A study of land use, bird habitats and nature conservation on Islay differentiated the land into 8 different land types based on a wide range of biotic and abiotic features (see Bignal et al. 1988). The study aimed at explaining why Islay is so biologically rich at the landscape scale especially for birds – it supports 108 breeding, 183 passage and 121 over-wintering species. A short description of each land type follows in the info-gallery.
A: Upland heath, moorland & bog
Upland areas with acid rocks; vegetation dominated by moorland, upland heath and grassland – it covers 20 % of the island
Characteristic nesting birds are red-throated diver, golden plover, golden eagle and merlin.
B: Rocky coastal moorland, heath & grassland
The rugged and exposed west coast with sea cliffs, rocky outcrops and relict cliff-lines above raised beaches (covers 5 %
). Coastal botanically rich grasslands are backed by moorland, heath, rushy fields and species-poor grassland. Land-use is primarily extensive grazing of cattle and sheep, feral goats are common.
This is the land of peregrine, chough, golden eagle and hen harrier.
C: Broken moorland, rushy fields & rough pasture
The commonest land type (39 %
) comprised of rolling moorland with rocky outcrops, small areas of cultivated farmland, rough pasture and long-abandoned cultivations in moorland. Blanket peat predominates, scrub woodland is frequent – it is mostly grazed by sheep and cattle.
Hen harriers and merlin are characteristic breeding birds, chough and whitefronted geese use it in winter.
D: Blanket bogs, lowland moorland & rough pasture
Low, flat land dominated by wet Trichophorum
bog vegetation often fringing the uplands (covers 9 %
). Peat cutting is frequent but only low number of grazing livestock occurs.
Used in winter by geese and eagles; in summer by red-throated divers, golden plover and hen harriers.
E: Rotational pastures & mixed farmland mosaics
Low land with the most intensive farming, but there is always more than 30 % natural vegetation of species rich grassland, marsh and rush pasture (covers 7 %
). These were until the 1990’s the dairying areas of Islay.
The most characteristic breeding birds are corncrake and chough; the intensive grass fields are the winter feeding areas for geese.
F: Small farms/crofts & moorland edge
Lowest intensity farmland with less rotational, nutrient enriched grassland (13 %
of Islay). There is degraded moorland vegetation, rush pasture, marshes, tall herb vegetation and bracken.
Corncrakes and choughs are breeding birds associated with this type.
G: Sandy coastal pasture & machair
An uncommon coastal type of pastoral farmland of huge biological importance (only 4 % of the island
). The sandy coasts have botanically rich grassland pastures on blown sand and machair. There are low cliffs, rocky promontories, marsh and rushy fields. Nesting birds include arctic tern, corncrake, chough and peregrine and it is used in winter by golden plover, lapwing, merlin and hen harrier.
H: Coastal sedge grassland & permanent pasture
An uncommon coastal type of pastoral farmland of huge biological importance (only 4 % of the island). The sandy coasts have botanically rich grassland pastures on blown sand and machair. There are low cliffs, rocky promontories, marsh and rushy fields.
Nesting birds include arctic tern, corncrake, chough and peregrine and it is used in winter by golden plover, lapwing, merlin and hen harrier.
Another uncommon land type (3 %
) strongly affected by maritime influence and characterised by cliffs, steeply sloping coastal vegetation of grasses, sedges and heath, grading into moorland and bog. Traditionally used for crofting agriculture, today it is mostly permanent natural pasture for cattle and sheep.
Choughs, arctic terns and peregrines are associated birds.