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Special Areas of Conservation


Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country Scotland
Unitary Authority Highlands and Islands
Centroid* NC390679
Latitude 58.5692
Longitude -4.7683
SAC EU Code UK0012786
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 1213.8
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of Durness SAC

General site character

  • Coastal sand dunes, Sand beaches, Machair (39%)
  • Shingle, Sea cliffs, Islets (8%)
  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (7%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (6%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (19%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (3%)
  • Humid grassland, Mesophile grassland (6%)
  • Alpine and sub-Alpine grassland (8%)
  • Improved grassland (0.5%)
  • Coniferous woodland (0.5%)
  • Inland rocks, Screes, Sands, Permanent Snow and ice (2.5%)
  • Other land (including Towns, Villages, Roads, Waste places, Mines, Industrial sites) (0.5%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site as submitted to Europe (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Durness contains one of the largest sand dune systems in the north of Scotland. It is an example of an extreme northern variant of fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation. The site is maintained by very active physical and biological processes. Fixed dune vegetation at this site occurs on an extensive and diverse sequence of dunes and on soils covered with blown sand. A rich variety of calcareous dune grassland species grow here in association with arctic-alpine plants such as mountain avens Dryas octopetala.

  • Durness contains a cluster of three marl lochs (Croispol, Borralie and Caladail) on Dalradian Durness limestone in the extreme north-west of Scotland. These are the northernmost examples of marl lakes in the UK and one of the few high-quality occurrences of the habitat type in Scotland. The water is very clear, low in nutrients and with little phytoplankton production. There are extensive growths of submerged macrophytes, including seven species of pondweed Potamogeton and three species of stonewort Chara. In addition, Borralie is the only marl lake in the UK with a population of Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus.

  • Durness is one of four sites representing the low-altitude Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands that are restricted to the north-west mainland of Scotland. Durness contains the largest stands of CG13 Dryas octopetalaCarex flacca heath in the UK, developed on dolomitic limestone at 060 m. The site has an outstanding representation of characteristic species, including wild thyme Thymus polytrichus, ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata, sea plantain Plantago maritima, purging flax Linum catharticum and common bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus. The endemic Scottish primrose Primula scotica is present, and other uncommon species include mountain everlasting Antennaria dioica, hair sedge Carex capillaris, lesser meadow-rue Thalictrum minus, frog orchid Coeloglossum viride and hart’s-tongue Phyllitis scolopendrium. Locally, the calcifuge species crowberry Empetrum nigrum occurs, giving rise to an unusual sub-type of Dryas heath. There are transitions to a wide range of other communities, including coastal dunes, other types of base-rich grasslands, and a range of dwarf-shrub heaths.

  • 8240 Limestone pavements  * Priority feature

    This site on Cambro–Ordovician Durness limestone is the most north-westerly occurrence of Limestone pavements in the UK. It is one of five sites representing the northern variant of this habitat type. Because of its location it supports a diverse flora rich in northern and arctic-alpine species. The site supports communities with a maritime element, similar to those on Strath, with burnet rose Rosa pimpinellifolia, stone bramble Rubus saxatilis, mountain avens Dryas octopetala, dark-red helleborine Epipactis atrorubens and black spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum. Both lesser meadow-rue Thalictrum minus and alpine meadow-rue Thalictrum alpinum occur here. Further inland, brittle bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis and hard shield-fern Polystichum aculeatum flourish.

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • Not Applicable

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.