Lochaber is an internationally important region for upland habitats, and includes heaths (wet, dry and montane), calcareous grassland, montane scrub, rock and scree, and summit vegetation. As you would expect, the local flora of the upland environment reflects the underlying geology, the topography, soil conditions, altitude, local climate and rainfall patterns. Upland heath is ubiquitous in Lochaber and is characterised by high annual rainfall (greater than 1000m) and an altitude range typically from 300 metres to 900 metres. The montane upland habitat is also widespread in Lochaber and good examples can be found on the upper slopes and summits of Aoncah Mor and Aoncah Beag, Ben Nevis, Creag Meagaidh, Grey Corries and Glen Coe, as well as the Morvern hills of Beinn Iadain and Beinn na h 'Uamha. These upland areas, together with Cuillins on Rum, are sites of international importance. Special protection status has also been given to some of upland areas associated with Moidart, Ardgour, Glen Coe and Glen Etive for its eagle numbers.
The dry heath habitat supports heather (Calluna vulgaris), bell heather (Erica cinerea) on drier ground, bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), western gorse (Ulex europaeus) with tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla), heath bedstraw (Galium saxatile), heath milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia), eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis agg.) and variety of grasses, including wavy hair grass (Deschampsia flexuosa)and the viviparous fescue (Festuca vivipara). Orchids include heath-fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea var. borealis), small white orchid (Pseudorchis albida) and lesser twayblade (Listera cordata).
Wet heath is characterised by cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix), with bog myrtle (Myrica gale), bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica), purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea), deergrass (Trichophorum cespitosum) and heath rush (Juncus squarrosus). Insectivorous plants are represented by butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and sundews (Drosera species), whilst orchids include heath spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata ssp ericetorum) and lesser butterfly orchid (Platanthera bifolia). Other species include cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) according to local conditions.
As you ascend wet heath and acid grassland gives way to montane heath. Montane heath consists of moss heath, dwarf shrubs and Arctic-Alpine communities and is confined to north-west Scotland. Upland peat specialists also include cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) and dwarf cornel (Cornus suecica), as well as alpine bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpina) in the east.
Hardy alpines and arctic flora are found in the higher mountains, epitomised by the magnificent Ben Nevis range, and include alpine saxifrage (Saxifraga nivalis), purple saxifrage (S. oppostifolia), the rare drooping saxifrage (S. cernua) and tufted saxifrage (Saxifraga cespitosa), northern rock-cress (Arabidopsis petraea), alpine meadow-rue (Thalictrum alpinum), Arctic Mouse-ear (Cerastium arcticum), starry saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris), starwort mouse-ear (Cerastium cerastoides), parsley fern (Cryptogramma crispa) and alpine lady-fern (Athyrium distentifolium), as well as specialist ferns, bryophytes and lichens, including the northern holly fern (Polystichum lonchitis) and the rare goblin lights lichen (Catolechia wahlenbergii). Woolly fringe moss (Racomitrium lanuginosum ) clothes rocks and boulders and juniper (Juniperus communis) clings to steep slopes and the crags. Stiff sedge (Carex bigelowii) and the rare three flowered rush (Juncus triglumis) are also associated with this mountainous habitat, the former admidst damp vegetation and the latter on the stony ground. Moss campion (Silene acaulis) and mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) occur in upland calcareous grassland, along with Sibbaldia (Sibbaldia procumbens), Mountain Everlasting (Antennaria dioica) and the more ubiquitous wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus). In addition, mountain willow (Salix arbuscula) is restricted to Ben Nevis, whilst the arctic sandwort (Arenaria norvegica subsp. norvegica) grows on basaltic screes in Morvern and the Small Isle. A population of diapensia (Diapensia lapponica), the only representative of this species in UK, is also found on a summit near Glenfinnan.
The moorlands and uplands provide suitable habitat for a range of birds including ptarmigan, snow bunting, ring ouzel, raven, as well as waders such as snipe, golden plover, greenshank and dotterel. Raptors include merlin, peregrine falcon, hen harrier and golden eagle. Meadow pipits abound in heathlands and are joined by wheatear, stonechat and whinchat. Iconic mammals of mountain and moorland include mountain hare, wild cat and red deer. Moorland also provides a suitable habitat for some of our native reptiles, including adder, common lizard and slow worm. Amphibians are represented by common frog and common toad.
Look out also for the scarce mountain ringlet butterfly (Erebia epiphron) and the black mountain moth (Glacies coracina) in the hills. Butterflies associated with heathlands include the large heath, the small heath and green hairstreak, whilst moths include the day-flying northern eggar (Lasiocampa quercus), fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) and clouded buff (Diacrisia sannio).
Two great habitats to spot some iconic Scottish wildlife.