Ben Alder and Aonach Beag IPA
Location: Central Highlands, 10 miles south west of Dalwhinnie, between Loch Ericht and Loch Laggan.
Grid Reference: NN 497 736
Ben Alder & Aonach Beag IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Heaths with alpine and boreal vegetation;
Limestone grassland with alpine vegetation;
High altitude wet seepage areas;
Calcareous rocks with crack & fissure vegetation;
Acidic alpine grassland;
Acidic montane scree;
Sub-Arctic willow scrub
The two peaks of Ben Alder and Aonach Beag lie in a remote area between the western and eastern Highlands.
They form one of the most ecologically varied mountain systems in the western Grampians, the large summit plateau supporting a range of arctic, alpine and sub-alpine plant communities with high level limestone outcrops adding to the species diversity.
The large summit plateau supports a range of high level plant communities including alpine heaths with widespread areas of woolly-fringe moss and stiff sedge. Alpine and sub-alpine calcareous grasslands are to be found on the high altitude limestone and these are particularly rich in plant species including mountain avens, cyphel, sibbaldia, starwort mouse-ear and both purple and yellow saxifrage.
The summit of Aonach Beag also has a variety of late snow bed communities including the three-leaved rush heath which has developed in the hummocky hollows. The site has many springs and flushes and the late snow bed and associated spring communities support some rare species such as hare’s-foot sedge and scorched alpine-sedge. Other characteristic species include three-flowered rush, Scottish asphodel, sheathed sedge, alpine bistort and the moss Blindia acuta.
The lower level communities include bearberry-heather heath, cross-leaved heath wet heath and extensive heather heath grading into heather-deergrass blanket bog. This wide range of plant communities contains rare and scarce plants which make up the important vascular plant assemblage. This includes blue heath which has only been found in three locations in the United Kingdom, all of which are within the Ben Alder and Aonach Beag mountains.
The area is considered exceptional for its bryophytes associated with upland habitats and long snow cover, including nationally rare species. Some northern Atlantic liverworts have their eastern outposts in the Ben Alder range and the area, particularly the limestone outcrop, supports a rich and diverse lichen assemblage with many rare species present of which four are only found at this site in the UK. One very distinctive species found on the limestone is goblin lights which is an eerie yellow-green colour.