Machair - Western Isles Carpets of Wildflowers

Hawkweed - Western Isles Wildflowers

Machair- Wildflowers
Western Isles Wildflowers - Machair. The spectacular carpets of wildflowers of all different colours, shapes and sizes, mixtures of bluebells, yellow birds foot trefoil, purple harebells, and many more wild flowers - the machair is specific to The Western Isles and is world renowned

Machair - Gaelic Name

Machair is a Gaelic word and the Western Isles is world renowned for the specific coastal habitat that ecologists have labelled the 'machair'.
The sand from the sea contains calcium - calcium carbonate which is found in the shells, it is alkaline. This shell sand helps to create the machair as it is alkaline it neutralises the acid from the peaty soil to creates a fertile environment.

For a few weeks of the summer the result is a carpet of beautiful wildflowers. The best displays of machair occur on land that has recently been ploughed.

What constitutes Machair
There are differing opinions as to exactly what constitutes the "machair.
Basically it seems that in the shallow Atlantic seas there is lots of seaweed and in the seaweed lots of shellfish.

The shells are ground down and washed ashore with storms - blown inland in the winds. They supply the land with a top dressing of the lime rich shell sand.

Particular areas of the Western Isles - seem to have their own machair - that is made up of all different types of flowers - sometimes some of the species being only specific to that particular region.

Scientific Term
The tiny blue flowers - pictured opposite were part of the machair - carpet of wildflowers on Scarista - Isle of Harris. Machair is very important ecologically and for conservation. Machair is now a recognised scientific term. Almost half of the Scottish machair occurs in the Outer Hebrides

Orchids amongst the Machair
If you are lucky an orchid amongst the carpet of flowers - there are many different orchids that occur in The Outer Hebrides - specific to the Western Isles - like the hebridean spotted orchid and the heath orchid

Seaweed and Hay Stacking
The stacking of hay and straw in conical stacks has been advocated as being beneficial to the retaining of the machair - as has the use of seaweed in fertilisers.

Click pictures below for larger photographs


Funded RSPB Scotland Led Machair Project
Western Isles council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Scottish Natural Heritage & the European Union have funded the RSPB Scotland-led project to make sure that the lovely Machair doesn't die away. The hope is that the funding will allow the development of a better understanding as to conserving the machair.

Wading Birds Habitat
The RSPB have estimate that the machair is home to 16,000 breeding pairs of wading birds such as lapwings and ringed plovers.

Yellow Wildflowers-Hawkweed
Machair at Tolsta - Isle of Lewis

Different Machairs - Different Areas
The bay of Luskentyre has a meadow of sea pink (thrift). The machairs behind displays daisies and buttercups, clover, orchids, harebell, and knapweed, gentian, centaury, eyebright and thyme.

Wetter Parts - Iris, Primroses, Bog Pimpernel
In the wetter parts there are iris, primrose and bog pimpernel.

Heathers - Cotton Grass, Milkwort

The more peaty areas have heathers, milkwort and cotton-grass, sundew and butterwort.

Harebells in THe Machair - at Reef - Isle of Lewis

Traditional Crofting Practices
Today the ecological value of Machair is linked to traditional crofting practices - small scale farms, often part-time, that cultivate the land and rear livestock. Due to their unselective grazing, cattle improve the quality of the grassland.

Flowers of the machair begin to bloom in May
Flowers begin to bloom here in the Western Isles in May, when a riot of colour for which the machair is famous for commences.

The existence of the machair depends on environmental and human factors. The balance of these has meant that it has survived for many years. its survival is threatened by climate change - sea levels and the ever changing of land use by humans

Threatened Bird Species

The machair creates perfect conditions for threatened birds like corncrake, chough and corn bunting

Habitat for Rare Wildlife

Habitats for Wildlife in The Machair

The land where there is Machair, provides a great habitat for wildlife, including the great yellow bumblebee a rare type of bee.

Why The Machair is Special
The machair is the end result of topographical, geological and meteorological happenings - westerly winds blow the shell sand inland to create thin soil - and the impermeable rock is often backed by peat

Machair happens where there are "crofts" and the land use help to create the habitat development

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