West Coast of Scotland IPA
Location: West Coast of Scotland, from south of Cape Wrath to south of Tarbert.
Grid Reference: NM 848 655
West Coast of Scotland IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.
The key features of this IPA are:
Dunes; Arctic, alpine and subalpine scrub habitats: oceanic montane heath; Broadleaved deciduous woodland; Inland cliffs, rock pavements and outcrops; Acid mire; Alpine grassland; Scree; Dry grassland; Arctic, alpine and subalpine grassland: oceanic montane heath; Temperate heath; Coniferous woodland; Alpine grassland; Freshwater littoral; Coastal rock; Bogs
Broadleaved deciduous woodland: oceanic; Coniferous woodland: native pinewood; Inland cliffs, rock pavements and outcrops
Alkaline fens; Alpine and Boreal heaths; Heaths with alpine and boreal vegetation; High altitude wet seepage areas; Blanket bogs (extensive areas of peatland); Mountain and upland screes on base rich rock; Calcareous rocks with crack & fissure vegetation; Caledonian forest; Sparsely vegetated open peat with White Beak-sedge; Dry heaths; Ungrazed upland cliff ledges on calcareous rocks;
Limestone pavements; Naturally acidic and low oxygen lakes and ponds; Wet heaths; Old oak woodlands with holly; Nutrient poor lakes with sparse vegetation;
Hard water springs; Acidic alpine grassland; Acid rocks with crack & fissure vegetation; Acidic montane scree; Species rich acid, montane grassland; Sub-Arctic willow scrub; Ashwoods of slopes, screes and ravines; Mires and quaking bogs with both calcareous and acidic vegetation
Stretching from Kinlochbervie in the north to Tarbert in the south and Glen Coe in the east, the West Coast of Scotland covers a large area of western Scotland with a rough area of 80,000 hectares.
It includes a large number of habitats and sites, many of which have been nominated for old sessile oak woodland and montane oceanic heath, both habitats that are internationally rare.
One of the areas within the IPA is lies around Loch Sunart, a sea loch to the east of Fort William. Round Loch Sunart are some of the finest temperate oakwoods in the British Isles, remnants of a formerly much more extensive band of coastal woodland which once stretched from Scotland down the Atlantic coast of Europe as far as Spain and Portugal. These ancient semi-natural woodlands are home to some of the best collections of lower plants in the whole of Europe.
The clean air, moist climate and long continuity of woodland cover have combined to produce ideal conditions for lichens, mosses and liverworts. The coastal location of the woodlands gives them an 'oceanic' climate producing the mild, damp conditions needed by these unique plants. Very little of the hills and fields of the Sunart Oakwoods area has ever been ploughed by tractor, treated with modern fertilisers or even mown and in summer is carpeted withflowers. The mild climate, soft rain and long summer days mean that wild flowers have a very long flowering period, still blooming long after they have withered further south.
Further north, in the far northwest of the Scottish Highlands lies Assynt. It has some of the wildest and most remote scenery in the UK, dominated by spectacular mountains. Isolated sandstone mountains rise out of an undulating landscape of hummocks and lochs, and around Inchnadamph there are limestone outcrops. Assynt has a rich and diverse assemblage of plants, some unique to the area.
Around Loch Sunart the season starts with primroses covering the braes, followed by celandines, bluebells, violets and bird's foot trefoil, as well as orchids. The more common orchids grow by the wayside and in wild parts of gardens along with yellow rattle, harebells, bird’s foot trefoil, vetches, buttercups, red clover, ragged robin and devils' bit scabious, but you'll have to go on the hills to see some of the rarer ones. You may spot the common spotted, early purple, early marsh, fragrant, frog, or even greater butterfly orchid.
Plants such as bogbean, bog myrtle, bog asphodel and cotton-grasses grow by and in the lochans, water lilies are a common plant near Acharacle and all three kinds of sundew are found on boggy paths. Another water-loving plant to be seen is the yellow iris or flag. In spring the area is purple with rhododendron ponticum blooms - a very invasive plant, but you'll also see another member of the rhododendron family, the azalea ponticum, with its yellow blooms and intoxicating scent.
The internationally important species-rich Atlantic oak woodlands support distinctive lichen communities including parmelion, lobarion, usneion and graphidion, a real treat for lichenologists. These woods also support rare moss and liverwort communities. Several highly oceanic species, such as hay-scented buckler fern and Tunbridge filmy fern are found in woods in Morvern. Depending on soil type, understorey species range from bluebell, lesser celandine, wood anemone, wood sorrel and common dog violet to heather/bilberry assemblages on very acidic soils. Ferns can be also be common, including deer fern, mountain fern and the less common lady fern. Associated tree species include birch, rowan, hazel and holly.
In the wild open spaces of moorland, mountain and bog in the area of Assynt a varied assortment of wild plants is to be found. Ungrazed ledges on the hills can have very lush vegetation, including globe-flower, roseroot and purple saxifrage, with, in wetter places, mountain sorrel. Dwarf shrub heath at the base of the hills may have scattered dwarf cornel and cloudberry. The vegetation on the tops can be species-poor, and dominated by woolly hair-moss, but elsewhere in broken ground there are carpets of arctic bearberry and dwarf willow with, less commonly, mountain azalea and dwarf cudweed.
On the lower slopes of Canisp there is a huge stand of yellow cypress club-moss and a smaller one of interrupted club-moss. Much of the heath and mire habitat in Assynt has been modified by peat-digging, burning and grazing. Remote areas with stands of prostrate juniper and bearberry show what it may once have been like. Black bog-rush often dominates mires, accompanied by white beak-sedge, and the sticky leaves of great and round-leaved sundew catch the eye. Rarer are stands of fen-sedge and greater tussock sedge. Base-rich flushes have broad-leaved cotton-grass and pale butterwort and, rarely, rough horsetail or lapland orchid. Crags have scattered populations of forked-leaved spleenwort and more frequently, not far from the sea, wood bitter-vetch. Soily scree at their feet is a good place to look for pyramidal bugle, a local speciality.
Remnants of ancient woodland are an oasis for many plants including helleborines, primroses and bluebells under birch and hazel. Some of the crofts are rich in wild flowers. Frog orchids grow on the coastal crofts, as well as early purple, heath spotted, northern marsh and fragrant orchids. The limestone outcrops around Inchnadamph create a nutrient rich environment, contrasting with the otherwise acidic soil in the area, and support a rich variety of rare and unusual flora including mountain avens, viparous bistort, limestone bedstraw, alpine bistort and twayblade orchid. Crevices shelter green spleenwort and holly fern and ledges free from grazing have dark-red helleborine. A characteristic shrub is whortle-leaved willow. The higher limestone outcrops and flushes have specialities such as alpine cinquefoil, Scottish asphodel and yellow mountain saxifrage.