Hebrides - Natural History

Natural History

In some respects the Hebrides generally lack biodiversity in comparison to mainland Britain, with for example only half the number of mammalian species the latter has. Avian life includes the Corncrake, Red-throated Diver, Rock Dove, Kittiwake, Tystie, Atlantic Puffin, Goldeneye, Golden Eagle and White-tailed Sea Eagle. The last named was re-introduced to Rùm in 1975 and has successfully spread to various neighbouring islands, including Mull. There is a small population of Red-billed Chough concentrated on the islands of Islay and Colonsay.

Red Deer are common on the hills and the Grey Seal and Common Seal are present around the coasts of Scotland in internationally important numbers, with colonies of the former found on Oronsay and the Treshnish Isles. The rich freshwater streams contain Brown Trout, Atlantic Salmon and Water Shrew. Offshore, Minke Whales, Killer Whales, Basking Sharks, porpoises and dolphins are among the sealife that can be seen.

Heather moor containing Ling, Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Bog Myrtle and Fescues is abundant and there is a diversity of Arctic and alpine plants including Alpine Pearlwort and Mossy Cyphal.

Loch Druidibeg on South Uist is a National Nature Reserve owned and managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. The reserve covers 1,677 hectares across the whole range of local habitats. Over 200 species of flowering plants have been recorded on the reserve, some of which are nationally scarce. South Uist is considered the best place in the UK for the aquatic plant Slender Naiad, which is a European Protected Species.

There has been considerable controversy over hedgehogs. The animals are not native to the Outer Hebrides having been introduced in the 1970s to reduce garden pests, but their spread has posed a threat to the eggs of ground nesting wading birds. In 2003, Scottish Natural Heritage undertook culls of hedgehogs in the area although these were halted in 2007 with trapped animals then being relocated to the mainland.

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