically. On Bute there were by 1990 regular gatherings of Grey Seals at Garroch Head throughout the year and the species was being seen commonly offshore at many places, around the south, off Rhubodach, down the west Kyles and near the north-west of Inchmarnock.

Grey Seal pup production is used to estimate the total size of the British population. Since pup production monitoring started in the 1960’s the number of pups born throughout Britain each year has increased consistently, in Scotland alone the average annual pup production increased by 2.2% between 2005 and 2010. However in recent years a significant reduction in the rate of increase in pup production has been seen, this is clear evidence that growth is levelling off (SMRU, 2011).

Locally, Grey Seal has possibly increased further in numbers since 1990, being now fairly common around all Bute shores, although continuing to be outnumbered by Common Seal, but see the comments under Common Seal, including Billy Shields’s count in 2009 of 156 seals at Scalpsie Bay, the majority of which were Grey Seals. On 14th July 1991, Ian Hopkins counted a group of 8 hauled out at Garroch Head and on 18th August 2000 he counted 7 at Bruchag Point.

In May 2009 Billy Shields obtained a photo of a seal pup with an umbilical cord, at Scalpsie Bay, where it had obviously recently been born. Although more often than not, Grey Seals give birth, in the early months of winter, Jane Dodd, the Marine Project Officer at SNH, idientified it as a Grey Seal pup.


Grey Seal, Scalpsie Bay 18.5.08 © Billy Shields

Grey Seal, Scalpsie Bay 18.5.08 © Billy Shields


Walrus Odobenus rosmarus

(UK: Natural vagrant: there were only six British records during the 20th century and two further records in the early years of the 21st century.)

Gibson (1970) related that the Glasgow Naturalist for 1949 (volume XV page 104) reported that Sir John Graham Kerr, Regius Professor of Zoology at the University of Glasgow, recorded that on 8th August 1884 he saw a single specimen of the Walrus in Ettrick Bay. Sir John gave a good description and had no doubt as to the authenticity of the record, which is the only one for the Clyde area and one of the few for Scotland.



Order Cetacea: whales, dolphins and porpoises

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae

(UK: Natural migrant passing through British waters from breeding grounds off Africa to feeding grounds around Iceland and Norway. Now rare in the eastern North Atlantic, after their numbers were severely reduced as a result of over-exploitation by the whaling industry. However, observations from British waters have increased markedly in the years since the early 1980s, and whilst the species is still comparatively rarely seen, the increase in sightings hints at a recovering population in the eastern North Atlantic (Dunn et al. 2012). In Scotland it is mainly recorded during the summer months, with a few sightings most years off the west coast.)

From around December 1994 until the end of March 1995 a single Humpback Whale frequented the Clyde estuary, being seen as far up the Clyde as Greenock, where it often gave excellent views (Gibson 2000). Whilst present in the Clyde, over the weekend 25-26 March it was seen from the shores of Bute, including from Montford, where observers included Donald and Nancy Kinnear and Anne Speirs.

Humback Whale, off Ascog 1995 © Anne Speirs

Humback Whale, off Montford, March 1995 © Anne Speirs


Humpback Whale, off Ascog 1995 © Anne Speirs

Humpback Whale, off Montford, March 1995 © Anne Speirs



Harbour Porpoise (Common Porpoise) Phocoena phocoena

(UK: Native, common and widespread around the coast.)

Gibson (1970) said this species was ‘commonly seen in the surrounding seas at all seasons of the year’. In 1990 Gibson reported that he had ‘several recent sightings off Garroch Head and in the Sound of Bute’ and in 2004 recorded that Harbour Porpoise continued to increase in numbers throughout the Clyde sea area, including the sea around Bute (Gibson 1990, 2004).

Research carried out by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT 2013) confirmed that Harbour Porpoise is the most common cetacean species on the west coast of Scotland, and that the density of Harbour Porpoise in west coast waters is amongst the highest in Europe.

The improved local situation reported by Gibson continues, and Harbour Porpoise is currently a regular sight in Bute waters. It is also frequently seen from the CalMac ferry between Rothesay and Wemyss Bay (it is best to watch in smooth conditions when they are much more noticeable). However, it is fairly unusual to see more than four or five together, and more often than not it is solitary animals or pairs that are seen. Seasonal movements are not fully understood, but there is a peak to records from the west coast of Scotland, including the Clyde, during the period July – September (Dunn et al. 2012) and it may be that part of the population migrates. Although no more than speculation at this stage, future research may show that they move to the Celtic Sea and SW Approaches, where Harbour Porpoise numbers increase during winter.

Harbour Porpoises, Rothesay Bay 30.8.16 © John Williams

Harbour Porpoises, Rothesay Bay 30.8.16 © John Williams



Northern Bottle-nosed Whale Hyperoodon ampullatus

(UK: Native, a specialist deep water North Atlantic whale that occurs in small numbers off the west coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Seasonal movements are poorly understood due to its oceanic lifestyle.)

Gibson (1970) sad that this species was ‘regularly reported from the Sound of Bute and more off-shore waters’. Jack Gibson went on to say that he had personally seen many from the shores of Bute and Inchmarnock. However, by 1990 Gibson reported a significant change: the species had undergone an extremely marked reduction in population within the Clyde and he had no sight records from Bute since before 1980 (Gibson 1990). In 2004 Jack Gibson reported that the species had virtually disappeared from the Clyde and indicated that there had been no further sightings from Bute (2004).

Although, within Scottish waters it is now only normally recorded off the Hebrides and Shetland, where it is currently uncommon, a single Northern Bottle-nosed Whale was reported in Loch Long on 3rd September 2012 and was observed tail slapping, which is a behaviour often associated with distress (Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust). This species is typically found in the deep, offshore waters of the North Atlantic, where they dive to great depths to hunt squid which make up a large part of their diet. Until recently it was assumed that this species migrated southward in the autumn and when found in inshore waters that they had gone ‘off-course’. Recent research suggests, however, that rather than pronounced north – south migrations that they exhibit more seasonal inshore-offshore movements as the whales track changing abundances of particular food sources. Northern Bottle-nosed Whale is known to be an inquisitive species and has a social structure similar to that of the coastal Bottle-nosed Dolphin populations. So a combination of these factors may result in the consistent use of areas such as Loch Long by this species (HWDT 2013).

There have been no further sightings and Northern Bottle-nosed Whale has not been recorded in Bute waters since prior to 1980.



Killer Whale (Orca) Orcinus orca

(UK: Native, rare.)

Gibson (1970) said that Killer Whale was ‘well known in the Firth of Clyde and is frequently seen in the Sound of Bute’. He included a report from John Patterson and John Robertson of how they saw two Killer Whales, about a mile west of Ettrick Bay on 5 June 1898 (Ann. Scot. Nat. Hist., 1898 pages 236-237). In 1990 Gibson reported that there had been a steady increase in numbers of Killer Whales within the Clyde and that he had seen some from the shores of Bute in most recent years, particularly off Garroch Head and in the Sound of Bute, but on more than one occasion in the west Kyles.

James Martin, from Ambrismore Farm, which had fields running down to Scalpsie Bay, related how on two occasions he had witnessed a Killer Whale coming into the bay and chasing/catching Common Seals from the colony in Scalpsie Bay. These occurrences had probably taken place in the 1960s or 1970s (Ron Forrester).

Jack Gibson’s reports from within the Clyde, have to be put into some sort of perspective. In 2010 the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust believed that the entire ‘west coast community’ of Killer Whales consisted of nine individual animals, four males and five females, therefore, in the early years of the 21st century, any observation of a Killer Whale in west of Scotland waters, including the Clyde is a rare sighting. There are no known sightings from Bute since at least 1990.



Common Dolphin (Short-beaked Common Dolphin)  Delphinus delphis

(UK: Native, seasonal, common in north-west Scotland & south-west England, fairly widespread around the coast.)

In 1990, Gibson reported a very dramatic change in the status of Common Dolphin in the Clyde, with a vastly increased number of sightings and suggested it now rivalled White-beaked Dolphin as the commonest Clyde dolphin. For the previous ten years he had regularly seen Common Dolphins in the Clyde, including from the shores of Bute and Inchmarnock. In 2000 Jack Gibson reported that sightings of Common Dolphin had over the previous ten years decreased in Bute waters, although there had been sightings off Garroch Head and in the Sound of Bute.

The Common Dolphin was historically uncommon in Hebridean waters, however, since the early 2000s Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) have reported a marked increase in their occurrence off the west coast of Scotland, with an apparent decrease in the occurrence of White-beaked Dolphins. An increase in local seawater temperature was proposed as the cause of these changes in abundance (HWDT, 2013).

There have been no 21st century sightings of Common Dolphin in Bute waters, and currently it is probably best described as ‘uncommon’ in Clyde waters. However, a lone Common Dolphin has apparently taken up residence in the waters around Ardlamont Point. The dolphin has often be seen around the buoy near Ardlamont Bay in the West Kyle of Bute. The dolphin was last reported on March 17th 2013 but has regularly been spotted in the area since 2011 (HWDT).



Common Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus

(UK: Native, uncommon, but widespread around the coast)

Gibson (2004) reported that Bottle-nosed Dolphin had in recent years been occurring fairly regularly in many parts of the Clyde, including the Kilbrannan Sound and lower Loch Fyne and that recently, there had been several valid records from the Sound of Bute, with some seen from Garroch Head.

A group of at least two or three cetaceans some distance out from the lighthouse at Rubh’ an Eun on 12 May 2003, were probably this species (Ron Forrester). A pod of 12 Bottle-nosed Dolphins were watched moving north close to the Ascog shore on 21 September 2003 (Stewart Browne, Ron Forrester); at least 14 were moving slowly off shore near Scarrel Point on 1 June 2009 (Ron Forrester); and at least 12 came right into Rothesay Bay, not far off the harbour, on 3 June 2010 (Ron Forrester, Doug Menzies).

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, who monitor cetaceans, believe that there are two communities of Bottle-nosed Dolphins off the west coast of Scotland, comprising of about 55 animals in total, that mainly frequent Hebridean waters.  The first of these communities has a population of 30-40 animals which inhabit the waters of the Inner Hebrides, ranging wildly from Skye to the Kintyre Peninsula, the second group consists of 12-15 animals that are localised to the waters around the Sound of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. Photo identification studies suggest that the two communities are discrete and do not associate with each other (HWDT, 2013). Some members of the Inner Hebridean Community move south and enter the Clyde each year during the summer period, possibly for a few months, and it may be these dolphins that have been regularly sighted from Bute in recent years.

Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Rothesay Bay 3.6.10 © Ron Forrester

Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Rothesay Bay 3.6.10 © Ron Forrester



White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris

(UK: Native, within Scottish waters now usually preferring deeper areas away from the coast, such as off the Hebrides; numbers have probably declined in recent years.)

Gibson (1970) said that ‘after the porpoise, this is the commonest cetacean in Clyde waters and can frequently be seen jumping in the seas surrounding Bute’. Jack Gibson also said that he had seen White-beaked Dolphin in the narrow straight between Bute and Inchmarnock, and that one was found stranded on the beach near St Ninian’s Bay by John Robertson in November 1899. By 1990 Gibson reported that whilst it could still be seen jumping in inshore Bute waters, there had been a decrease in numbers, but he was unable to report any sightings during the ten year period 1990-2000 (Gibson 1990, 2000).

Although it remains common in British waters, it is restricted to waters less than 200 m deep, occuring predominantly in water depths of 50-100 m and with considerable regional variance in abundance (Dunn et al. 2012). Historically White-beaked Dolphins were very common in Hebridean waters (particularly north of 58°N) throughout the year. Since the 1990s there has been an apparent decline in the number of White-beaked Dolphins in the Hebrides with a corresponding increase in the number of Common Dolphins. A study of habitat use carried out by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust found that while once common throughout Hebridean waters, White-beaked Dolphin was now restricted to a relatively small area in the central portion of the northern Minch. This change in habitat use may be due to an increase in seawater temperatures or habitat partitioning or due to competition from Common Dolphins.

There has been no further sighting in Bute waters, and it has not been recorded since at least 1990.



Northern Minke (Lesser Rorqual) Balaenoptera acutorostrata

(UK: Native, seasonal uncommon migrant, fairly widespread around the coast during summer months, but mostly in west. A few are reported from Scottish waters during winter. Migration is not well understood, but there is thought to be a general migration between tropical breeding grounds where most spend the winter and colder feeding regions where they are found during summer.)

What was believed to be a Northern Minke Whale was harpooned and killed one mile west of Largs (between Largs and Bute) on 7th August 1897 (Gibson 1970), just outside of Bute waters. In 2000 Jack Gibson reported that there had been a steady increase in reports of Northern Minke in the Clyde in more recent years, with many sightings in the Sound of Bute, and occasionally it had been seen elsewhere from south Bute shores. In 2006 the University Marine Biological Station Millport confirmed Jack Gibson’s belief, reporting an apparent increase in records of Northern Minke from the Clyde. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust reported that in 2011 they received details of 11 sightings of Northern Minke from the Clyde area, all of single animals and ten of these sightings were between 21st August and 1 st October, indicating that it is in late summer when the species is most likely to be observed from the coast of Bute.

One was stranded at Scalpsie Bay on 19 October 1996, probably the first whale ever recorded stranded on Bute (Gibson 2000). Records from Bute waters this century include, one in Inchmarnock Sound on 14th August 2010 (Rebecca Hindley), one caught in creels in Rothesay Bay during 2014 (John McInairnie) and one off Garroch Head on 2nd August 2014 (Philip Cowie). Minke Whale, is far more likely to occur during summer than winter, therefore a report of one ‘off the Isle of Bute’ on 28th January 2017 (British Wildlife 28: 277) is most unusual.




Battersby, J. (Ed) & Tracking Mammals Partnership. 2005. UK Mammals: Species Status and Population Trends. First Report by the Tracking Mammals Partnership. JNCC/Tracking Mammals Partnership, Peterborough.

Blain, John. 1880. History of Bute. Mr Harvey, Rothesay.

Colquhoun, J. 1866. Natural History and Sport on Bute. Sporting Days. William Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh and London.

Dunn, J., Still, R. & Harrop, H. (2012). Britain’s Sea Mammals. Wildguides Ltd., Old Basing, Hampshire.

Gibson, J. A. (1970). The Mammals of the Island of Bute. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 18: 5-20.

Gibson, J. A. (1976). Additional notes on the Mammals of Bute. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 20: 78-80.

Gibson, J. A. (1980a). Supplementary notes on Bute Mammals. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 21: 93-95.

Gibson, J. A. (1980b).  An Atlas of Bute and Cumbrae Vertebrates.  Rothesay: Buteshire Natural History Society.

Gibson, J. A. (1996).  The grey squirrel on the island of Bute. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 24: 75.

Gibson, J. A. (2000).  Bute: mammals: additional notes. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 25: 106-110.

Gibson, J. A. (2004).  Supplementary notes on Bute vertebrates – mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, freshwater fishes. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 26: 99-107.

Hannah, A. (2004).  The Fox on the Island of Bute: past history and recent occurrence. Scottish Naturalist 116: 37-40.

Kruuk, H. (1995). Wild otters: predation and population. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Shields, W. (2008).  Recent observations on bats and other mammals on Bute. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society 27: 106-110.

Sutcliffe, R. (2008).  Some bat specimens from Bute in Glasgow Museums. Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society, 27: 86.


Web References:

HWDT (2013).  (http://www.whaledolphintrust.co.uk/index.asp)

SMRU (2011).  (http://www.smru.st-andrews.ac.uk/documents/678.pdf)


We hope to update this website at regular intervals, so please report all unusual or interesting mammal sightings to ron.butemuseum@gmail.com . Observations will be acknowledged. Also we would be pleased to receive any photographs taken on Bute of any mammals for which we do not at present include a photograph.

27.4.2017 (RWF)