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Special Areas of Conservation

Loch Maree Complex

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country Scotland
Unitary Authority Highlands and Islands
Centroid* NG972625
Latitude 57.60694444
Longitude -5.394444444
SAC EU Code UK0013597
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 15753.97
* 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 Loch Maree Complex SAC

General site character

  • Inland water bodies (Standing water, Running water) (17.5%)
  • Bogs, Marshes, Water fringed vegetation, Fens (15%)
  • Heath, Scrub, Maquis and Garrigue, Phygrana (47%)
  • Alpine and sub-Alpine grassland (10%)
  • Broad-leaved deciduous woodland (2%)
  • Coniferous woodland (2.5%)
  • Inland rocks, Screes, Sands, Permanent Snow and ice (6%)

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

  • This site in the north-west Scottish Highlands includes Loch Maree, an excellent example of oligotrophic to mesotrophic standing waters, and numerous smaller, higher-altitude waterbodies. Loch Maree is of particular note as having the largest surface area of any loch in the north-west Highlands and being one of the most pristine waterbodies in the area. It is a large, deep loch and although many parts of its shoreline are unsuitable for plant growth, due to wave action and steep rocky outcrops, areas of predominantly sand and silt substrate, particularly around several large islands, support populations of pondweeds Potamogeton spp., water lobelia Lobelia dortmanna and quillwort Isoetes lacustris. The quality of Loch Maree suggests that it has not been subject to significant perturbation.

  • Beinn Eighe, Torridon Forest and Beinn Alligin have extensive and highly representative examples of hyper-oceanic European dry heaths characteristic of the north-west Highlands. The main NVC types represented are H10 Calluna vulgarisErica cinerea heath and H21 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillusSphagnum capillifolium heath. These include the most extensive and best-developed areas of moist Atlantic (oceanic) bryophyte-rich heaths in the UK, supporting bryophyte species of restricted world distribution, for example Herbertus borealis and Mastigophora woodsii. These heaths are still relatively undisturbed and in good condition, although less extensive than formerly, owing to burning in more accessible areas. There are also extensive heaths of a drier hyper-oceanic type dominated by bell heather Erica cinerea, representative of the development of this habitat type at higher altitude, where there are transitions to 4060 Alpine and Boreal heaths.

  • The Loch Maree Complex encompasses a range of highly oceanic north-western types of Alpine and Boreal heaths. This is one of the most oceanic localities within the series of sites selected for this habitat. It contains the most extensive and diverse assemblages in the UK of Atlantic mosses and liverworts associated with this habitat type (and with 4030 European dry heaths). The complex has the largest area of H15 Calluna vulgarisJuniperus communis ssp. nana heath in the UK. This alpine heath type is unique to the British Isles; it is rare in Ireland and attains its finest and most extensive development on Foinaven and the Loch Maree Complex in the north-west Highlands. There is an abundance of Atlantic bryophytes, including Herbertus borealis, which is confined to this site in the UK and is otherwise known from only three localities in Norway, where it is less abundant. The sub-type of H20 Vaccinium myrtillusRacomitrium lanuginosum heath with Atlantic bryophytes that is restricted to the north-west Highlands is well-developed and extensive. There are also areas of H14 Calluna vulgarisRacomitrium lanuginosum heath. At lower altitudes, these alpine heaths give way to the oceanic subalpine H10 Calluna vulgarisErica cinerea heath with abundant woolly fringe-moss Racomitrium lanuginosum, and H21 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillusSphagnum capillifolium heath. The structure and function of these heaths is well-developed owing to lack of disturbance.

  • The Loch Maree Complex represents Siliceous alpine and boreal grasslands in the highly oceanic and heavily glaciated hills of the north-west Highlands. Both acid and calcareous sub-types are represented at moderately high altitude. The characteristically oceanic U10 Carex bigelowiiRacomitrium lanuginosum moss-heath is the most extensive and well-developed type, and includes both species-poor and species-rich sub-types with arctic-alpines and rare montane mosses well-represented. There is a relatively small representation of the snow-bed communities U7 Nardus strictaCarex bigelowii grass-heath and U14 Alchemilla alpinaSibbaldia procumbens dwarf-herb community. There are well-developed transitions to snow-beds dominated by the moss Rhytidiadelphus loreus (assignable to U13 Deschampsia cespitosaGalium saxatile grassland).

  • Loch Maree Complex is representative of vegetation communities on siliceous scree, mainly of quartzite and sandstone, in north-west Scotland. Screes are extensive and the communities they support are well-developed and diverse, with a range of characteristic species. Parsley fern Cryptogramma crispa is locally abundant, northern rock-cress Arabis petraea is frequently found and alpine lady-fern Athyrium distentifolium occurs in high-altitude areas where snow lingers. Other ferns occur frequently in the screes, including mountain male-fern Dryopteris oreades, beech fern Phegopteris connectilis, lemon-scented fern Oreopteris limbosperma and the oceanic Wilson’s filmy-fern Hymenophyllum wilsonii. The most outstanding feature of the vegetation on these sites is the abundance of northern Atlantic mosses and liverworts, which include Plagiochila spinulosa, Anastrophyllum donnianum and Scapania nimbosa, which are chiefly developed on steep, shady and humid slopes. The screes form a significant part of the habitat complex on this site, which is the most important single area in the UK for communities of these lower plants.

  • Loch Maree Complex is representative of the acid Siliceous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation in north-west Scotland. The habitat occurs widely on extensive crags of Torridonian sandstone and quartzite at low to moderately high altitudes. The site contains a characteristic north-western flora, with many of the commoner montane vascular plants, including Wilson’s filmy-fern Hymenophyllum wilsonii, sea spleenwort Asplenium marinum, three-leaved rush Juncus trifidus, dwarf willow Salix herbacea and spiked wood-rush Luzula spicata. Rarer species include the characteristic black spleenwort A. adiantum-nigrum. Oceanic influence is shown by the widespread development of oceanic ferns. Of particular importance is the outstanding flora of Atlantic mosses and liverworts in the crevices of the more shady crags.

  • The Loch Maree area in north-west Scotland is representative of old sessile oak woods of the north-west Highlands bryophyte zone. The ground flora communities range from those favouring base-rich areas through to those dominated by dwarf shrubs in more acidic areas. A distinct feature of parts of this site is the juxtaposition of oakwood and the Annex I type 91C0 Caledonian forest, for which this site is also selected. Oak-dominated woodland on the lower slopes grades through a series of transition communities to Scots pine Pinus sylvestris and birch Betula spp. communities at higher altitudes.

  • 91C0 Caledonian forest  * Priority feature

    Loch Maree Complex comprises four Caledonian forest areas, and is representative of the North West Zone. The pinewoods in this region are considered to be genetically distinct from those elsewhere in Scotland, though their origins are believed to be similar to those of the South West Zone. Genetic variation is high and the woods have affinities with the pinewoods of Spain and southern France. Pollen records from peat bogs in the area suggest that these pines may be the descendants of trees which survived the last Ice Age somewhere off the present west coast of Scotland when sea level was much lower. Together, these woods show a strong oceanic influence and mostly fall within NVC type W18 Pinus sylvestrisHylocomium splendens woodland, sub-types W18d Sphagnum capillifolium/quinquefarium and W18e Scapania gracilis. The woodland at Beinn Eighe is scattered and of variable canopy structure and shows a mixed range of age groups. The diversity of Atlantic bryophytes is a major feature of the site, and several national rarities are present, including Daltonia splachnoides. The Loch Maree islands support one of the least-disturbed remnants of native pinewood in Scotland. In the wettest areas within the woodland there are small-scale examples of 91D0 Bog woodland. At Shieldaig there is the most westerly pinewood remnant in the UK and one of the most extensive blocks of woodland in this biochemical region.

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

  • 1355 Otter Lutra lutra

    This site contains the large freshwater waterbody of Loch Maree with its numerous heavily wooded islands and areas of fringing woodland and heath. There are also a number of smaller, higher altitude lochans within the site and numerous small streams which hold salmonid fish. The site contains all the necessary requirements for otters Lutra lutra and supports a good population representative of a freshwater loch environment in the west Highlands of Scotland.

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

  • Not Applicable

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