Machair Under Threat

machairJim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer for RSPB Scotland wrote an interesting letter to The Glasgow Herald last week in reponse to an article about machair and sea-level rise . Mr Densham wrote:-

“Last summer I visited the island of Tiree and saw first-hand the impact that an increasing number of ferocious storms and climate change is having and the threat to the unique machair habitat. Your article highlighted that machair is under threat from melting ice sheets and glaciers, and came hot on the heels of two related news stories last week. A new climate change and biodiversity report card showed that wildlife across Scotland is under pressure now from a variety of climate-induced changes. We also heard for the first time in three million years levels in the atmosphere of the principle greenhouse gas carbon dioxide had reached the symbolic 400ppm milestone and continue to rise.

Nature is telling us that climate change is having an effect right now and scientists are telling us what the future consequences will be for wildlife and for communities in Scotland. RSPB Scotland is working with crofters and partners in the Hebrides on its Machair LIFE+ project to ensure a viable future for both the resident crofting community and the fantastic wildlife their land use supports, such as the secretive corncrake. All this will be for nothing and future generations will be unable to visit machair as we know it if we don’t do more now to stop burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases.”

Emily Beament’s original article, entitled “Machair under threat from rise in level of seas”, The Herald May 15 2013, argued that Scotland’s sensitive machair meadows could be put at risk by flooding as scientists predict global warming could cause sea levels to rise more than previously expected over the next century.

The machair will be among the environments under threat according to new research into melting ice sheets and glaciers by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and Bristol University, who are collaborating on the European Ice2sea programme. Professor David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey, who is co-ordinating the programme, said:

“As the glaciers and ice sheets lose their ice, the water they once held has melted and flowed in to rivers and seas, increasing their volume and raising global sea levels. Current rates of sea level rise are already having impacts on the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems.”


  • Perhaps they should visit a little more often…firstly the sea level rise in scotland is cancelled out by techtonic rebound (Scotland is actually rising and has been doing so since the last ice age…raised beaches) secondly, while I acknowledge we all feel the weather is changing…the vast majority of the damage now done to the machair is caused by over-powered, over large 4 x 4 tractors…and over grazing.
    At least the visitors are now respecting existing tracks.

  • Most of us can only sit and wonder at the complexity of the climatic, geomorphic and oceanic forces and processes ongoing around us on a global scale. We simply hope that the worst effects of global warming will either be less damaging than forcast, or that nature will itself adapt to a changed world. What is certain, is that the beaches, coastal dune areas and machair, (raised beaches) of Tiree have always been extremely dynamic. All who have witnessed the dramatic deflation and collapse of the coastal dune edge at Crossapol or Balephetrish, for example, cannot have failed to be impressed by the apparently unequal struggle between the land and the sea. But it seems that nature inevitably has a way of recovering what it has lost, and murram grasses rapidly re-populate the new areas of blown sand, and the beaches re-contour, re-form and heal, (in time). I’m re-assured by the above comment that “Scotland is rising”!

    Karl mentions the previously damaging impact of tourist vehicles on fragile machair areas, and he is correct that this has mostly now been eradicated due to a series of measures put in place by the Tiree Access Forum. The questions of overgrazing and large tractors is harder to solve. My take on this is that cereal cropping and traditional hay making has pretty much ceased on Tiree as crofters and farmers find it harder each year to cope with poor summers. This has forced a move to a mono-culture grass production island, with a resultant need for larger more powerful machinery, able to handle big-bale silage production. Grass fields are kept `locked up’ to meet both environmental targets, and to yield the large quantities of fodder required to see cattle through the winter months. All of this puts additional grazing pressure on the fields and machairs not identified for fodder production. I’m sure that many crofters and farmers would wish to see a return to,`the old ways’, but this seems unlikely in the current circumstances.

    Ian Gillies

  • In a distant life I spent 2 years at Harper Adams Agricultural college, this was after a year at Rodbaston (staffordshire) Agricultural college…Dairy farming…which equates to grassland management, topography and clay loam soils dictated 4×4 and even crawlers with an 8 furrow reversible. Even though I now work in Oil and Gas this was only during the last 14 years…farmed on Ardnamurchan and in North Wales…

    The fact is you do not need to engage 4×4 when simply travelling over the machair to feed animals or get beach sand…this is both expensive on the fuel and expensive on the machair…best to use the high HP and engage the 4×4 once through the field gate.

    Nice to see the machair/dunes spreading in places on the East coast.

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