|IPA Factsheet - Ben Wyvis|
Site Description Ben Wyvis lies 10kms to the north west of Dingwall at the head of the Cromarty Firth and is the only major mountain massif in the North Eastern Highlands. Its size, altitude and location give it a unique ecological character midway between the continental Cairngorm massif to the south east and the oceanic mountains of the Western Highlands. Ben Wyvis is notified for both biological and geomorphological features. Ben Wyvis supports a mosaic of upland habitats including summit heath, lochs, high level springs and flushes and bryophyte-rich snowbeds. Montane and sub-montane dwarf-shrub heath is also well represented. Particularly impressive is the large extent of the summit heaths dominated by woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum and stiff sedge Carex bigelowii. The lower slopes support blanket bog habitats which are notable, especially on the southern side of the hill, for the amount of dwarf birch Betula nana and alpine bearberry Arctous alpinus. The lochs, including those in the coires, are nutrient poor and characteristic of a montane glaciated landscape. The majority of the IPA site is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) for the internationally important breeding population of dotterel which represent at least 2% of the British population.
Botanical Significance Noted for habitat interest. BSBI VCR form: Alchemilla glomerulans; Alopecurus borealis; Arctostaphylos alpinus; Betula nana; Carex saxatilis; Cornus suecica; Genista anglica; Gnaphalium supinum; Juncus castaneus; Pseudorchis albida; Pyrola media; Salix lapponum; Saxifraga nivalis; Sibbaldia procumbens; Vaccinium microcarpon; Veronica seripyhhlifolia sibsp humifusa. Ben Wyvis has extensive combinations of alpine and boreal heaths characteristic of both the eastern and northern Highlands. Calluna vulgaris – Cladonia arbuscula heath and Vaccinium myrtillus – Cladonia arbuscula heath are well-developed, with an abundance of lichens characteristic of the eastern Highlands. The abundance of lichens in these communities on this site is greater than on any other site in the northern and north-west Highlands, although the extent of the community is less than at Strathglass. The northern Calluna – Arctostaphylos alpinus community is particularly finely developed on windswept lower summits and shoulders. Extensive Vaccinium myrtillus – Rubus chamaemorus heaths dominated by heather are present on the higher slopes and have an unusual mix and abundance of northern species, including cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, dwarf cornel Cornus suecica, mountain bearberry Arctostaphylos alpinus and dwarf birch Betula nana. On the highest slopes, where snow tends to accumulate, snow-bed Vaccinium myrtillus – Deschampsia flexuosa heath is extensive. Transitions to European dry heath occur below, especially to Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath, which is extensive on the lower slopes. Ben Wyvis is representative of the species-poor form of Carex bigelowii – Racomitrium lanuginosum moss-heath of the north and west of Scotland. Although Siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands are not as extensive on Ben Wyvis as on some other hills, the site has the largest continuous single tract of this sub-type in the UK, covering almost the whole of the summit plateau. The habitat type is developed on base-poor schist. There is also a large extent of the associated Rhytidiadelphus loreus moss-rich grassland on the edges of the Carex – Racomitrium moss-heath, where snow tends to drift. The site is little-disturbed and shows a particularly luxuriant moss-cover. Nardus stricta – Carex bigelowii grass-heath is also well-represented and Carex bigelowii – Polytrichum alpinum sedge-heath is present locally. Late-lie moss- and dwarf-herb-dominated snow-bed communities (Polytrichum sexangulare – Kiaeria starkei snow-bed, Salix herbacea – Racomitrium heterostichum snow-bed and Alchemilla alpina – Sibbaldia procumbens dwarf-herb community) are represented on Ben Wyvis but are small in extent. Ben Wyvis lies between the high-altitude sites of the Grampian Mountains and the northern peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland, and supports species and features typical of both these areas. Blanket bog occurs across a wide altitudinal range but of particular note are the extensive areas of un-eroded high-altitude bog supporting cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus, alpine bearberry Arctostaphylos alpinus and dwarf birch Betula nana. The lochs, including those in the coires, are nutrient poor and characteristic of a montane glaciated landscape. Characteristic species such as awlwort Subularia aquatica, shoreweed Littorella uniflora and quillwort Isoetes lacustris dominate in the clear, nutrient poor waters. Ben Wyvis has a diverse upland plant assemblage supporting approximately 50 nationally scarce species including flowering plants, lichens and mosses. Nationally rare plants present include alpine foxtail Alopecurus alpinus, chestnut rush Juncus castaneus and the nationally scarce alpine saxifrage Saxifraga nivalis.
General Habitat Description Ben Wyvis is the only upland massif in the North Eastern Highlands. This site supports an extensive high altitude plateau which has an ecological character intermediate between the Cairngorms and the Western Highlands. The Ben Wyvis massif is outstanding for its periglacial landforms, including the best examples in Scotland of turf-banked and vegetated lobes and nonsorted circles and stripes. The turf-banked lobes are fossil features showing strong evidence of frost sorting and probably moved downslope under perma-frost conditions. The vegetated lobes relate to solifluction and are actively moving downslope. The site is also noted for blockfields, relict vegetated boulder lobes and active turf-banked terraces. This diverse assemblage of both active and relict features makes Ben Wyvis a key area for periglacial studies in Scotland.
Conservation Issues The blanket bog feature was monitored in June 2003 and, whilst there was localised bare peat, hagging and deer tracks, it was considered to be in favourable condition. The blanket bog has abundant dwarf birch reflecting the drier type of bog around Ben Wyvis. When monitored, the upland assemblage feature (July 2003), loch feature (July 2004) and vascular plant assemblage (2007) were all found to be in favourable condition. Alpine heath, sub-alpine heath, dry heath and montane acid grassland features were considered to be in unfavourable condition (2005) due to the impacts of herbivore browsing on composition and structure. A small loss of montane acid grassland also occurred as a result of path erosion. A review of management on site is therefore required to bring these features back into favourable condition. The individual habitat features above are monitored in a different way and to different guidance when compared to the upland assemblage feature. Other features were found to be in favourable condition when monitored in 2003 and 2004. The Acidic screes and plants in crevices on acid rocks are robust features, sometimes difficult to access by browsing animals. The Tall herb communities can also be difficult to access and rockfalls make the areas unstable. Loch nan Druidean was considered to be in favourable condition for its nutrient poor standing water feature (July 2004).