Mainland Orkney IPA

The largest island of the Orkney group which lie off the far north eastern tip of Scotland.

Grid Reference: HY 361 120


Mainland Orkney 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 Euphrasia.
  • The species richness of stoneworts in surface standing waters.
  • The species richness of stoneworts in Charophytes.
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Dry heaths;
    Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic coast;
    Coastal lagoons;
    Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
    Nutrient rich lakes with abundant vegetation;
    Nutrient-poor waters with Stonewort algae;
  • The Orkney Mainland is divided between Kirkwall and Scapa into two areas, East and West Mainland.

    The East Mainland, comparatively low lying, is almost entirely covered with glacial deposits. Here is good, though heavy, farmland which supports many of Orkney's beef herds. Much land reclamation took place within the last century and the higher ground was peat-covered until quite recently; but even today, traces of heather can be seen on roadside edges.

    The West Mainland of Orkney also has rich farmland, but there is also hill and moorland scenery. Spectacular cliffs topped with grass and heathland along the Atlantic coastline contrast with sheltered sandy bays and rocky shores. The West Mainland also contains shallow lochs which support a rich flora including algae, stoneworts and pondweeds. Loch of Stenness is particularly important as the largest brackish lagoon in the UK.

    Mainland Orkney’s diverse range of habitats supports a wide range of wild plants with six hundred species having been recorded on the island. From April to August each year the wetlands, clifftops and field margins are a riot of colour. The yellows of coltsfoot, celandine, marsh marigolds and primroses appear first; followed by the reds or pinks of thrift, campion and orchids.

    The rare Scottish Primrose Primula scotica is Orkney’s most famous plant. This species only exists in Orkney, North Sutherland and Caithness, on maritime heath. The plants are very small making them difficult to find; they have between two and eight small flowers per head, with a purple colour which can vary and the throat is bright yellow. There are two flowering periods, the first being in May, and the main period being in July. Another rarity to be found here is the oysterplant Mertensia maritima.

    There are significant areas of maritime heath in Orkney, which support plant species particularly suited to their salty and exposed conditions. In the summer months it is very colourful, with a carpet of flowers including hardy sedges and heather, grass of Parnassus, thrift, moss campion, eyebright, mountain everlasting, sea plantain, and spring squill.

    Image: Mainland Orkney © Srvban via Wikimedia Commons