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

North Coast of Scotland 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 bryophytes in coastal dune and sand habitats
  • The species richness of bryophytes on rock cliffs, ledges and shores including the supralittoral
  • The species richness of vascular plants in coastal habitats.
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Vegetated sea cliffs of the Atlantic coast;
    Limestone grassland with alpine vegetation;
    Fixed dunes;
    Nutrient-poor waters with Stonewort algae;
    Limestone pavements;
    Heaths with alpine and boreal vegetation;
    Old fixed dunes;
    Coastal dunes with Juniper;
    Dunes with creeping willow;
    Machairs (coastal dune pasture in Scotland)
  • The North Coast of Scotland IPA covers a large stretch of the coastline in the far north of the UK.

    It encompasses a range of habitats from dunes and machairs to seacliffs, heaths and calcareous grasslands. These are some of the most species-rich of such areas in Britain, home to over 200 different species of flowering plants.

    Around Cape Wrath, a variety of arctic and alpine plants such as moss campion, mountain avens and purple saxifrage, which usually occur on high hills, are found almost down to sea level because of the suitability of the bedrock and severity of the weather. The coastline also supports other rare northern species such as the oyster plant. The tops of some sea cliffs have developed a coastal heath where spring squill and the Scottish primrose, a plant found only here and in Orkney, occur.

    Widespread blanket peat influences much of the plant life inland. Bog asphodel and bogbean are two of the more colourful species, while the sundews and butterwort which trap insects to boost the poor supply of nutrients are of particular interest. Where the groundwater is less acidic, there may be marshy ground supporting 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, has a floristic richness typical of this habitat with about 200 different flowering plants, including at least eight orchids. It has floristic communities not found on any other machair, for example mountain avens. There is tall herb and meadow vegetation in flushes, traditionally cut for hay, and fens thick with reed and meadowsweet.