North Harris is of exceptional value for nature conservation, hosting many nationally and internationally important species and habitats. It is also a fantastic place to watch wildlife. The habitats and species found here are heavily influenced by the area’s climate and location. Perched on the edge of Western Europe, the proximity of the Atlantic ocean gives rise to an extreme climate characterised by frequent rain, strong winds, cool summers, and mild winters. This climate is hostile to many species but provides ideal conditions for some unique plant communities. Moorland habitats such as blanket bog and wet heath cover large areas. Mosses and liverworts, which thrive in the mild wet climate, are a particularly prominent feature of these habitats. North Harris is exceptional for these plants, hosting many rare species and is a place well known to Bryologists.
On the higher slopes and summits there are areas in alpine grassland and at Huisinish on the coast at the western end of the estate there is a small area of Machair. This is a rare type of fertile grassland that has formed on windblown shell sand and is carpeted with an array of flowers during summer months.
North Harris is also an important area for moorland birds, particularly golden eagles. Along with parts of Southern Lewis and Mull, the estate holds the highest density of golden eagles recorded in Europe. North Harris holds around 13 pairs of golden eagle that occupy and defend territories throughout the year. Other breeding birds of conservation importance include red and black-throated divers, greenshank, golden plover, merlin, common tern, and arctic tern.
The clear water steams, lochs and coastline are also important habitats, supporting a healthy population of otters and salmon. Two rivers on the estate also contain freshwater pearl mussels, one of which is the most important population in the Western Isles.
North Harris also holds a large red deer herd which is managed by the Trust. CLICK HERE for more details
An Area of International Importance for Conservation
As a result of its importance for natural history, just over half of the estate (13,000ha) has been designated as the North Harris Special Area for Conservation (SAC) for its internationally important habitats, and the North Harris Mountains Special Protection Area (SPA) for its exceptionally high density of breeding golden eagles. These are European Natura designations assigned under the Habitats and Birds Directive and build on the earlier national designation of the area as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). These designations give the area the highest level of conservation protection available under UK and EU legislation. The Trust is committed to finding out more about the natural history of the area and managing the estate to maintain and enhance its conservation value. We are currently involved in several projects that will monitor the condition of habitats and populations of species on the estate.
See also Wildlife Watching…