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The Lochaber area of Scotland supports a wide diversity of flora and fauna within its varied habitat, the importance of this biodiversity and the conservation of it is recognized at national and international level. It is an area that is rich in many species of wildlife and has a wide and varied habitat with coastal grasslands such as Machair, which is unique only to the west coast of North Sutherland and the Western Isles. The Atlantic Oak woodlands and peat bogs are arguably the best examples of their kind in Europe.
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Habitats within the Lochaber area are endowed with an abundance of wildlife and natural native woodlands, moorland, grasslands, fresh water rivers and Lochs and unique marine coastal zones. The ecosystems and habitats are very diverse making for a complex interplay between the geology, topography and climate.
Lochaber is very rich with rare plant life such as Drooping Saxifrage, Diapensia and Arctic Sandwort, there are also many scarce lichens and bryophytes. Wildlife in mountainous areas includes Mountain Ringlet butterfly and other rare insects. There are Mountain Hares, Ptarmigan and substantial bird of prey populations, with exceptional numbers of breeding Golden Eagle, there are also Sea Eagles breeding in Lochaber.
Lochaber is renowned for its geological features many of which are of international, national and regional importance. This is a classic area for the study of the rock formations which are associated with the Caledonian mountains belt and the well-known volcanic activity associated with the opening up the North Atlantic. Well before the ocean opened the Caledonian mountain range stretched continuously from Svalvard, through Norway, the British Isles and through Greenland to the Appalachian range in North America.
The geology in Lochaber is unique among Geoparks in having records involving both ancient plate collision and the rifting apart of the plates. Ben Nevis and Glencoe within the east, magmas formed by melting beneath the Caledonian range during the process of subduction giving rise to super caldera volcanoes. Rum and Ardnamurchan and lavas of Eigg and Morvern with in the west, rifting apart of plates, triggered by the up-rise of a hot plume from the Earth’s mantle producing the internationally renowned volcanic centres.Â Lochaber Geology. Retrieved March 8 2017 from http://lochabergeopark.org.uk/about-us/lochaber-geology/
During the last Ice Age the final shaping of the Lochaber landscape took place, there are many interesting examples of features relating to glacial action, classic examples are the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, the shorelines of a large temporary lake held back by a glacier, they became world famous by the rivalry and controversy between Charles Darwin and Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz.Â The Parallel Roads of Glen Roy and Glen Cloy Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is of outstanding importance for its range of Quaternary and fluvial geomorphology features. Lochaber Geology. Glen Roy. Retrieved March 9 2017 from http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/geology/glen%20roy.pdf
Lochaber is known as The Outdoor Capital of the UK, the area happens to cater for a huge variety of outdoor pursuits, either on land, in the air and in the water, this gives the opportunity for all sorts of outdoor adventures in some of the most dramatic and beautiful locations in Scotland. Lochaber has some of the highest mountains in the country and this draws both visitors and locals into the hills in all seasons to climb or walk.
Lochaber also draws many mountain bikers from the United Kingdom and around the world to compete in the Mountain Bike World Cup (UK round) or just to ride on the numerous trails Lochaber has to offer, many of which cater for all abilities.
The Nevis range and Glencoe both have ski centres providing excellent off piste skiing, the ski centres usually open between Christmas and April depending on snow conditions. There are a lot more winter sports in Lochaber besides downhill skiing, ski mountaineering is popular with visitors and locals, then there’s snowboarding which is becoming very popular.
Water sports are also very popular in Lochaber with a good community of local paddlers, most popular is river canoeing in many of the fast flowing rivers, sea kayaking in Loch Linnie is also very popular. Another popular form of canoeing is open canoeing or Canadian canoeing in slow moving rivers and fresh water lochs.
The Highlands of Scotland are exceptional for country pursuit destinations that offer visitors outstanding sporting experiences amongst stunning & dramatic landscapes. Lochaber is no exception, Highland Shooting Estates and open countryside offer a wide variety of country sports such as fishing and deer stalking, however this can come into conflict with wildlife conservation groups and if not managed properly cause problems with other outdoor activities such as birdwatching and hill walking.
In the 1930s skiing was established by keen local skiers, it then died down during WW2 and post war years. In 1968 the economic potential of outdoor leisure activities was recognized and in 1974 a planning report was produced and sponsored by the Scottish Tourist Board with the great prospect of winter sports resorts being developed in Scotland.Â Fort William and several other areas in Scotland eventually developed these sites into all year round outdoor tourist destinations.
During the construction phase of these sites much consideration was made to avoid any environmental impact, planning constraints and controls were put in place to protect the environment. Buildings were designed to be camouflage within the vegetation, no heavy machinery was used in the construction of the site so helicopters were used to transport materials for low impact on the fragile environment during development. History of Nevis Range. Retrieved 10 March 2017 from http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/history.asp
Skiing facilities are used almost throughout the year, infrastructure, such as the gondola at Aonach Mor which carries more summer visitors than skiers, the chairlifts and the ski centres cause a visual impact within the mountain scenery, but they also enable easy access to the magnificent panoramic views. However, such facilities create pressures on the vulnerable mountain landscape, because of this the chairlifts at Aonach Mor are closed during the summer to reduce impact to the sensitive hilltop vegetation and to allow recovery time.
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The establishment of such ski resorts regardless of how much consideration is given to the environment will eventually have negative impact. Scottish mountain habitats are already threatened from a wide spectrum of threats and disturbances and ski resorts is one of them. It is well known certain activities can cause problems with wildlife by harming their habitat, damaging vegetation and compacting soils. Ptarmigan are already declining due to several decades of too much human interference, collisions with lift cables and losing their nests to non-mountain wildlife predators such as sea gulls, crows and even rats which have moved into the area due to human activity attracting them.
The combined effects of conifer plantations, windfarms, mountain bike trails, dirt roads and isolated buildings to cater for outdoor recreation may diminish the potential to experience natural landscapes which seem untouched by man, this is the biggest threat to the Lochaber area, yet such remote areas are priceless escapes into beautiful mountainous places. The conservation and management of semi-natural habitats, such as heather moorland, ancient woodland, sand dunes, bogs and marshes is vitally important to maintain and enhance natural biodiversity, however this is poorly managed in places. Such habitats also make an important visual contribution to the landscape, but because their economic value cannot always be perceived, they are under constant pressure from all aspects of landscape change from man.
Over the last 30 years there has been a significant increase in hill walking and climbing in Lochaber, necessitating improved footpaths and other facilities for walkers, where these are not provided considerable erosion has occurred, such as in Glen Coe. This presents problems particularly at popular routes and large numbers of people can become a visual impact in their own right. These problems are most marked at Ben Nevis, which is subject to wear and tear from thousands of walkers, tourists and climbers throughout much of the year. However, erosion has also occurred along the stalkers paths in the Mamore Forest, in the hills around Glen Coe and in Knoydart.
The use of mountain bikes has increased in recent years and this activity without proper control, may have significant adverse impacts on the landscape. The majority of cyclists keep to forest tracks which are promoted and managed for this purpose and this limits damage to particular routes, for example, along the West Highland Way which is very popular with cyclists.Â However, other paths, especially hill tracks, are also used both by cyclists and by trial biker’s, this already presents problems of footpath erosion and this pressure seems likely to increase.
With almost everyone owning a car these days, better public transport services, the ever growing population in Scotland and the rest of the UK, large car parks at the start of many mountain walks, mountain biking routes the erosion problems on our stunning mountain landscape is only going to get worst in the coming years.
Lochaber is unique place with its geological features and natural almost untouched habitats, however with the increase of outdoor adventure activities increasing there has to be real safeguarding management in place to protect the natural environment we hold so dear.
Forestry Commission Scotland [online] Available at: http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/images/corporate/pdf/nevis-forest-and-mountain-resort-masterplan.pdf [Accessed March 11 2017]
John Muir Trust [online] Available at: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/trust-land/ben-nevis [Accessed March 9 2017]
Lochaber Geo Park [online] Available at: http://lochabergeopark.org.uk/ [Accessed March 8 2017]
Nevis Range [online] Available at: http://www.nevisrange.co.uk/ [Accessed March 10 2017]
Outdoor Capital [online] Available at: http://www.outdoorcapital.co.uk/ [Accessed March 11 2017]
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