|IPA Factsheet - Moniack Gorge|
Site Description A wooded, steeply cut gorge, whose varied topography and mostly alkaline soils have allowed a very diverse upland mixed ash woodland to develop. Birch-hazel is most common, found on the gorge sides. Among the hazel are willows, aspen, rowan and particularly whitebeam (unusually abundant). The valley floor is dominated by willow and alder in wetter areas; ash is found further north where ground flora reflect more basic soils. On the drier and more stable upper slopes, birch and rowan are most frequent. Juniper is found on rock outcrops away from grazing. Some pines exist at the southern end, but it is not clear if they are natural or planted. To the north are some impressive planted exotic species, particularly Douglas fir. The site is designated an SSSI for the aforementioned upland mixed ash woodland and the associated lichen assemblage. Its damp and shaded environment favours mosses; notably, the lower section Reelig Glen is designated an SAC for being one of only three UK sites in which nationally Endangered green shield-moss Buxbaumia viridis has been found in recent years.
Botanical Significance Moniack Gorge is designated an SSSI for its diverse upland mixed ash woodland and associated lichen assemblage (181 species, 31 nationally scarce). In the north, willow and ash fragments support significant populations of the Lobarion lichen community (e.g. nationally rare Fuscopannaria ignobilis, nationally scarce F. mediterranea), which have spread to planted trees matured in the last 30 years, e.g. lower branches of firs. Further south, the steep sheltered gorge and various trees (particularly willow, ash and hazel) provide good habitat, especially in the glades where higher light levels have created the most lichen-rich areas in the site. For example, hazel supports lichens of the Graphidion community; and in 2004 surveyors found the Vulnerable and nationally rare specked script Schismatomma graphidioides on a mature ash, and the Near Threatened, nationally rare Buellia violaceofusca on rugged birch. The lower section, Reelig Glen, is designated as an SAC due to the presence of green shield-moss Buxbaumia viridis, which in the UK is listed as Endangered and has very specific habitat requirements, being restricted to well-decayed wood (particularly conifer logs) in damp and sheltered woodland locations. This moss is only known from 4 sites in northern and eastern Scotland, with very few plants at each. In 1999 researchers at Moniack Gorge recorded 23 sporophytes, thought to be a large proportion of the UK population. There is evidence that the species has been present for many years. As well as the mixed woodland and lichens, the site also contains a rich range of vascular plants (over 250 species), and some impressive exotic trees including Douglas fir, one of which (Dougal Mor) was previously the UK’s tallest known tree at 64 metres high.
General Habitat Description Moniack Gorge lies south of the Beauly Firth, 10 km from Inverness. 5 km long, it is cut by Moniack Burn through boulder clay to underlying Moine Schist and Old Red Sandstone rocks. Agriculture: Grazing has probably spanned a long period. Much of the site is surrounded by agricultural land and open heath. Sheep occasionally access parts of the southern wood from adjacent fields, and the site is regularly used by a population of feral goats. Forestry: Local timber use has probably spanned a long period. In the 1800s James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856), whose family owned Reelig Glen Wood until its 1949 sale to Forestry Commission Scotland, planted many of the specimen trees in the north, some introduced from abroad. More recently there has been some underplanting of conifers. The N and NW end of the site is contiguous with forest plantation. Upstream of Reelig Glen, little woodland management occurs, but firewood is occasionally taken. Hunting: Some rough shooting, roe stalking, pest control. Water Management: Scottish Water has a mains supply pipe that runs west to east across the gorge, near South Clunes. Tourism/Recreation: Parts of the gorge have been managed for sporting and amenity, with various trails and features created.
Conservation Issues SNH assessed the upland mixed ash woodland in April 2008 as in unfavourable condition but recovering. Grazing and bark stripping are thought to have adversely affected site features, and though not at a damaging level currently, will need to be re-assessed in future. Beech is re-establishing in a cleared area in the north, and could shade out willow and ash that support notable lichen assemblages. The lichen assemblage was assessed in May 2004 and considered to be in favourable condition. Recent rhododendron removal has been beneficial, with natural regeneration now allowed; the species is still present but is not threatening the lichen community at present. Green-shield moss was assessed in December 2003 as being in favourable condition. The species requires rotting wood to grow on and thus a supply of fallen timber. Current management of this feature of the SAC does not conflict with that required for those of the SSSI. However, in contrast SNH, whose no felling policy was described above, the JNCC have suggested that “Consideration may be given to strategic felling to increase the habitat.”