In the summertime, the machair in the Hebrides is transformed into a kaleidoscope of colour. It comes alive with insects, including rare bees, and is a haven for birds such as lapwing, oyster catcher, skylark and corncrake.
Machair is a Gaelic word meaning a low lying grassy plain and it is a unique and very rare habitat, found only in parts of NW Scotland and Ireland. One of the best places to see it is along the west coast of Uist, in the Outer Hebrides.
Lime rich shell sand is blown across the sand dunes and onto the grassy plain, creating a fertile soil where crops are grown and cattle are grazed. Low intensity farming, consisting of light grazing and crop rotation preserves the landscape and habitat.
The colours and the variety of flowers change from one area of machair to another, depending on the crops that have been grown there and soil conditions. Some of the most stunning displays of flowers are found on land that has been ploughed and is lying fallow. The colours also change as summer progresses, starting with gentle tones of lilac, lemon and white in June, through to the vibrant reds and yellows of poppies and corn marigolds in July.
In June the sandy ground is covered with tiny low-lying flowers.
Dog violets, wild pansies and daisies, Askernish machair, South Uist
The 13th hole
An unlikely sight on the machair, but Askernish machair is home to “Old Tom’s” golf course, designed by a famous golf course designer, Tom Morris in 1891. Cattle and sheep graze on it over winter and no artificial fertilisers or herbicides are used, making it one of the most ‘natural’ golf courses in the world!
In summer, the machair is a spectacular carpet of wild flowers, with the colours changing as summer progresses.
Spot the potato patch in amongst the wild flowers!
By mid July the machair is a riot of colour.
Corn Marigolds, Poppies and Ox-eye Daisies growing among the cereal crops on Balranald machair, North Uist
Only a few metres away, on the other side of the sandy track that crosses the machair, the land is lying fallow and the vegetation is completely different.
Miles of sandy tracks are wonderful for walking and cycling. After a long walk on the machair the sea is never far away and you can hop over the the sand dunes and dip your toes in the sea.
The view beyond the machair…
The machair is separated from the sea by sand dunes and on the other side of the dunes are the long sandy beaches of fine white sand.