High Value Open Habitats Survey
There has been some extremely important survey work undertaken in the past of these internationally important habitats. However, in areas this survey work is incomplete and where data is available it is often not in a modern web and GIS compatible format.
The aims of this project were to:
- Obtain more information on a range of lesser-known but both high-value and, often, sensitive habitats in the Coigach and Assynt area.
- Use the information gathered to inform better overall landscape planning, including for woodland expansion.
- Promote better awareness of these habitats among land managers, the local population and visitors.
Over summer 2020 the survey 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 survey aimed to cover in detail 61sq 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 the 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.
(Information from an original article by Colin Wells, who carried out the survey)