Pollution on the Summit

Alistair Whyte

Alistair Whyte

Head of Plantlife Scotland

11th December 2018

Image: Cairngorms Plateau © Alistair Whyte

Today is International Mountain Day

But did you know that some of our most threatened plant species occur on Scotland’s mountains?

From Ben Nevis to Glen coe, Scotland’s montane habitat is globally important and home to a unique community of plants called arctic-alpines. Mountain everlasting, alpine clubmoss, arctic bearberry and blaeberry are just some of the specialist mountain survivors, adapted to the harshest of environments. Beautiful and bold, they cling to rock faces, their last strongholds. Unfortunately, these species are declining and facing huge threats from nitrogen pollution.

It may be hard to believe, but the same pollution that clouds our towns and cities is also devastating these plant species on Scottish mountains. Nitrogen gases can travel long distances in the atmosphere before being deposited onto the highlands. In fact, mountain ecosystems often have higher levels of nitrogen than the surrounding lowlands as they have higher rainfall. Species like mountain everlasting are susceptible to nitrogen and are already facing a battle to survive in the harshest of environments – we can’t lose these important species.

We are aiming to raise awareness of their plight and already have the backing of concerned MSPs like Andy Wightman who is species champion for mountain everlasting. He says “With increasing evidence of air pollution affecting plants at the very top of our mountains which are already living on the edge of their natural range, it is vital that we tackle the question of nitrogen pollution as a matter of urgency. Plants such as mountain everlasting are a valuable part of the mountain ecosystem and seeing them in their native habitat is one of the joys of travelling in the mountains.”