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Caithness Biodiversity Index

Nature & Environment Index

The Sutherland Biodiversity Action Plan - October 2003


Many of the mountains on the western seaboard have a white cap of quartzite rock overlaying red Torridonian sandstone. Very little grows on the quartzite as it is hard and nutrient poor, and the climate is harsh.


At high latitudes elsewhere, alpine and sub-alpine heaths characterise the vegetation with dwarf shrubs such as alpine bearberry, juniper, crowberry
and cowberry predominating with mountain sedges.

Slow growing mosses, lichens and liverworts become dominant components in these communities, and rich communities of liverworts inhabit the colder, wetter north-facing slopes. Golden eagle, dotterel, ptarmigan, ring ouzel, mountain hare and deer inhabit these mountain areas.

Seana Bhraigh, in the Parish of Kincardine and Croick, holds an important montane flora which, in
botanical recording terms, is noted under Ross and Cromarty.  Limestone influenced vegetation occurs along the Moine Thrust in West Sutherland, supporting a rich and distinctive plant community with mountain avens as a dominant down to sea level such as at Durness. The Inchnadamph National Nature Reserve, situated on the plateau between Loch Assynt and Ben More Assynt, is of great botanical, geological and geomorphological interest. The plantlife includes mountain avens, globeflower, hollyfern and dark-red belleborine.

However, it is for its limestone caves, the largest in Scotland, that Inchnadamph is better known. Excavations from caves above the Allt Nan Uamh (Burn of the Caves) have revealed bones of the animals that inhabited this part of Scotland around the time of the last Ice Age. They include brown bear, polar bear, arctic fox, reindeer, lynx and lemming. Smoo Cave is another impressive limestone cave at the head of the narrow coastal inlet at Durness.

Upland calcareous grassland is generally restricted to shallow soils over lime-rich rocks. Despite its name, it occurs down to sea level in exposed conditions, and arctic-alpine plants can be present. The most important type in nature conservation terms is the Mountain avens variant, which occurs along the North Coast.

The blanket bog of Caithness and Sutherland form a dramatic open landscape with associated hills, lochs, rivers and small pools or dubh lochans. These peatlands are home to a unique range of plants and animals, and the plantlife is dominated by ling heather, cross-leaved heath, deer grass, cotton grass and Sphagnum bog mosses. Rather than being important for individual Sphagnum species, it is the diversity and abundance of bog mosses in a relatively undisturbed state that makes the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland so significant in international terms. A rich and varied invertebrate fauna provides a food source for the many bird species that inhabit the peatlands. Red-throated and black-throated divers, wigeon, common scoter, golden plover, greenshank, dunlin, wood sandpiper, greylag goose, short-eared owl, golden eagle, hen harrier, merlin and peregrine falcon can all be found here.

The knock-and-lochan landscape on the gneiss in the West is characterised by rocky outcrops, small hills and lochans, interspersed with small areas of blanket bog and oceanic - montane heath dominated by heather, cross-leaved heath and deer grass. The wetter areas have a greater proportion of bog mosses, and are home to waders such as dunlin and
greenshank. Base-rich flushes with distinctive black
bog rush are common, along with more extensive
areas of species rich grassland including thyme and
lady’s mantle.