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Biodiversity Action Plan - February 2003
SEA AND COAST
SEA AND COAST
Caithness has some vast, beautiful and unspoilt stretches of coastline, from the broad, sandy beaches at Dunnet and Reiss to the storm-torn sea cliffs at Duncansby, Dunnet Head and Holburn Head.
Unlike much of the rest of the United Kingdom, the waters and coasts around Caithness remain relatively unmodified, and are valued for fishing and recreation purposes as well as landscape and biodiversity.
There are isolated areas of horse mussel beds around Stroma. In the deeper waters further offshore, deep-water mud habitats support many species of crab as well as burrowing shrimp, sea pens and large molluscs.
Habitats and species
The seabed around Caithness is composed mainly of exposed bedrock, sand and gravel. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan classifies this as sublittoral sands and gravels, and the inshore waters of the Moray Firth provide good nursery areas for fish such as sandeels, herring and plaice.
Storm At Wick
The Pentland Firth is famous for
its tidal rapids, a term used by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan to cover
a range of high energy environments including deep tidal streams and
tide-swept habitats. With names such as the ‘Boars of
Many rare mammals, birds and fish have been sighted or caught in and around Caithness waters. Harbour porpoises, dolphin species and minke and long-finned pilot whales are regularly seen from the shore and boats. Both grey and common seals come close to the shore to feed, rest and raise their pups, and otters can be seen close to river mouths in some of the quieter locations.
Coastal waters are important feeding grounds for breeding seabirds such as puffins, guillemots and razorbills. In winter, the waters around Caithness support coastal populations of common scoter and long-tailed, goldeneye and eider ducks, and great northern and red-throated divers are also regular visitors.
The Pentland Firth and North Sea once offered prime fishing grounds. Common skate, cod, hake, herring, mackerel, plaice, saithe, sole, whiting, monkfish and ling are all caught in inshore waters around Caithness. Occasionally, leatherback turtles have been recorded, having been brought to Scotland on the Gulf Stream Atlantic current.
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