Survey reveals Coigach and Assynt’s globally rare habitats
Over the summer a survey funded through CALLP has discovered that the area between and around the sentinel peaks of Suilven and Canisp is home to an exceptionally large number of globally scarce and important upland habitats.
The CALLP High Value Habitat survey is a joint venture between Scottish Wildlife Trust, Assynt Foundation and NatureScot, and aims to survey in detail 61 sq km of some of the wildest land in the British Isles, found here in the CALL area.
Using high-resolution aerial images this rugged landscape was initially ‘virtually surveyed’ by NatureScot and divided into many different habitat areas based on subtle colour and texture differences.
The task of this summer’s field survey was to identify what these units actually represented on the ground, using a set of pre-defined habitat types. The results, helped by a remarkable run of dry weather in late summer – but hindered by equally remarkable numbers of biting insects – show that this part of Assynt harbours an exceptional concentration of globally scarce and important upland habitats; in particular blanket bogs, wet and dry heaths, alpine and subalpine plant communities and subarctic fellfields.
The survey also confirmed that a series of recent accidentally-started ‘wildfires’ in the area around Suilven have burnt out large areas of heather. Although the heather is slowly recolonising, several areas of internationally-scarce and very fragile liverwort-rich ‘Atlantic heath’ sadly appear to have been lost for the foreseeable future.
On a more positive note the eastern flank of the survey area contained many ancient peat cuttings dating from up to 200 years ago or more when generations of families formerly crofted the ground on the fringes of the wildland. These have revegetated and now support areas of rich bog flora – showing how even intensively worked lands can recover given enough time and freedom from disturbance.
The results confirm the importance of this part of Scotland as a great treasury of Atlantic upland habitats. The data will be added to NatureScot’s growing Habitat Map of Scotland – a long-term ambition to create a grand inventory of all Scotland’s natural capital.
The work was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Nature Scot.
Original article by Colin Wells