Field Notes: Remarkable machair

Western Isles Community Ranger Clara Risi has been exploring the colourful and rich machair habitat of Harris

Northton hill from luskentyre detail

I have recently been out walking along the unique sand dunes and machair grasslands found out on the Western Isles, especially on Harris. During the summer months these grasslands turn into areas rich and full of wildflowers, changing each month to a different variety of colours and fragrances.

Clara Risi - machair collage 2

Machair is unique to the Western Isles and small parts of the mainland. This grassland has been created by a combination of traditional crofting practices and environmental conditions.

Strong westerly winds bring up sand and shell fragments, creating a thin soil layer. Seaweed has been used as a fertilizer, this combined with grazing patterns of livestock has created a habitat which is incredibly biodiverse in plants and supports a huge variety of wildlife, most notably the corncrake.   

On one of these walks, I was also lucky enough to look up out of the flowers for long enough, to have one of my closest encounters with a golden eagle. This juvenile was being mobbed by corvids in the near distance, before flying closer over the sand dunes. As it did so I noticed it carrying a rabbit, possibly the reason it was being mobbed.  As it flew by I was lucky enough to take a few snaps and get a closer look at its piercing eyes staring straight at me!

All photographs by Clara Risi. Pictured at the top is Northton Hill seen from Luskentyre.