Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer with RSPB Scotland, is back with another blog on the For The Love Of campaign we are involved with. 

For The Love Of Scottish Machair...

Last week on this blog I wrote about the new climate campaign that we are involved in (FTLO for short). I also gave you the web address so that you can add what you love and why you love it, have you had a go yet? www.rspb.org.uk/fortheloveof

Machair on the Isle of Coll, photo by Jim Densham

Some weeks back I added Scottish Machair to the FTLO website, as the thing I love. Machair is one of Scotland’s most unique and remote habitats, but also a fragile and threatened one. It is basically a low-lying coastal shell-sand rich soil meadow habitat which hosts the most fantastic display of rare flowers in spring and summer.

In the summer of 2012 I visited the Scottish islands of Coll and Tiree during a sabbatical and saw machair for the first time. It was a bit late in the year for the best flower spectacle but still awesome.

Our man on Tiree, John Bowler, showed me ‘The Reef’, a low-lying large flat machair plain to the east and south of the airport, almost bisecting the island. It’s a sensitive spot so not a reserve that the RSPB openly advertises. It’s great for nesting lapwing and for wildfowl in the winter.  

Crossapol on the Isle of Tiree, photo by John Bowler

Between The Reef and the sea is a stretch of sand dunes. These are eroding at an alarming rate due to the storms which seem to be more frequent and from a more southerly direction in recent years. At The Reef the sand isn’t blowing inland to create new dunes but rather washing away at a rate of approximately half a metre per year and in some places the dunes are now very low and narrow.

If the sea did wash through the dunes it is hard to say how long any inundation might last or how nature would respond and adapt. Some machair would be lost as the saltwater wouldn’t be favourable to it, instead saltmarsh might take hold permanently.

Hebridean Spotted Orchid at The Reef on Tiree, photo by Jim Densham

Machair is under threat throughout the Hebridean islands because of climate change causing sea level rise and more extreme weather events. Once it’s gone, it’s gone - we can’t just create more of this unique habitat in other places. All we can do is manage the machair that we have so that it is in the best condition possible for the wildlife that depends on it and for us to enjoy.

The best thing to stop the loss of machair is to cut our carbon emissions and put a halt to climate change as soon as we can. So, For The Love Of Scottish Machair, let’s do something about climate change.