Ben More Assynt IPA
Location: The mountain Ben Mor Assynt (Gaelic: Beinn Mòr Asaint) lies in the far north-west of Scotland, 30 kilometres (20 miles) north and north-east of the town of Ullapool.
Grid Reference: NC 318 201
The name ‘Ben More Assynt’ translates as "big mountain of Assynt", and with a height of 998 metres (3,274 ft) it is the highest point in the county of Sutherland.
The IPA is made up of a variety of upland habitats. Higher up is one of the most extensive areas in the northern highlands of alpine moss heath, and there are also areas of calcareous grassland, willow scrub, alkaline fen and one of the few extensive examples of limestone pavement in Scotland. Four nationally rare plants: arctic sandwort, Ostenfeld’s eyebright, spring gentian and curved woodrush, and 22 nationally scarce plant species are found here.
The alpine moss heath is dominated by stiff-sedge and woolly fringe moss and has an abundance of cushion-forming plants such as sea thrift, moss campion and mossy cyphel. Dryas heath is more often found in coastal areas but occurs at higher altitude near Inchnadamph where, as well as the nationally scarce mountain avens, it includes montane species such as alpine meadow-rue, moss campion, alpine bistort, alpine lady’s mantle, yellow saxifrage and two nationally scarce species: rock sedge and hair sedge.
The subalpine calcareous grassland community includes the third largest area of sheep’s fescue-common bent-wild thyme grassland in Scotland. One distinctive sub-community contains montane species such as alpine bistort, alpine meadow-rue and moss campion. The alpine calcareous grassland is dominated by a mix of sheep’s fescue, alpine lady’s mantle and moss campion and is especially rich in nationally scarce montane species such as mossy cyphel, sibbaldia, alpine meadow-grass, cold eyebright and mountain pearlwort. The largest colony of the nationally scarce whortle-leaved willow in Britain forms scrub near Inchnadamph.
Ben Mor Assynt has good examples of tall herb ledges where great wood rush, water avens and the uncommon holly fern can be found. The IPA contains one of the few extensive examples of limestone pavement in Scotland. The relatively high altitude means that this has a diverse montane flora, including whortle-leaved willow, holly fern, mountain avens, yellow saxifrage and green spleenwort. Other unusual upland and northern species found in this habitat include melancholy thistle, stone bramble, globeflower and mountain melick.
The River Traligill has water that is very clear and oligotrophic (low in nutrients), unusual in northwest Scotland because most rivers in this area flow through peat. The river flows over luxuriant mossy carpets which cover its banks and bed. These carpets of mosses and lichens can only survive in this sort of water, and include rusty feather-moss, greater water-moss, drab brook-moss, claw brook-moss and the moss river grimmia. Water blinks and the nationally scarce alpine rush also grow in the stream. Yellow mountain saxifrage, greater bird's-foot trefoil and common pearlwort, sneezewort, lesser spearwort and marsh hawk's-beard grow amongst the mosses on the banks.
Image: ©Laurie Campbell