CLM Spring issue 2018 - Page 27

Habitat management news
Blaeberry and Crowberry heath with Racomitrium lichen, taken at Brown Cow Hill, Aberdeenshire. Deborah Long
From the upland mires and springs
where such plants as Starry Saxifrage
Saxifraga stellaris grow to the
alpine plateaux of the Cairngorms
where mosses and liverworts carpet
the ground, these arctic-alpine
communities have adapted to survive
the harshest of living conditions.
These plant communities have existed
here for thousands of years, and
owe their existence to the combined
natural effects of climate, aspect
and soil chemistry with minimal land
Many of the species living here,
such as Sibbaldia, Moss Campion
Silene acaulis and Mountain Azalea
Rhododendron canescens, are rare,
fragile and slow-growing. They
are adapted to survive the harsh
conditions of the mountain tops that
quicker-growing plants from low
altitudes cannot tolerate. But these
slow-growing species are at risk
from a number of factors related to
climate and management.
Key threats facing Scottish arcticalpine plant communities include:
Burning Muirburn is the
traditional practice of burning off
old growth on a heather moor to
encourage new growth for grazing
and Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus.
At high altitudes, the severe climate
restricts the growth of shrubs and fire
destroys these plant communities.
They should never be burnt.
Grazing These plant communities
are adapted to grazing. The right
level of grazing keeps down
competition from shrubs and grasses
and creates micro open habitats for
mosses and lichens to colonise. Heavy
grazing, however, creates too much
bare ground, which these slowgrowing species cannot fill. This leads
to erosion, which at high altitudes
can be severe and exacerbated by
low temperatures and high rainfall.
Changing weather conditions
As the climate changes and becomes
less predictable, with drier spells and
warmer winters, these plants have
nowhere left to grow, as they are
already at the tops of our mountains.
Atmospheric pollution Perhaps
surprisingly, pollution can still reach
our mountain tops. Nitrogen from
car fumes drifts high above the glens
and is a particular problem in spring,
when the snow melts and allows an
influx of nitrogen into mountain soils
and water systems.
‘These high-altitude Scottish
specialist plants are part of our
mountain heritage,’ says Deborah
Long, Head of Plantlife Scotland.
‘With climate change, they need,
more than ever, the sort of land
management that creates and
maintains a habitat where they can
survive and thrive. What they actually
need most is a kind of benign
neglect, where there is no burning
and a bit of grazing.
‘The Scottish public can also help:
we require more data on how these
plant communities are doing. You can
help by taking part in the National
Plant Monitoring Survey this year
and by visiting a mountain area every
year to keep track of how mountain
species like Blaeberry, Ling Cowberry
and Mossy Saxifrage are doing.’
Contact: Katie Cameron. Email:
uk. Tel: 01722 342759. Download
Plantlife Scotland’s management
leaflet from http://www.plantlife.
Anyone with information on
the success or failure of any
management technique is
invited to contact John Day,
Land Management Adviser,
RSPB Conservation Management
Advice, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds
SG19 2DL; tel: 01767 680551; fax:
01767 683640; e-mail:
February 2016 British Wildlife 173
BWM27_3 05 habitat management news.indd 173
29/01/2016 13:06


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