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Flame shell beds

Flame shells (Limaria hians) are beautiful bivalve molluscs about 4cm long. They are also known as file shells.

What is so special about them?

Flame shells live completely hidden on the seabed inside nests, which they build from shells, stones and other materials around them. Hundreds of these nests can combine to form a dense bed, raising and stabilising the seabed and making it more attractive for lots of other creatures. In one study in Loch Fyne, six nest complexes supported 19 species of algae and 265 species of invertebrates. Flame shell reefs are good hunting grounds for young fish, and offer good attachment for scallop spat, as they settle from the plankton.

Where do they occur?

In British waters, flame shells live only on western coasts, with the densest beds off west Scotland, mainly on seabeds of coarse sand, gravel and shells, from low water to around 100 m depth, often in areas with moderate or strong water currents. Individuals may also live under stones, or in kelp holdfasts.

What is the status of this habitat in Scotland?

Flame shell beds are vulnerable to mechanical disturbance, particularly from bottom trawls and dredges, and extensive beds are now rare. Primarily associated with areas of accelerated tidal streams the best known examples occur within a number of sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland - Lochs Fyne, Sunart, Carron, Creran, Alsh, Broom and lower Loch Linnhe.

Are we doing anything to look after flame shell beds in Scotland?

Flame shell beds are a priority UK Biodiversity Action Plans habitat external site  now taken forward by the Scottish Government as part of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy external site . This habitat is an SNH priority for marine conservation action ('Priority Marine Features (PMFs)' and 'HAF' work programmes) and will be subject to new protection efforts deriving from the Scottish Marine Bill (incl. Marine Spatial Planning and new Marine Protected Areas)

Last updated on Tuesday 23rd July 2013 at 10:24 AM. Click here to comment on this page