Drumochter Hills

Site details

UK map showing location of Drumochter Hills Special Area of Conservation/Site of Community Importance.
Location of Drumochter Hills SAC/SCI/cSAC


When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

4030 European dry heaths
The Drumochter Hills provides an example of European dry heaths in the central Scottish Highlands, and represents heaths developed in the cool and less oceanic climate of the central Highlands. The main types of heath represented are H12 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillus heath, the most extensive type, and H18 Vaccinium myrtillusDeschampsia flexuosa heath. The site completes the east–west geographical range of sites in this part of the the Highlands. The Moine schist rocks are mildly base-rich and give rise to more fertile soils than the granite of the Cairngorms or the quartzite of Beinn a’Ghlo. Red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus numbers are high, and Drumochter is the best example of a high-altitude Highland grouse moor where the extensive Calluna-dominated heaths are managed by small-patch burning. The site has some of the best examples of late-lie VacciniumDeschampsia heaths at the upper limit of dry heath, with the rare blue heath Phyllodoce caerulea, which is confined to this site and nearby Ben Alder and Aonach Beag. Locally where there is flushing the Calluna heaths are herb-rich. Small areas of the western H21 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillusSphagnum capillifolium heath are also represented.
4060 Alpine and Boreal heaths
Drumochter is representative of the heaths of the relatively continental hills of the central Scottish Highlands, with the full range of heath types to be expected in this part of Scotland and a wide range of high-altitude and snow-bed heaths. Alpine and Boreal heaths on this site are well-developed, although the individual heathland sub-types are less extensive than on the Cairngorms. There are extensive areas of H13 Calluna vulgarisCladonia arbuscula and H19 Vaccinium myrtillusCladonia arbuscula heaths, with a particularly fine development of wave-form prostrate CallunaCladonia heath. Lichens are especially abundant in these communities, with the lichen cover equalling, and even locally exceeding, the cover on the Cairngorms. These Alpine and Boreal heaths are the communities in Britain that are most comparable to the lichen heaths of Scandinavia. There are large areas of H20 Vaccinium myrtillusRacomitrium lanuginosum heath and subalpine forms of H12 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillus heath, and H18 Vaccinium myrtillusDeschampsia flexuosa heath with bog bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum are especially well-developed. Snow-bed H22 Vaccinium myrtillusRubus chamaemorus heaths are well-represented, with an abundance of the characteristic dwarf cornel Cornus suecica.
4080 Sub-Arctic Salix spp. scrub
Drumochter Hills is representative of W20 Salix lapponumLuzula sylvatica Sub-Arctic Salix spp. scrub on less calcareous schist in the east-central Highlands at moderately high altitude (750 m). Patches of scrub are widespread across the site and are thought to constitute the second-largest area of scattered scrub in the UK after Caenlochan. The habitat occurs in a variety of locations, including rock ledges, crags, by rocky burn-sides and, unusually, in wet scree on steep slopes. Exceptionally, in one place the scrub occurs with subalpine scrub of rowan Sorbus aucuparia and downy birch Betula pubescens. The most frequent and widespread willow species is downy willow Salix lapponum, while whortle-leaved willow S. myrsinites and mountain willow S. arbuscula occur locally.
6150 Siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands
Drumochter has an extensive high plateau with the fourth-largest extent in the SAC series of Siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands, including the second-largest area of U8 Carex bigelowiiPolytrichum alpinum sedge-heath. Two other sub-types, U10 Carex bigelowiiRacomitrium lanuginosum moss-heath and U7 Nardus strictaCarex bigelowii grass-heath, are extensive. The site is representative of the central Highlands where schistose rocks predominate, supporting local enrichment of the flora. This contrasts with the wholly acidic granite of the Cairngorms. The comparatively large extent of CarexPolytrichum sedge-heath is characteristic of the high eastern and central hills. There are especially fine transitions to alpine dwarf-shrub heaths, and unusually the grassland borders extensive high-altitude blanket mire. Late-lie snow-beds of U11 Polytrichum sexangulareKiaeria starkei snow-bed and U12 Salix herbaceaRacomitrium heterostichum snow-bed communities are well-developed but are not extensive.
7130 Blanket bogs (* if active bog)  * Priority feature
Drumochter has been selected for its extensive areas of blanket bog which lie not only midway between the oceanic blanket bogs of the west and the drier, more continental bogs of the eastern Grampians, but also midway along the north–south transition. The kinds of bogs represented and their surface patterns reflect this intermediate position. In the Pass of Drumochter there is the most easterly extensive occurrence of western M17 Scirpus cespitosusEriophorum vaginatum blanket mire with typical species such as deergrass Trichophorum cespitosum, purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea, cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix and bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum. These low altitude bogs are generally rich in the bog-mosses Sphagnum capillifolium and S. papillosum. At higher altitudes M17 is replaced by M19 Calluna vulgarisEriophorum vaginatum blanket mire. The high altitude bogs show widespread hagging and extensive bare peat, a common phenomenon in the upland bogs in UK. Above about 800 m heather Calluna vulgaris is replaced by cowberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea and montane dwarf-shrubs, mainly bog bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum and crowberry Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

4010 Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix
6230 Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe)  * Priority feature
6430 Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plains and of the montane to alpine levels
8110 Siliceous scree of the montane to snow levels (Androsacetalia alpinae and Galeopsietalia ladani)
8220 Siliceous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

Not applicable.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Not applicable.

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