Location: Central group of islands in the Outer Hebrides.
Grid Reference: North Uist NF 906 745 South Uist NF 733 297
Uists IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Salt tolerant vegetation on intertidal saltmarshes;
Machairs (coastal dune pasture in Scotland);
Nutrient rich lakes with abundant vegetation;
Nutrient-poor waters with Stonewort algae;
Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
Nutrient poor acidic lakes on sandy plains;
The Uists IPA has been identified for stonewort, bryophyte, vascular and habitat interest, including machair - one of the rarest habitats in Europe.
The Uists support some of the richest richest tracts of machair, which is formed when wind-blown sand is deposited onto the naturally peaty soils. Over the years, a combination of the mild, wet climate and non-intensive crofting methods have shaped the machair that we see today. Machair is one of the rarest habitats in Europe, found only in the north and west of Britain and Ireland. The sand has a high shell content, sometimes 80 or 90%, distinguishing it from the ‘links’ of eastern coasts, which are formed from more mineral-based sand. It provides a diverse haven for an astonishing variety of wildlife - up to 45 plant species may be found in one square metre.
While May is often the sunniest month in the north and west, it can be dominated by cold easterly winds, so spring comes late to the machair. Machair flowers begin to bloom at the beginning of May with the beautiful carpeting of yellow primroses. From the end of May to the beginning of June a few more species of yellow flower begin to appear and there is quite a display of buttercups such as the common meadow buttercup and creeping buttercup. Lady’s bedstraw is just beginning to come into flower and by the end of June is in full bloom along with birds-foot-trefoil and kidney vetch.
On damper ground, silverweed, yellow rattle, and marsh marigolds thrive. The colours of the machair flowers begin to change by late June to whites, blues and purples. In certain places the wild pansy has bloomed and is one of the longest flowering species on the machair from June to September. Often seen in close proximity is the seaside pansy, yellow in colour and a sub species of the wild pansy. Another interesting flower to look for in June is the changing forget- me-not, so called because its flowers change colour from creamy-white or yellow to blue. By mid June the smell of white and red clover fills the air, and corn marigolds, ragged robin, thyme, eyebrights and orchids are amongst the spectacular displays of flowers that may be seen.
The Uists have a wide range of orchids and common ones found in the machair and close by marshland are the Early Marsh Orchid, Hebridean Spotted Orchid and Frog Orchid. A small stretch of North Uist has its own variety of marsh orchid, Dactylorhiza majalis scotica, found nowhere else.