Caithness Field Club

Botany Of Scrabster Braes
The Botany Group

Scrabster is on bedrock surrounded by high cliffs of clay till which has washed down to a steep but mostly stable angle. The quality of the clay is variable, with some wet zones where the drainage is restricted, some very dry parts, some rich in calcium and others neutral or mildly acid. The most interesting areas botanically are the calcium-rich zones, especially towards the base of the till where the mineral salts tend to concentrate. One clear indication of this is the presence of snails among the vegetation. There are two particularly rich parts - one is the stretch from the lifeboat station to the lighthouse, the other is just opposite the fuel tanks. In both places there is a wall at the base of the bank and both walls and banks were surveyed by the Botany Group in July 1980. There were a considerable number of common grassland plants present which do not essentially demand the high calcium content:

Achillea millefolia


Agropyron repens

Common Couch-grass

Agrostis canina

Brown Bent-grass

Agrostis tenuis

Common Bent-grass

Anthoxanthum odoratum

Sweet Vernal-grass

Anthriscus sylvestris

Cow Parsley

Arrhenatherum elatius

False Oat-grass

Bellis perennis


Capsella bursa-pastoris

Shepherd's Purse

Carex flacca

Glaucous Sedge

Carex nigra

Common Sedge

Centaurea nigra

Common Knapweed

Cerastium holosteoides

Common Mouse-ear

Cirsium arvense

Creeping Thistle

Cirsium vulgare

Spear Thistle

Dactylis glomerata


Deschampsia cespitosa

Tufted Hair-grass

Equisetum arvense

Field Horsetail

Euphrasia sp.


Festuca ovina

Sheep's Fescue

Festuca rubra

Red Fescue

Galium verum

Ladies Bedstraw

Heracleum sphondylium


Holcus lanatus

Yorkshire Fog

Hypochaeris radicata


Lathyrus pratensis

Meadow Vetchling

Leontodon autumnalis

Autumn Hawkbit

Lolium perenne

Perennial Rye-grass

Lotus corniculatus

Common Bird'sfoot Trefoil

Phleum pratense


Plantago lanceolata

Ribwort Plantain

Plantago major

Greater Plantain

Poa annua

Annual Meadow-grass

Poa subcaerulea

Spreading Meadow-grass

Polygala serpyllifolia

Heath Milkwort

Primula vulgaris


Prunella vulgaris


Ranunculus acris

Meadow Buttercup

Ranunculus repens

Creeping Buttercup

Rumex acetosa

Common Sorrel

Rumex crispus

Curled Dock

Rumex obtusifolius

Broad-leaved Dock

Sagina procumbens

Procumbent Pearlwort

Senecio vulgaris


Sonchus arvensis

Perennial Sowthistle

Succisa pratensis

Devil's-bit Scabious

Taraxacum sp.


Trifolium pratense

Red Clover

Trifolium repens

White Clover

Urtica dioica

Common Nettle

Vicia cracca

Tufted Vetch

Vicia sepium

Bush Vetch

Viola riviniana

Common Dog-violet

Plants which specialise in occupying walls and dry banks
were to be found:

Cymbalaria muralis

Ivy-leaved Toadflax

Hieracium pilosella

Mouse-ear Hawkweed

Sonchus asper

Prickly Sow-thistle

Thymus drucei

Wild Thyme

Plants specially associated with the calcium-rich conditions are:-
in the dry parts:

Gymnadenia conopsea

Fragrant Orchid

Linum catharticum

Fairy Flax

and in the wetter parts:

Carex pulicaria

Flea sedge

Filipendula ulmaria


Parnassia paulustris


Another interesting aspect of the plant population is the occurrence of a group of plants suggestive of a former scrubland or primitive woodland vegetation:

Brachypodium sylvaticum

False Brome

Campanula rotundifolia


Dryopteris filix-mas


Hedera helix


Pteridium aquilinum


Rosa canina agg.

Dog Rose

Rosa tomentosa agg.

Downy Rose

Rosa pimpindellifolia

Burnet Rose

Rubus fruticosus agg.


Rubus idaeus


Stachys sylvatica

Hedge Woundwort

In a zone higher up the bank a quite different plant community indicates that the soil there is acid but mineral-rich:

Erica cinerea

Bell Heather

Festuca tenuifolia

Fine-leaved Sheep's fescue

Hypericum pulchrum

Slender St. John's-wort

Pinguicula vulgaris

Common Butterwort

Potentilla erecta


Salix repens

Creeping Willow

This whole delightful area is prone to loss by development or by natural landslides - perhaps somebody will resurvey it in about 50 years time to see what has survived of this list.

Published in 1981 April Bulletin