Harris & Lewis IPA

Location: North west corner of the Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles.

Grid Reference: NB 242 227


Harris & Lewis IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • One of the UK’s most important populations of Euphasia
  • The species richness of bryophytes in Oceanic montane heath
  • The species richness of vascular plants on Dry grasslands; Coastal dune and sand habitats and alpine and subalpine grasslands
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Blanket bogs (extensive areas of peatland);
    Naturally acidic and low oxygen lakes and ponds;
    Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
    Wet heaths;
    Acidic alpine grassland
  • Harris and Lewis form the northernmost island in the Hebrides and is actually one island, the largest of the Scottish islands, divided by mountains.

    Lewis, to the north, is relatively low lying with more rolling hills and mountains than its southern neighbour. It has sandy beaches with machair behind and rocky hills rising out of the central peat bogs, an ecologically rich environment.

    To the south, across a narrow isthmus from the more mountainous North Harris lies South Harris, with wide beaches of golden sand and machair bordering the Atlantic to the west and a rough boulder-strewn interior dotted with hundreds of little lochs to the east.

    In the peatlands and bogs purple moor-grass and deergrass are often dominant, accompanied by cross-leaved heath, bell heather and the western bryophytes Campylopus atrovirens and Pleurozia purpurea. One particularly characteristic feature is the widespread occurrence of the woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum, which in the extreme north-west forms extensive carpets.

    The lochans support bulbous rush, bogbean and water lilies and are also characterised by the presence of bog-mosses Sphagnum spp.

    You can see some of the finest flower-rich pastures in Europe along the Atlantic coast. Here, windblown shell sand has built up over thousands of years to give the island a narrow but productive rim - the machair. The wildflowers of the machairs are at their best during the months of June, July and August, reaching a fantastic crescendo in late July, with over 100 species identified as flowering in Harris one July day. Amongst the machair display are daisies and buttercups, thrift, clover, orchids (you might spot a heath spotted orchid, bog orchid, frog orchid or even a greater butterfly orchid), harebells, vetches, gentian, centaury, eyebright and thyme. In the wetter parts there are iris, primrose and bog pimpernel. The more peaty areas have heathers, milkwort and cotton-grass, sundew and butterwort.

    Image: Harris & Lewis © Chris Combe under CC BY 2.0