Machair is one of the rarest habitats in the world – much rarer than rainforest and African savannah. Almost all machair is in the north and west of Scotland and Ireland, but there is also a tiny bit in New Zealand. Most of the machair in Scotland is in the Outer Hebrides.
Machair is the Gaelic name for the coastal grassy plains of west Harris, and on the islands in the Sound of Harris, from the beach to where the peaty soil meets the sand. The machair was once a beach, and when the sea level dropped the sandy plain was left high and dry, and the beaches formed in a new place where they are now. Sand blows off the beach and mixes with peat on the machair– ideal for growing all kinds of crops.
Machair Flowers (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
In Harris most of the machair is grazed by sheep, but there are areas of machair that have cows. It is important that the machair is grazed for part of the year, as this helps all the different flowers to grow.
Machair Management (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
Traditionally the machair was used to grow crops, and this still happens in some places, particularly in Northton. The machair hay meadows are full of wild flowers, and often a corncrake can be heard calling from them on a summer’s evening.
Machair (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
by Alison Tyler