Coastal cliffs and heaths
Habitats and species
The Caithness coastline is dominated by tall,
impressive maritime cliffs and slopes dissected by
stony bays and geos (deep incisions at right angles
to the cliffs where the sea has excavated along the
line of a fault). The cliffs at Dunnet Head are home
to the nationally rare Killarney fern.
Rock stacks such as at Duncansby
and Holburn Head provide nesting ledges for a variety of bird life. From
May to August our cliffs are home to a collection of nesting seabirds
including puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, black
guillemots, cormorants and shags. The cormorant population is declining,
and the only breeding population left in Caithness is at the Ord.
Some of the best remaining examples
of maritime heath in Scotland occur
along the north and east Caithness coastline at places such as Sandside
Head near Reay and along the East Coast from Berriedale up to Wick. The
rare Scottish primrose can be found along the cliff tops among
close-cropped maritime heath as well as in coastal grassland. Several rare
or scarce eyebright species also live in short grassland close to the
Loss of coastal heath to
agricultural intensification or forestry is less of a threat today.
Indeed undergrazing is more of an issue as many areas have been fenced off
to protect livestock. The growth of tall vegetation and encroachment
of bracken is a threat to biodiversity, and we should strive to protect
and manage the areas we have by ensuring that these areas can be grazed
Fly tipping in geos and ditches is
a problem in Caithness, and help with the costs of legal disposal is
With increasing access to land,
disturbance to nesting seabirds and the removal of rare plants is an
Some farmers have entered into agri-environment
schemes to protect coastal grasslands.
Facilities such as the Waterlines
Centre at Lybster and the Heritage Centres at Dunbeath and Wick provide
coastal interpretation and information. The Lybster Heritage Trust
promotes paths up from the harbour and along the coast, and the Caithness
Ranger Service offers guided walks along the coast.
Opportunities for action
Establish appropriate grazing
of coastal grasslands and heathlands.
Disseminate best practice in
methods of clearing bracken, and encourage coastal managers to
control invasive species such as bracken where it threatens rare
Encourage more farmers to
apply for coastal heath management under agri-environment schemes so
that greater areas remain actively managed. Prescriptions may need
to be adapted locally to ensure that management is effective.
Encourage bush and tree cover
in coastal locations, to provide a rest and refuelling site for
Create safe access routes to
viewing points that donít disturb birds, such as at Duncansby.
Promote additional viewing
points and a coastal interpretative trail for North Scotlandís
distinctive cliff-top vegetation and nesting seabirds.