Habitat account - Temperate heath and scrub


4060 Alpine and Boreal heaths 

Background to selection

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 4060 Alpine and Boreal heaths.  Click image for enlarged map.
Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 4060 Alpine and Boreal heaths. Click image for enlarged map.

Description and ecological characteristics

 

Alpine heaths develop above the natural altitudinal tree-line. Boreal heaths develop below the tree-line in gaps among scrubby high-altitude woods or as replacements for those subalpine woods lost due to grazing and burning. On lower slopes, Boreal heaths may grade into floristically-similar 4030 European dry heaths.

 

The dominant plants in UK examples of Alpine and Boreal heaths are usually dwarf-shrubs of heather Calluna vulgaris, bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus or juniper Juniperus communis, which are low-growing or prostrate owing to exposure to high winds or prolonged snow cover at moderately high altitudes. Heaths dominated by the prostrate dwarf-shrub mountain avens Dryas octopetala are considered as 6170 Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands. Alpine and Boreal heaths occur on acid rocks on mountains, both on exposed lower summits and ridges and on sheltered slopes. Exposure or snow-lie, which suppress the growth of dwarf-shrubs, also favours the growth of characteristic lichens and bryophytes. In the north and west of Scotland this type of vegetation can occur at lower altitudes than elsewhere in the UK. Rare species found in Alpine and Boreal heaths include arctic-alpine plants, such as trailing azalea Loiseleuria procumbens and mountain bearberry Arctostaphylos alpinus. Some forms of the habitat support Atlantic mosses and liverworts that are found with restricted world distribution, such as Anastrophyllum donianum, Plagiochila carringtonii and Scapania ornithopodioides.

 

Certain types of Alpine and Boreal heaths are particularly susceptible to disturbance, especially by fire. This applies to all heaths rich in bryophytes and also juniper-rich heaths. Similarly, lichen-rich heaths are susceptible to damage by fire or trampling. Rocky ground can be important in protecting heaths from fire.

 

This habitat comprises a wide range of heath types, with variation related to climate, local exposure and snow-lie. It includes seven alpine heath NVC types:

 

     

  • H13  Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula heath
  • H14  Calluna vulgaris – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath
  • H15  Calluna vulgaris – Juniperus communis ssp. nana heath
  • H17  Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos alpinus heath
  • H19  Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath
  • H20  Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath
  • H22  Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heath

 

and five boreal heath NVC types:

 

     

  • H10  Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea heath
  • H12  Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath
  • H16  Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi heath
  • H18  Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa heath
  • H21  Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus – Sphagnum capillifolium heath

 

For several of these NVC types, only examples developed at higher altitudes are referable to Alpine and Boreal heaths. Lower-altitude stands are referable to 4030 European dry heaths.

 

Floristically there are two broad types of Alpine and Boreal heath, dominated either by

 

     

  1. Heather C. vulgaris on exposed or more sheltered ground at lower altitudes, or;
  2. Bilberry V. myrtillus and crowberry Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum at higher altitudes beyond the limit of heather growth or in more sheltered localities where heather growth is suppressed by prolonged snow-lie.

 

On less-exposed, more sheltered ground at the lower altitudinal range of the habitat, Calluna generally dominates. Calluna is usually accompanied by other dwarf-shrubs, such as V. myrtillus, bell heather Erica cinerea, bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and crowberry E. nigrum ssp. nigrum (H10 Calluna – Erica, H12 Calluna – Vaccinium, H16 Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, H21 Calluna – Vaccinium – Sphagnum, and H22 Vaccinium – Rubus heaths). On more exposed and windswept ground, a range of dwarf-shrubs may dominate, forming an altitudinal progression. The first in the progression, and often the most extensive, are heaths dominated by Calluna growing in a prostrate form (H13 Calluna – Cladonia and H14 Calluna – Racomitrium heaths). Heather may also be combined with dwarf juniper Juniperus communis ssp. nana (H15 Calluna – Juniperus heath) or with Arctostaphylos alpinus and Loiseleuria procumbens (H17 Calluna – Arctostaphylos alpinus heath). At higher altitudes, where conditions are too extreme for heather, short or prostrate Vaccinium spp. and E. nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum dominate (H19 Vaccinium – Cladonia and H20 Vaccinium – Racomitrium heaths). On sheltered slopes where snow lingers, the dominant shrub is V. myrtillus, which is either the sole dominant (H18 Vaccinium – Deschampsia heath) or grows with E. nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum, dwarf cornel Cornus suecica and cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus (H22 Vaccinium – Rubus heath).

 

In addition to this altitudinal zonation, there are other lines of floristic variation within the habitat type. For example, in the east, favoured by a less oceanic climate, lichens may be abundant (especially those of the reindeer-moss group Cladonia spp.). These heaths achieve the nearest approach in the UK to the lichen heaths of Scandinavia and the Arctic (especially in the Calluna – Cladonia and Vaccinium – Cladonia communities), and often support rare montane species. Conversely, in the more oceanic climate of the north-west and north, woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum, bell heather Erica cinerea and Atlantic liverworts and mosses (especially the species of the northern Atlantic hepatic mat) may be abundant in Calluna – Racomitrium, Calluna – Juniperus, Calluna – Arctostaphylos alpinus and Vaccinium – Racomitrium heaths. In the northern Scottish Highlands and Northern Isles, favoured by a cooler climate, mountain bearberry Arctostaphylos alpinus and trailing azalea Loiseleuria procumbens are abundant (characteristically in Calluna – Arctostaphylos alpinus heath, but also in Calluna – Racomitrium and Calluna – Juniperus heath). In the Cairngorms, L. procumbens is also frequent (in Vaccinium – Cladonia heath), while bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is abundant (in Calluna – Cladonia and Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi heaths). Different structural forms of heath also occur, owing to differences in exposure, giving rise to closed or open heaths with crescentic waves (wave-form).

 

In some stands of Alpine and Boreal heaths the action of solifluction (by creating unstable soils, which provide more plant nutrients and maintain open conditions) favours the growth of certain plants. These include mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica, carnation sedge Carex panicea, pill sedge C. pilulifera, sea plantain Plantago maritima, fir clubmoss Huperzia selago and viviparous sheep’s-fescue Festuca vivipara, enriching the flora of the heaths.

European status and distribution

 

In the Atlantic Biogeographical Region, extensive Alpine and Boreal heaths are restricted to the UK and Ireland. Elsewhere in the EU, the habitat occurs in several mountainous regions, in particular in the Alps, Pyrenees and Fennoscandia.

 

Certain sub-types of Alpine and Boreal heaths are known only from the UK or are best-developed here. These are especially those found in more exposed conditions, characterised by prostrate heather Calluna vulgaris and juniper Juniperus communis ssp. nana.

UK status and distribution Click to view UK distribution of this habitat

 

The most extensive and best-developed examples of Alpine and Boreal heaths are found in the Scottish Highlands, with outliers on the Northern Isles and on the higher mountains of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

 

Some of the sub-types of the habitat have a restricted distribution in the UK. Calluna – Racomitrium heaths occur only in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Calluna – Juniperus heath is mainly restricted to the north-west Highlands and Islands with an outlier in North Wales, while Calluna – Arctostaphylos alpinus heath occurs only in the northern Highlands and on Orkney. Calluna – Cladonia and Vaccinium – Cladonia heaths are better-developed in the eastern Highlands, but the latter community is the only alpine heath to occur extensively south of the Highlands. Vaccinium – Rubus heath is most extensive in the Highlands, especially in the east.

Site selection rationale

 

Sites have been selected to take account of the UK’s special responsibilities for conserving Alpine and Boreal heaths. The sites selected are for the most part those where the habitat is most extensive and where there is least impact from human activities so that structure and function are well-conserved.

 

Sites have been selected to include all the main types of Alpine and Boreal heaths (represented by the range of NVC types) and the main lines of variation within these types. The SAC series encompasses both the more continental lichen-rich heaths and oceanic forms rich in bryophytes, as well as combinations of western and eastern heaths of less marked character. The largest stands have usually been selected, because these have the widest range of sub-types of the heaths with the fullest expression of characteristic species developed in relation to altitude, exposure and snow-lie. The selection of sites reflects the importance of the Scottish Highlands for this habitat type, but also includes the best outliers on the Northern Isles and in southern Britain. Some sites, especially those in the far north, have been selected because they have especially good development of geographically localised types.

 

All sites selected show extensive transitions to a wide range of other habitats. Many sites hold important populations of uncommon plant or animal species.


Site accounts

Beinn a' Ghlo Eastern Scotland
Beinn a’Ghlo has a wide range of Alpine and Boreal heaths (H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula, H18 Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa, H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula, H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum and H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heaths) representative of the eastern Scottish Highlands. As in the Cairngorms these heaths, especially the Calluna – Cladonia and Vaccinium – Cladonia communities, have an abundance of lichens, especially the larger Cladonia species and other fruticose lichens. The range of heaths includes a good representation of types, including forms on extremely exposed ground and contrasting heaths of sheltered snow-beds. There are widespread gradations to extensive 4030 European dry heaths.
Beinn Dearg Highlands and Islands
Beinn Dearg is representative of Alpine and Boreal heaths found in the less extremely oceanic north-west Scottish Highlands. The heaths are extensive and well-developed, and there is the full range of sub-types found in this part of Scotland. On this site, as on the Strathglass Complex, western, eastern and northern kinds of heath occur together. The main sub-types present within the site are prostrate Calluna heaths (H14 Calluna vulgaris – Racomitrium lanuginosum, H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula and H17 Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos alpinus heaths). These sub-types, and H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath, occur on solifluction terraces. On the slopes below, these heaths give way to extensive alpine forms of H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea, H21 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus – Sphagnum capillifolium and H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heaths, and 4030 European dry heaths on the lower slopes. H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heath dominated by Vaccinium spp. is widely-developed in sheltered hollows where snow lies late.
Ben Alder and Aonach Beag Highlands and Islands
Ben Alder and Aonach Beag represents Alpine and Boreal heaths in the central Scottish Highlands. A wide range of heaths form extensive stands, including H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula, H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula, H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum and H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heaths. The representation of reindeer Cladonia lichens and woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum is intermediate, respectively, between the eastern and western Highlands. The rockier heaths provide suitable habitat for eastern outlying stations of northern Atlantic liverworts.
Ben Wyvis Highlands and Islands
Ben Wyvis has extensive combinations of Alpine and Boreal heaths characteristic of both the eastern and northern Highlands. H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula heath and H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath are well-developed, with an abundance of lichens characteristic of the eastern Highlands. The abundance of lichens in these communities on this site is greater than on any other site in the northern and north-west Highlands, although the extent of the community is less than at Strathglass. The northern H17 Calluna – Arctostaphylos alpinus community is particularly finely developed on windswept lower summits and shoulders. Extensive H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heaths dominated by heather are present on the higher slopes and have an unusual mix and abundance of northern species, including cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, dwarf cornel Cornus suecica, mountain bearberry Arctostaphylos alpinus and dwarf birch Betula nana. On the highest slopes, where snow tends to accumulate, snow-bed H18 Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa heath is extensive. Transitions to 4030 European dry heath occur below, especially to H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath, which is extensive on the lower slopes.
Caenlochan Eastern Scotland, North Eastern Scotland
Caenlochan is the most continental hill in the SAC series for Alpine and Boreal heaths, and shows proportionately the most extensive development of lichen-rich heath and the least development of more oceanic kinds of heath. H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath is extensive and well-developed, with abundant lichen cover. Characteristic species such as the lichen Cetraria nivalis and trailing azalea Loiseleuria procumbens are widespread. Other communities represented are H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula, H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum and H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heaths.
Cairngorms Highlands and Islands, North Eastern Scotland
The Cairngorms is the superlative example of the relatively continental hills of the eastern Scottish Highlands. It has the full range of heath types characteristic of the area and the most extensive tracts of Alpine and Boreal heaths in the UK. There is the best development of eastern lichen-rich heaths, coupled with a range of snow-bed heaths that are better developed than on any other site. H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula heath includes a large area in which there is a co-dominance of heather Calluna vulgaris and bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, an unusual kind of heath which occurs most extensively on the Cairngorms. H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath is dominated by mixtures of mountain crowberry Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum, bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus, cowberry V. vitis-idaea and, unusually, trailing azalea Loiseleuria procumbens. H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath is also extensive, taking the habitat type up to its highest altitude in the UK. Calluna-rich and Vaccinium-rich forms of H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heath are more extensive than on any other site, and snow-bed forms of H18 Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa heath are also well-developed. There is extensive development of heath on solifluction terracing. These alpine heaths give way below to alpine forms of H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath and H16 Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi heath; the latter community being largely restricted to north-east Scotland. There are also transitions to 4030 European dry heaths at lower altitude, 5130 Juniperus communis formations, 4010 Northern Atlantic wet heaths and 6150 Siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands and late snow-bed vegetation. This is the single most outstanding site for high-altitude acidic habitats in the UK.
Drumochter Hills Eastern Scotland, Highlands and Islands
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 vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula and H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heaths, with a particularly fine development of wave-form prostrate Calluna – Cladonia 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 myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath and subalpine forms of H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath, and H18 Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa heath with bog bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum are especially well-developed. Snow-bed H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heaths are well-represented, with an abundance of the characteristic dwarf cornel Cornus suecica.
Fannich Hills Highlands and Islands
There is a wide range of Alpine and boreal heaths present at Fannich Hills, including NVC types H13 Calluna vulgaris–Cladonia arbuscula heath, H14 Calluna vulgaris–Racomitrium lanuginosum heath, H17 Calluna vulgaris–Arctostaphylos alpinus heath and H20 Vaccinium myrtillus–Racomitrium lanuginosum heath. The main heath is the oceanic Calluna–Racomitrium community (H14) which occurs extensively on exposed ridges. The range of sub-types present is typical of other sites selected to represent the Alpine and boreal heaths habitat in the region. Features of particular interest on Fannich Hills include the development of H17 heath rich in dwarf shrubs, Atlantic liverwort-rich Vaccinium–Racomitrium heath (H20c) and the presence of fine solifluction terracing.
Foinaven Highlands and Islands
Foinaven is representative of the characteristic and rarer Alpine and Boreal heaths that occur in the more highly oceanic parts of north-west Scotland. These include extensive examples of very local heath types, which are restricted to a few sites in this area. H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath and H14 Calluna vulgaris – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath occur extensively within the site. The former community is especially extensive, occurring over the huge areas of quartzite rock debris on the summit ridges. The site has the second-largest extent of H15 Calluna vulgaris – Juniperus communis ssp. nana heath in the UK, not far short of its extent at the Loch Maree Complex. This heath has an abundant and diverse assemblage of characteristic Atlantic liverworts and mosses that is unique to the British Isles.
Hoy Highlands and Islands
Hoy is representative of the more northerly oceanic sub-types of Alpine and Boreal heaths, where the cool and windy climate results in the development of this habitat at low altitude. The site has the largest high-quality examples of H17 Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos alpinus heath in the UK, and the community is unusually rich in lichens. The alpine heaths are developed on an impressive series of solifluction terraces. The western oceanic H14 Calluna vulgaris – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath, occurring here with bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is also represented. On more sheltered slopes, there are well-developed transitions to alpine forms of the oceanic H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea heath, and to 4030 European dry heaths..
Invernaver Highlands and Islands
Invernaver represents a form of Alpine and Boreal heaths that is, as far as is known, floristically unique in the UK. The site is complementary to Ronas Hill in representing altitudinal descent of the habitat type to near sea level on the exposed north coast of Scotland. The heath consists of a mix of short heather Calluna vulgaris, juniper Juniperus communis, crowberry Empetrum nigrum, bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and bell heather Erica cinerea, similar to mixed heaths developed in coastal districts in Norway, but practically unknown in the UK outside Invernaver. This may be related to H16 Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos uva-ursi heath, but its NVC status is uncertain at present. This is the only site in the series where there are widely-developed transitions to 6170 Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands, for which the site is also selected. There are also transitions to oceanic H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea heath and to coastal communities.
Ladder Hills Highlands and Islands, North Eastern Scotland
Ladder Hills represents Alpine and Boreal heath on the eastern fringes of the Scottish Highlands. Three of the major eastern alpine heath types are well-represented on the summits and high slopes. H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula and H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heaths occur on exposed ground with an abundance of lichens typical of the east that rivals similar habitat on the Cairngorms. The reindeer lichens Cladonia rangiferina, C. portentosa, C. arbuscula and C. uncialis are all abundant, and Alectoria sarmentosa, a rare lichen, is also present. H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heath, with chickweed wintergreen Trientalis europaea, dwarf cornel Cornus suecica, bog bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum and cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, occurs in hollows as a characteristic snow-bed community.
Lake District High Fells Cumbria
Alpine and boreal heaths form an important component of the Lake District High Fells. Whilst they cannot be compared to those of the Scottish Highlands in terms of diversity and development they are an important geographical element, representing some of the most southerly examples of this vegetation type in Britain. The main NVC type present is H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath, a very local type south of Scotland. H19 tends to occur on the steeply-sloping, less-exposed ground below some of the summits of the Fells, mainly within the Buttermere Fells and Skiddaw Group. There are good transitions to the subalpine heath community H18 Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa heath and at lower altitudes to H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath, as well as to U10 Carex bigelowii – Racomitrium lanuginosum alpine grasslands on the summits.
Loch Maree Complex Highlands and Islands
The Loch Maree Complex encompasses a range of highly oceanic north-western types of Alpine and Boreal heaths. This is one of the most oceanic localities within the series of sites selected for this habitat. It contains the most extensive and diverse assemblages in the UK of Atlantic mosses and liverworts associated with this habitat type (and with 4030 European dry heaths). The complex has the largest area of H15 Calluna vulgaris – Juniperus communis ssp. nana heath in the UK. This alpine heath type is unique to the British Isles; it is rare in Ireland and attains its finest and most extensive development on Foinaven and the Loch Maree Complex in the north-west Highlands. There is an abundance of Atlantic bryophytes, including Herbertus borealis, which is confined to this site in the UK and is otherwise known from only three localities in Norway, where it is less abundant. The sub-type of H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath with Atlantic bryophytes that is restricted to the north-west Highlands is well-developed and extensive. There are also areas of H14 Calluna vulgaris – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath. At lower altitudes, these alpine heaths give way to the oceanic subalpine H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea heath with abundant woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum, and H21 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus – Sphagnum capillifolium heath. The structure and function of these heaths is well-developed owing to lack of disturbance.
Moffat Hills South Western Scotland
Moffat Hills represents the best examples of Alpine and Boreal heath in the Southern Uplands of Scotland and contains some of the best examples south of the Highlands. H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula heath occurs as small stands on high ridges. Lichen-rich H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath is relatively extensive for a locality south of the Highlands and is well-developed with characteristic flora. H22 Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heath occurs here at the southern edge of its geographic range.
Moor House - Upper Teesdale Cumbria, Tees Valley and Durham
Moor House – Upper Teesdale has the most extensive area of Alpine and Boreal heaths south of Scotland and is the best southern outlier. The main sub-type is H19 Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath, which occurs on an extensive plateau. Characteristically (as in the Scottish Highlands) there is an abundance of lichens, especially Cladonia species, but on this site there is also an unusual abundance of large clumps of the montane lichen Cetraria islandica. At the edge of the plateau Vaccinium – Cladonia heath gives way below to a wind-clipped form of H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath. which grades into taller heaths of the same community lower down the slopes. These represent alpine to boreal transitions which, in the more severe climate of the Highlands, would be represented by lichen- or bryophyte-rich prostrate Calluna heaths. Similarly, on one level summit at an altitude of 600 m, wind-clipped heather of a short but upright growth form occurs among a profusion of lichens, especially Cladonia species. This constitutes an unusual alpine/subalpine form of Calluna – Vaccinium heath that is very local in England.
Ronas Hill - North Roe Highlands and Islands
Ronas Hill – North Roe is representative of the extreme northerly development of Alpine and Boreal heaths in the UK. The cool and windy climate on Shetland results in the development of alpine heaths at exceptionally low altitude, giving one of the best examples of the altitudinal descent of vegetation zones in the UK. The site contains the most extensive areas on any site in Britain of H14 Calluna vulgaris – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath, a type characteristic of the north-west and northern Scottish Highlands and Islands. This community is developed on some of the finest solifluction terracing found outside the Cairngorms. Mountain bearberry Arctostaphylos alpinus, bearberry A. uva-ursi and trailing azalea Loiseleuria procumbens are all present. There is also a large extent of an alpine form of H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea heath with an unusual abundance of woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum and locally frequent bearberry. Other subalpine heaths present include H21 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus – Sphagnum capillifolium heath and small areas of H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath.
Strathglass Complex Highlands and Islands
Strathglass is intermediate between heathland types of the east and the less extremely oceanic parts of the north-west. The Strathglass Complex has the second-largest area of Alpine and Boreal heaths in the SAC series, after the Cairngorms. The northern H17 Calluna vulgaris – Arctostaphylos alpinus community is well-represented, with the second most extensive development of this sub-type in the SAC series after Hoy. The site has one of the largest occurrences of the mainly north-western H20 Vaccinium myrtillus – Racomitrium lanuginosum heath, with a community structure similar in quality to that of Loch Maree Complex. Also present is the most extensive area of the characteristic eastern heathland type H13 Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula heath to be found in the north-west, although lichen cover is not as high as on Ben Wyvis. In general, lichen cover is intermediate between the high cover of the east and generally low cover of the far west, while woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum is more abundant than in the east. These alpine heaths give way on the lower slopes to alpine forms of the oceanic H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea and H21 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus – Sphagnum capillifolium heaths, and the more eastern H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath. On the lower slopes these latter heaths represent 4030 European dry heaths. Overall, the site has the largest extent of the Alpine and Boreal heaths in the north-west Highlands.

SACs/SCIs/cSACs where this Annex I habitat is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Beinn Bhan Highlands and Islands
Ben Lawers Eastern Scotland
Ben Nevis Highlands and Islands
Creag Meagaidh Highlands and Islands
Cuilcagh Mountain Northern Ireland
Eastern Mournes Northern Ireland
Eryri/ Snowdonia West Wales and The Valleys
Glen Coe Highlands and Islands
Hill of Towanreef Highlands and Islands, North Eastern Scotland
Inverpolly Highlands and Islands
Kinloch and Kyleakin Hills Highlands and Islands
Morrone Birkwood North Eastern Scotland
North Harris Highlands and Islands
Rhinog West Wales and The Valleys
Rum Highlands and Islands
 

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