skip to main content

A very rich variety

Scotland's mountains, moors, hills and heaths cover more than 50% of the land area. They extend from near sea level in the north and west to our highest tops.

Although Scotland is a small country, its uplands support a wide range of habitats. Its varied geology results in many different rock and soil types. The west coast is generally wetter than the east and the higher hills colder than the valley floors and coastal regions. In addition to this natural variation, the land has been managed for different purposes and with different intensities across the country. All of these factors, and more, contribute to the range of habitats we see today.

While some habitats are clearly more widespread than others (for example, the tops of the mountains inevitably take up less space than the sides of the mountains), it is not really possible to say that some habitats, or species, are more important than others. However, some are at more risk than others for reasons such as rarity or fragility and require special action. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan has identified 8 habitats and 122 species which are found mostly in the uplands which require particular attention.

While some habitats, such as montane heath probably look more or less as they would even if Scotland was uninhabited, others are very much a result of deliberate management. This is particularly true of our world famous heather moorland which is maintained by regular burning. Burning encourages the growth of new shoots which are essential to grouse and favoured by sheep and deer. Grazing is equally important in maintaining other habitats by keeping the more robust grass species under control and allowing the smaller, weaker species to flourish.

Various organisations (such as Moorland Forum external site ) and management schemes exist to help ensure that the right management is practiced in the right areas so that our uplands and moorlands continue to inspire and delight all those who live there, work there or visit.

We've produced a report  PDF document on sustainable moorland management, including a response from our Chairman  PDF document . The report (Annex 2  PDF document  and Annex 3  PDF document ) was requested by the SNH Board and produced by a sub-group of our Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) in October 2015. The report was requested in response to concerns of Board members about intensified moorland management practices in some areas, including the spread of hill tracks, increase in muirburn, heavy culling of mountain hares, and using chemicals to dose red grouse to increase numbers of grouse for shooting.

Last updated on Friday 12th February 2016 at 14:26 PM. Click here to comment on this page