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Donmouth Local Nature Reserve

Donmouth local nature reserve Donmouth Local Nature Reserve is a beach site in the historic Old Aberdeen part of the City where the River Don meets the sea. A great place to see seals and a range of interesting birds. The beach area has changed over time as the river has changed its course. There are lots of interesting plants in the dunes and beach area. Bird hide is an excellent shelter from which to watch the wildlife. The paths run across King Street to the Brig 'o Balgownie., the original bridge in to the City from the North, then down the other side of the river to the sea.

The site was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1992

Paths are good although wheelchair access to the beach would be difficult as the boardwalk can get covered with sand.

There is plenty of free car parking on the Beach Esplanade and at the car park in Donmouth Road. There are cycle racks on Beach Esplanade.

Ranger led activities at Donmouth

During the summer months the Rangers organise a range of public events at Donmouth. The Countryside Ranger Service will also lead activities such as bird watching, sea shore searches and minibeast hunts for groups booked in advance.

A Donmouth Local Nature Reserve Education pack is available on loan to schools from the Countryside Ranger Service.

Maps of the Core Path routes can be seen on the Core Paths Plan page.

Main Habitats at Donmouth Local Nature Reserve


Mudflats are formed when fine particles carried downstream by the river are deposited as it slows down before entering the sea, and to a lesser extent by fine particles washed in by the tide. The sand spit at the mouth of the Don provides shelter from the wind and waves allowing this material to build up. The mud flats are a very rich and fertile environment. Despite their rather barren appearance they support a surprisingly diverse invertebrate fauna which includes; worms, molluscs and crustacea. These invertebrates are vitally important to wildfowl and wading birds within the estuary.

Salt marsh

Along the upper shore of the south bank saltmarsh has developed. This habitat would once have been much more extensive prior to the tipping of domestic and other refuse in the area and the formation in 1727 of an artificial embankment to prevent flooding of the river into the Links. This habitat is now reduced to a narrow strip of vegetation along the river margins upstream from the Powis Burn.

The species composition of the salt marsh varies according to the salinity of the water i.e. the proximity to the sea. Close to the Powis Burn this habitat is dominated by reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima) with reed canary-grass (Phalaris arundinacea), sea club-rush (Scirpus maritimus), spike-rush (Eleocharis palustris), hemlock water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) and common scurvygrass (Chochlearia officinalis).
Further inland reed sweet-grass continues to dominate but hemlock water-dropwort is more abundant with meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and valarian (Valariana officinalis),

Sand dunes

Sand dunes are found in the more exposed parts of the estuary at the river mouth. Again, this habitat was once much more extensive in this locality with dune grasslands stretching from Aberdeen Beach inland as far as King Street, southwards from the estuary of the Dee, northwards to the Sands of Forvie and beyond. Many of the dunes formed part of Seaton Tip, and following tipping the area was grassed over. Other areas have been formally landscaped to form golf courses or planted with native trees in 2010 to create a new woodland area.

Some remnants of the natural dune flora can be seen in the 'roughs' on the Kings Links golf course and near the mouth of the river.

Above the high water mark, fore dunes with thick clumps of the pioneer grass species including sea lyme grass (Elymus arenarius) and marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) occur. Few other species are able to cope with the shifting sand. The largest area of these young dunes is to the north and west of the headland. Further inland where the dunes are sheltered from the actions of the wind and waves, and soils are more developed, more stable dunes are present supporting a more diverse grassland habitat.

Strand line plants which are able to tolerate occasional coverage by sea water include sea rocket (Cakile maritima), frosted orache (Atriplex laciniata), sea sandwort (Honkenya peploides) and knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare). Bur-reed (Sparganium sp.) has been recorded; presumably washed down by the river.

Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) and sea lyme grass (Elymus arenarius) dominate the fore dunes. The latter species is not native to this area but appeared in 1802. It is thought to have been unintentionally introduced into the area by fishing boats. For a number of years it remained uncommon but from 1870 onwards it spread rapidly along the coastline (Marren, 1982).

In the more stable dunes red fescue (Festuca rubra), sand sedge (Carex arenaria), yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor), wild pansy (Viola tricolour), harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and lesser meadow-rue (Thalictrum minus) are abundant. Small amounts of kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and spring vetch (Vicia lathyroides) are present.

Scattered willows (Salix sp.) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus) have seeded into this area. Gorse (Ulex europaeus) scrub has colonised the dunes in some areas and appears to be spreading.


This habitat is almost entirely artificial with only the gorse scrub on the inner dunes being a semi-natural habitat. Alder and willow were planted along the south bank of the river in about 1970 and these shrubs are now generally well established. Further shrub planting on the south bank was carried out in 1990.

Willow (Salix sp.) and alder (Alnus glutinosa) were planted in the 1970's along the south bank of the River Don eastwards of the Bridge of Don. The trees to the west of this strip are doing considerably better than those to the east. More recent planting was carried out in 1990 with hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) elder (Sambucus nigra), goat willow (Salix caprea) and alder.

Underneath the scrub neutral grassland is present with cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), false oat-grass (Arrhenatherum elatius), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) and hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium).


Much of the grassland within the reserve is formed on imported soil and is intensively managed. This includes grassland on the north and south sides of the Esplanade. Daffodils are present in the grassland on the north side of the road. On the north bank to the east of the Bridge of Don is rank grassland on a steep south-facing slope. This is unmanaged and contains some patches of scrub.

Rough grassland is present on the headland. This area has been modified by tipping, with rubble to the east and with grass cuttings to the west. The grassland contains a mixture of neutral grassland, dune grassland, ruderal, and introduced garden species. This area attracts flocks of seed eating birds in late summer and autumn.

Improved grassland is present on the headland and along the south bank of the estuary downstream from the bridge of Don. Much of this vegetation has developed on imported soil and contains a high proportion of ruderal species and garden escapes. On the headland, broadleaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius), nettle (Urtica dioica), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare), cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), hemlock (Conium maculatum) and hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) are abundant. Sweet cicely (Chaerophyllum bulbosum) is widespread and in late summer fills the air with the scent of aniseed.

To the south of the Esplanade the grassland is managed with an annual cut.. The grassland does flood to form pools. Early in the year cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) is common, meadow foxtail (Alopecuris pratensis)is known to occur around the margins of these pools.


Semi-mature woodland is present on the steep sided south bank of the river upstream from the Bridge of Don. Most of this woodland has been planted in the mid 1930's though some older oak and elm trees are present. These may be relicts of former woodland cover. The woodland in the reserve is part of a strip of woodland along the River Don corridor which continues upstream from the Brig 'o' Balgownie.

Woodland is present on the south bank upstream from the Bridge of Don.

Much of the woodland consists of even aged stands with willow (Salix sp.), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and alder (AInus glutinosa). At the top of the slope mature oak (Quercus sp.) and elm (Ulmus glabra) are present. The ground flora contains tufted hair-grass (Deschampsia caespitosa), red campion (Silene dioica), ramsons (Allium ursinum) and lady fern (Athyrium felix-femina) .In a few areas dense shading is caused by the trees and in these areas the ground flora is poor.

On the north bank scattered trees are present, mainly willow and sycamore with some scrub.

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