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Special Areas of Conservation

Ben Nevis

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country Scotland
Unitary Authority Highlands and Islands
Centroid* NN198705
Latitude 56.79166667
Longitude -4.95
SAC EU Code UK0012956
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 9316.12
* 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 Ben Nevis SAC

General site character

  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (8%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (20%)
  • Dry grassland, Steppes (11%)
  • Humid grassland, Mesophile grassland (7%)
  • Alpine and sub-Alpine grassland (20%)
  • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland (4%)
  • Inland rocks, Screes, Sands, Permanent Snow and ice (30%)

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

  • With the exception of Beinn Dearg and the Loch Maree Complex in the north, Ben Nevis has the most extensive development of Siliceous alpine and boreal grassland in the western Highlands. On the summit plateau of Aonach Mór U10 Carex bigelowiiRacomitrium lanuginosum moss-heath occurs as the highest extensive stand in the UK. The normal dominant Racomitrium lanuginosum is in part replaced on Aonach Mór by R. canescens (sensu lato), which provides affinities with the vegetation of Iceland and Jan Mayen. The R. canescens is associated with open, wind-blown sandy areas where there is active erosion and deposition of sand caused by the exceptionally high altitude and exposure. Other wind-eroded areas among CarexRacomitrium moss-heath may be colonised by three-leaved rush Juncus trifidus, and the national rarity curved wood-rush Luzula arcuata. Frequent arctic-alpines in the CarexRacomitrium moss-heath include least willow Salix herbacea, spiked wood-rush Luzula spicata, J. trifidus and moss campion Silene acaulis. U7 Nardus strictaCarex bigelowii grass-heath is extensive and occurs mostly in corries and in hollows on ridges where snow lies late. U8 Carex bigelowiiPolytrichum alpinum sedge-heath occurs on the higher summits where snow lies late in hollows and is more abundant on this site than on any other site in the western Highlands. These communities are associated with some of the most extensive moss-dominated late-lie snow beds (U11 Polytrichum sexangulareKiaeria starkei and U12 Salix herbaceaRacomitrium heterostichum snow-beds) outside of the Cairngorms.

  • With Beinn Dearg, Ben Nevis represents high-altitude sub-types of Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands in the western Scottish Highlands. The site contains moderately extensive areas of both CG12 Festuca ovinaAlchemilla alpinaSilene acaulis dwarf-herb community and CG14 Dryas octopetalaSilene acaulis ledge community. There is a moderately rich arctic-alpine flora including alpine mouse-ear Cerastium alpinum, arctic mouse-ear Cerastium arcticum, rock sedge Carex rupestris, hair sedge C. capillaris, mossy saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides and alpine meadow-rue Thalictrum alpinum. There are relatively low grazing levels on the northern slopes of Ben Nevis, enabling the high-altitude Dryas heath community to survive on the open hillside, rather than being restricted to inaccessible ledges.

  • Ben Nevis is representative of high altitude siliceous scree in the north-west Scottish Highlands. The site contains extensive screes of quartzite and granite, with the most extensive known development in the UK of snow-bed screes with parsley fern Cryptogramma crispa, alpine lady-fern Athyrium distentifolium and other ferns (U18). The screes found in the site are diverse, with a range of characteristic species. There is an abundance of acid rock-loving species in high-altitude glacial troughs, corries and on summit ridges. These include a number of montane bryophytes and arctic-alpine vascular plants, such as curved wood-rush Luzula arcuata, wavy meadow-grass Poa flexuosa, hare’s-foot sedge Carex lachenalii, alpine tufted hair-grass Deschampsia alpina, starwort mouse-ear Cerastium cerastoides, alpine speedwell Veronica alpina and Highland saxifrage Saxifraga rivularis.

  • Within the Ben Nevis site limestone occurs up to high altitude, notably on Aonach Beag, and this is one of the richest areas outside of the Breadalbane range and Caenlochan for arctic-alpines of calcareous rocks. Calcareous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation are well-represented and Ben Nevis is notable for populations of a number of very rare species which are associated with calcareous outcrops of rock faces in high gullies. These include tufted saxifrage Saxifraga cespitosa, drooping saxifrage S. cernua and Highland saxifrage S. rivularis. Other national rarities of rock outcrops include glaucous meadow-grass Poa glauca, alpine meadow-grass Poa alpina, arctic mouse-ear Cerastium arcticum and alpine saxifrage Saxifraga nivalis. Other arctic-alpines represented include rose-root Sedum rosea, alpine scurvygrass Cochlearia pyrenaica ssp. alpina, mountain sorrel Oxyria digyna, holly fern Polystichum lonchitis, mossy saxifrage Saxifraga hypnoides and purple saxifrage S. oppositifolia.

  • Ben Nevis is representative of high-altitude Siliceous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation in north-west Scotland. Crevice communities occur extensively on acidic crags up to a very high altitude and have a diverse flora, with characteristic examples of the commoner arctic-alpine species. The site also supports a number of rare species, including hare’s-foot sedge Carex lachenalii, spiked wood-rush Luzula spicata and alpine speedwell Veronica alpina.

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

  • Not Applicable

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