West Coast of Scotland IPA

Location: West Coast of Scotland, from south of Cape Wrath to south of Tarbert.

Grid Reference: NG 902 569

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This huge area – the largest IPA in Britain - takes in much of the west coast of Scotland. The remote and rugged landscape of high mountains and glens and the intricate coastline of lochs and islands hints at the huge diversity of plants and wildlife found here.

Stretching from Tarbert in the south to Kinlochbervie in the north and reaching across to Glen Coe in the east, the West Coast of Scotland IPA covers roughly 80,000 hectares. At the heart of the IPA is a network of ancient oak woodlands that make up much of our Celtic rainforest, and tracts of montane upland heath that are heavily influenced by the Atlantic ocean.

The temperate oakwoods, some of the finest in Britain, are remnants of a band of coastal woodland that once stretched from Scotland down the Atlantic coast of Europe as far as Spain and Portugal. With clean air, a moist climate and long continuity of management, these ancient semi-natural Celtic rainforests are home to some of the best and most exuberant communities of mosses, liverworts and lichens in the whole of Europe. In many places, every twig, branch, trunk and boulder seem to be dripping with them and with names like Norwegian specklebelly, green satin lichen, elf ears, witches whiskers and glittering wood moss, this is an enchanted world that delights those that pause to look. In spring, the woodlands abound with bluebell, lesser celandine, wood anemone, wood sorrel and common dog violet.

In the wild open spaces of moorland, mountain and bog a wide range of flowers can be found. Ungrazed ledges on the hills have very lush vegetation, with globe-flower, roseroot and purple saxifrage. Dwarf shrub heath at the base of the hills may have dwarf cornel and cloudberry. The vegetation on the mountain tops needs to be able to survive harsh alpine conditions; it’s dominated by woolly hair-moss, but in broken ground there are carpets of arctic bearberry and dwarf willow with, occasionally, mountain azalea and dwarf cudweed.

On limestone outcrops around Inchnadamph the rich variety of rare upland flora includes 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 orchids. A characteristic shrub here is whortle-leaved willow, while the higher limestone outcrops have specialities such as alpine cinquefoil, Scottish asphodel and yellow mountain saxifrage.

The mild mountainside heaths are home to stands of juniper and bearberry along with rare yellow cypress clubmoss and interrupted clubmoss. In damper boggy spots, black bog-rush and white beak-sedge grow, while the sticky leaves of great and round-leaved sundew catch the eye. Lime-rich flushes have cottongrass and pale butterwort and, rarely, rough horsetail or lapland orchid. On small rocky crags you can find wood bitter-vetch and forked-leaved spleenwort and, in just a few places, pyramidal bugle produces its spires of blue flowers.

In these areas the mild climate, soft rain and long summer days encourage a very long flowering period, many wild flowers still blooming long after they have withered further south. The pastures, woodlands and waysides around crofts will abound with primroses, celandines and bluebells in spring, turning to bird's foot trefoil, yellow rattle, vetches, buttercups, ragged-Robin and red clover in summer and followed by harebells, meadowsweet and purple loosestrife. Orchids can be surprisingly varied; common spotted, heath spotted, early purple, early marsh, northern marsh, fragrant, frog and even greater butterfly orchid can all be found with just a little dedicated searching.

Image: ©Deborah Long/Plantlife

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