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Machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile low lying grassy plain. This is the name given to one of the rarest habitats in Europe which only occurs on exposed western coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Machair habitats in the Outer Hebrides run up the western shores of Uist, Harris and Lewis.

Here sand, largely made up of crushed shells, is regularly blown ashore by Atlantic gales. Over time the calcium rich shell sand and traditional Outer Hebrides crofting land practices have led to the development of a mosaic of fertile Scottish grassland habitats renowned for its Outer Hebrides wildflowers, Western Isles birds and insect life.

The most extensive areas of Outer Hebrides machair can be found on the West Coast of the Uists. Here you’ll see the succession from dunes to grassland and traditional arable cultivation worked in rotation. On the fallow areas that have recently been cultivated you’ll find the greatest diversity of flowers where up to 40 Western Isles plant species can be found within a square metre.

Many of these are quite common Outer Hebrides flowers but it’s the sheer abundance of blooms that makes the machair so special. The colours change through the season with yellows dominating at first and then fading into reds, whites and blues.

However, the Western Isles flora on display on each machair is different depending on the history of land use and the local environment so it’s worth visiting several areas. Flowers of the Outer Hebrides are at their best between mid June and mid August.

The diverse plant community supports a rich insect life. The rare Great Yellow Bumble Bee and the unusual Belted Beauty Moth with its flightless female form are two of the most characteristic machair insects found in the Outer Hebrides.

The machair are bustling with Western Isles bird life at all times year. Corncrakes and breeding waders are the most distinctive spring arrivals. Large flocks of geese, lapwing and golden plover make this their home in winter.

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Number of items: 23

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  1. Sea Bindweed - Princes Strand

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    Sea Bindweed - Princes Strand


    Flora and Fauna - Machair


    This pink and white, striped funnel-shaped flower is found only here in the Outer Hebrides

  2. Machair Flowers-Howmore

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    Machair Flowers-Howmore


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    South Uist

    An excellent small area to see a good variety of machair flowers.

  3. © Copyright Ian Capper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

    Add Common Twayblade-Loch Thallan to your Itinerary

    Common Twayblade-Loch Thallan


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    South Uist

    The Common Twayblade is an orchid which can be found around Loch Thallan.

  4. Lesser Butterfly Orchids-Boisdale

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    Lesser Butterfly Orchids-Boisdale


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    South Uist

    More abundant to the west of the main road. You can access the area easily as it is unfenced although plants can be seen from the main road in fenced fields further north too.

    When to See
    Flowers in June.

  5. Machair Flowers-Bornish

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    Machair Flowers-Bornish


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    South Uist

    Colourful fallow or crops full of Corn Marigold can be seen from the main track across the machair.

  6. Red Clover-Loch Mor Barvas

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    Red Clover-Loch Mor Barvas


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    Isle of Lewis

    Low to medium growing with globular flowerheads. Found on coastal grassland and agricultural land

  7. Lady's Bedstraw-Ardroil Sands

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    Lady's Bedstraw-Ardroil Sands


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    Isle of Lewis

    Short, low growing with spike of bright yellow flowers

  8. © Laurie Campbell

    Add Eyebright-Reef Sands to your Itinerary

    Eyebright-Reef Sands


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    Isle Of Lewis

    A low growing plant with small white 2 lobed flowers. Found on improved agricultural land and coastal grassland.

  9. Machair Orchids-Northton

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    Machair Orchids-Northton


    Flora and Fauna - Machair


    Frog orchid, northern marsh orchid, early marsh orchid, greater twayblade, and lesser butterfly orchid are typical machair orchid species.

  10. Harebell- Berie Sands

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    Harebell- Berie Sands


    Flora and Fauna - Machair

    Isle of Lewis

    Tall, slim stems with pale blue flowers

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