The Biodiversity of Highland
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan identifies 1150 priority species and 65 priority habitats as priorities for action within the UK. 606 of the UK priority species occur in Scotland, and Highland supports 75% of these (455 species). Highland also holds over three quarters of the UK priority habitats (51 habitats).
The Highland Biodiversity Action Plan (Annex 1) lists the national priority habitats and species that occur in Highland. A review is currently underway looking at the keys areas for these species and habitats in Scotland, which will be published soon.
In Highland, we are lucky to have such a high proportion of national priority species. Not only that, but we are considered the stronghold or even sole location for several of these species.
This wealth of nature and wildlife gives us enviable opportunities through tourism and joint working, for example with European partners over the conservation of migratory birds or the reintroduction of high profile birds and mammals.
Many of the UK priority species occur in a very restricted number of sites. In the majority of cases, the management of these species and sites is already in hand, with the help of organisations such as Scottish Natural Heritage.
Often, species share the same ecological requirements and good management regimes may benefit many species. This is recognised at a national level, and either species are grouped together within single plans, or plans are being implemented in a co-ordinated way.
In Highland, a number of key habitats often support significant numbers of priority species. Continuing to manage these habitats well will usually maintain the associated species. Highland is particularly important for:
- native pine woodlands (particularly important for wood ants, fungi, red squirrel, capercaillie and other priority species)
- blanket bog (the peatlands of Caithness & Sutherland are the largest area of blanket bog in the world)
- montane habitats (not identified as a national priority habitat in their own right, despite supporting many priority species)
- arable farmland (8 priority bird species are associated)
- marine and intertidal habitats (the Moray Firth is the most important in Scotland for its wintering waterbirds, supporting on average 142,000 birds)
- and rivers, lochs and their associated habitats.
The UK priority species lists are only part of the biodiversity picture. They do not necessarily identify those species which are "keystone" species for certain habitats but themselves are not rare and therefore not "priority species". An example is kelp forests; kelp is not rare, but provides a source of food for the animals that live amongst it and in the surrounding area. In addition, locally important species often contribute to the distinctiveness of specific areas. Both of these issues are addressed in Highland's Local Biodiversity Action Plans.