Dornoch Firth and Morrich More

Site details

UK map showing location of Dornoch Firth and Morrich More Special Area of Conservation/Site of Community Importance.
Location of Dornoch Firth and Morrich More SAC/SCI/cSAC
 

Note:

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

1130 Estuaries
Dornoch Firth is the most northerly large, complex estuary in the UK. The estuary is fed by the Kyle of Sutherland and is virtually unaffected by industrial development. There is a complete transition from riverine to fully marine conditions and associated communities. Inland, and in sheltered bays, sediments are generally muddy. Gravelly patches occur in the central section of the Firth. Wide sandy beaches dominate the large bays at the mouth of the Firth, and areas of saltmarsh occur around the shores. Sublittoral sediments are predominantly medium sands with a low organic content. Several of the associated coastal habitats have been proposed as Annex I interests in their own right.
1140 Mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide
The Dornoch Firth is the most northerly complex estuary in the UK. Situated on the Scottish east coast, the estuary contains extensive areas of mudflats and sandflats. The flats extend in a wide belt along the northern and southern shores and are characteristic of a range of environmental conditions. There is a continuous gradient in the physical structure of the flats, from medium-sand beaches on the open coast to stable, fine-sediment mudflats and muddy sands further inland. This results in a high diversity of animal and plant communities supporting polychaetes, oligochaetes, amphipods, gastropods and bivalves. The sheltered bays provide a habitat for communities of algae, eelgrass Zostera spp. and the pioneer saltmarsh plant glasswort Salicornia spp.
1310 Salicornia and other annuals colonizing mud and sand
Dornoch Firth and Morrich More has the most extensive area of pioneer glasswort Salicornia spp. saltmarsh in Scotland. It is the most northerly site selected for this Annex I type, and represents the habitat type in the northern part of its range in the UK. It forms part of a complete transition from pioneer to upper saltmeadow and important sand dune habitats.
1330 Atlantic salt meadows (Glauco-Puccinellietalia maritimae)
Dornoch Firth and Morrich More is the most northerly site selected for Atlantic salt meadows and represents this habitat type in the northern part of its UK range. The site supports a wide variety of community types, with the characteristic zonation from pioneer to upper marsh vegetation. At Morrich More the saltmarshes lie adjacent to sand dunes and there are important transitions between these habitats.
2110 Embryonic shifting dunes
There are well-marked lyme-grass Leymus arenarius-dominated areas of Embryonic shifting dunes fronting the prograding sections of this site. Dornoch Firth and Morrich More is one of three sites representing Embryonic shifting dunes on the east coast of Scotland and is the most northerly example of the habitat type in the SAC series. The process of continued progradation is central to the conservation of this habitat type at this site, which has the largest, most complete area of sand dune in the UK, in part owing to the exceptionally high rate of progradation.
2120 "Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria (""white dunes"")"
This large dune system on the east coast of Scotland is physically diverse, with areas of active accretion, areas of marine erosion and areas of internal instability. There are well-formed parabolic dunes in one area. All of these formations provide opportunities for Shifting dunes along the shoreline with Ammophila arenaria to develop. As a result this habitat type is relatively extensive within the site. The vegetation is representative of northern mobile dune vegetation, with lyme-grass Leymus arenarius prominent in some stands. The site is largely undisturbed, resulting in a natural habitat structure.
2130 "Fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation (""grey dunes"")"  * Priority feature
This extensive complex dune system lies in the inner Moray Firth in north-east Scotland. It consists of a low dune plain which is still developing in its outer part. The dune system consists of a series of ridges with heath and juniper scrub on the older ridges which grade into the fixed dune vegetation of maritime grassland in the mid and outer parts.
2140 Decalcified fixed dunes with Empetrum nigrum  * Priority feature
In this part of the Moray Firth, north-east Scotland, dune vegetation has developed on a coastline that has been generally rising relative to sea level in the 7,000 years since the last glaciation. A combination of leaching, stabilisation and the decreased influence of salt water has produced a sequence of dry, stable dune ridges, interspersed with wet dune hollows. There is a large area of Decalcified fixed dunes with Empetrum nigrum vegetation on this site, occurring in a complicated mosaic of acidic fixed dune vegetation types, principally 2150 Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (Calluno-Ulicetea). Within this complex of habitats there are examples of dune, saltmarsh and transitional communities that include large populations of several northern dune species, such as Baltic rush Juncus balticus. This is the most important acidic dune site in Scotland because of its size and the exceptional diversity of habitats within it. Despite some localised industrial development, structure and function are well-conserved at this site and accretion is continuing.
2150 Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (Calluno-Ulicetea)  * Priority feature
Dornoch Firth and Morrich More represents Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (Calluno-Ulicetea) in north-east Scotland, with dune heath containing heather Calluna vulgaris and sand sedge Carex arenaria. At this site, dune vegetation has developed on a coastline that has been generally rising relative to sea level in the 7,000 years since the last glaciation. A combination of leaching, stabilisation and the decreased influence of saltwater has produced a sequence of dry, stable dune ridges, interspersed with wet dune hollows. The Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes vegetation covers a large area on this site and forms part of a complex mosaic of fixed dune vegetation types, principally 2140 Decalcified fixed dunes with Empetrum nigrum, together with saltmarsh and transitional communities that include large populations of several northern dune species, such as Baltic rush Juncus balticus. This is the most important acidic dune site in Scotland, owing to its size and the exceptional diversity of habitats within it. Despite some localised industrial development, structure and function are well-conserved at this site and accretion is continuing.
2190 Humid dune slacks
Morrich More in north-east Scotland is one of the largest acidic dune sites in the UK. The sequence of development has resulted in the formation of extensive humid slack communities of an acidic character which lie as parallel hollows between the dune ridges and form part of a complex mosaic of dune habitats, several of which have been proposed as Annex I habitat types in their own right. This is the most important acidic dune system in Scotland, owing to its size and the exceptional diversity of the habitats within it.
2250 Coastal dunes with Juniperus spp.  * Priority feature
Morrich More is the most important site in the UK for juniper Juniperus spp. stands on dune. Stands of juniper cover approximately 10 ha, with scattered individuals over a larger area. The juniper is extremely well-developed on the dry ridges and transitions to dune slacks. The best stands occur in grasslands in the southern sector, but prostrate individuals also extend into wet heath and slack habitats within the site.

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

1110 Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time
1170 Reefs

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

1355 Otter  Lutra lutra
Dornoch Firth and Morrich More consists of an estuarine system with extensive areas of bordering natural habitat including sand dune, woodland and small lochans. The River Evelix and the River Oykel, which both feed into the site, provide further otter Lutra lutra habitat. The area supports a good population of otters in what is the only east coast estuarine site selected for the species in Scotland.
1365 Harbour seal  Phoca vitulina
The Dornoch Firth is the most northerly large estuary in Britain and supports a significant proportion of the inner Moray Firth population of the Harbour seal Phoca vitulina. The seals, which utilise sand-bars and shores at the mouth of the estuary as haul-out and breeding sites, are the most northerly population to utilise sandbanks. Their numbers represent almost 2% of the UK population.

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

Not applicable.


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