North Coast of Scotland IPA

Location: North-west Scotland, this area of coast lies to the north of the A838/A836, west of Thurso.

Grid Reference: NC 539 680


This remote and beautiful stretch of Scottish coastline is home to unique species that grow nowhere else in the world, high mountain plants that come down to sea level, and a huge diversity of stunning habitats.

This Important Plant Area is home to:

  • One of the UK’s most important populations of eyebrights
  • An exceptional richness of mosses and liverworts growing on coastal sand dunes, rock cliffs, ledges and shores
  • An exceptional richness of vascular plants growing in coastal habitats
  • Some of the top 5% of threatened habitats in the UK including machair (flower-rich dune pasture), dunes (including fixed dunes and dunes with creeping willow and juniper), limestone grassland and pavement with alpine vegetation, heaths with alpine and boreal vegetation, Atlantic sea cliffs and pools and lakes with stonewort algae

    On the most northerly coastline of mainland Scotland, the dramatic coastal scenery is home to some of the most wildflower-rich habitats in Britain. Unique plants grow here, such as Scottish primrose and Marshall's eyebright, along with an eclectic and exciting mix of arctic-alpine flowers and seaside plants that sometimes grow right alongside each other.

    This IPA encompasses a very wide range of habitats from dunes and machair (wild-flower rich dune pasture) to sea cliffs, heaths and calcareous grasslands. In the wetter areas bogs and mires develop, while on drier ground birchwoods and juniper scrub can be found.

    Around the cliffs and rocky outcrops of Cape Wrath, the severe climate and lime-rich bedrock allows arctic-alpine plants such as moss campion, mountain avens and purple saxifrage - usually denizens of snow-covered hills - to be found almost at sea level. The coastline also supports other rare northern species such as oyster plant and Scots lovage. Along some cliff tops coastal heaths have developed on the infertile soils, with spring squill and the stunning Scottish primrose, an endemic plant found only here and in Orkney.

    Inland, blanket peat influences much of the plant life. Bog asphodel and bogbean add splashes of colour, while a plethora of insectivorous plants including great sundew, round-leaved sundew, pale butterwort and common butterwort trap insects to supplement their diet. Where the groundwater is less acidic, marshy ground supports ragged-robin, marsh marigold and meadowsweet. Birchwoods and heaths with heather, blaeberry and chickweed wintergreen are widespread in the hills and glens.

    The Sheigra - Oldshoremore machair (a wonderful form of flower-rich pasture that develops on old shell-sand), is found across three coastal bays northwest of Kinlochbervie. It’s one of the best examples of Machair in Britain, with over 220 different species of flowering plants. There are eight species of orchids (including frog orchid and northern marsh orchid) along with purple milk vetch, moonwort and globe flower, and alpine flowers that are not normally found in this habitat such as moss campion and mountain avens. In wetter areas the fens are thick with reeds and meadowsweet, and elsewhere meadow vegetation is cut traditionally for hay.
  • image: Bettyhill Torrisdale Bay © Paul Hermans CC-BY-SA-3.0