Machair (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [ˈmaxɪɾʲ]; sometimes machar in English) refers to a fertile low-lying grassy plain found on part of the northwest coastlines of Ireland and Scotland, in particular the Outer Hebrides. The best examples are to be found on North and South Uist, Harris and Lewis.[1]

Berneray Machair
The Machair on Berneray, Outer Hebrides
Machair east of Uig Bay - - 126686
Machair east of Uig Bay
Berneray Machair (hazelisles)
The Machair towards West beach, Isle of Berneray, Outer Hebrides.


Machair is a Gaelic word meaning "fertile plain", but the word is now also used in scientific literature to describe the dune grassland unique to Western Scotland and north-west Ireland.[2] It had been used by naturalists since 1926, but the term was not adopted by scientists until the 1940s.[3] The word is used in a number of placenames in Ireland and Scotland, even in areas where no machair has ever been supported.[3] In Scotland, some Gaelic speakers use "machair" as a general term for the whole dune system, including the dune ridge, while others restrict its use to the extensive flat grasslands inland of the dune ridge.[3] In Ireland, the word has been used only in place-names, and the habitat’s existence there was only recently confirmed.[3]

In 1976, an effort was made to strictly define machair,[4] although a number of systems still evade classification.[3] This proved a difficulty when the habitat was listed on Annex I of the Habitats Directive in 1992, leading to the distinction between "machair grassland" and the "machair system."[3]


Abhainn Mhuilean Domhnuill - - 1364230
A stream cutting through the machair highlights a sandy composition

Machair is distinguished from the links on the east coast of Scotland by a lower mineral content, whereas the links are high in silica.[5] Machair plains are highly calcareous, with calcium carbonate concentrations of between 20% to 80% on the beaches, and decreasing further away from the shore.[5] The pH of a machair is typically greater than 7, i.e. it is alkaline.[3]

The inner side of a machair is often wet or marshy, and may contain lochs.[3][6]


The modern theory of machair formation was first set out by William MacGillivray in 1830.[5] He worked out that shell fragments are rolled by waves towards the shore, where they are broken up further. The small shell fragments are blown up the beach to form hillocks, which are then blown inland.[5]


Human activity has an important role in the creation of the machair. Archaeological evidence indicates that some trees had been cleared for agriculture by around 6000 BC, but there was still some woodland on the coast of South Uist as late as 1549.[5] Seaweed deposited by early farmers provided a protective cover and added nutrients to the soil.[5] The grass is kept short by cattle and sheep, which also add trample and add texture to the sward, forming tussocks that favour a number of bird species.[5]

The soil is low in a number of key nutrients, including trace elements such as copper, cobalt and manganese, which makes it necessary to feed cattle supplements or take them to summer pastures elsewhere.[5] The sandy soil does not hold nutrients well, making artificial fertilisers ineffective and limiting the crops that can be grown to certain strains of oats and rye, and bere barley.[5]


Machairs have received considerable ecological and conservational attention, chiefly because of their unique ecosystems.


Kelp in the sea next to the machair softens the impact of waves, reducing erosion, and when it is washed ashore by storms, forms a protective barrier on the beach.[5] As it rots, the sand flies it abounds in provide rich feeding for flocks of starlings and other passerines, wintering waders, gulls and others.[5] If covered with sand, it will compost to form a fertile bed where annual coastal flowers and marram grass will thrive.[5]


Wildflowers on a machair
Hebridean Spotted Orchid
Hebridean Spotted Orchid

They can house rare carpet flowers, including orchids such as Irish lady's tresses and the Hebridean Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchii ssp hebridensis) and other plants such as the yellow rattle.


Bird species including the corn crake, twite, dunlin, common redshank and ringed plover, as well as rare insects such as the northern colletes bee, the great yellow bumblebee (Bombus distinguendus) and the moss carder bee (Bombus muscorum).


Arable and fallow machair is threatened by changes to the way the land is managed, where the original system of crofts is under threat from a reduction in the number of crofters and the use of "modern" techniques.[7] Changes to the Common Agricultural Policy, where production was decoupled from subsidies, reduced the amount of grazing taking place in many crofting areas, and led some areas to be undergrazed or abandoned.[7][8][9] A lack of native seed increases the need for fertilizers and herbicides.[7]

Rising sea levels caused by global warming also pose a threat to low-lying coastal areas, leading to increased erosion.[5][10][11] In January 1993, the storm which ran MV Braer aground off Shetland eroded 3 metres (9.8 ft) of machair along the entire length of Uist and Barra.[5] On 11/12 January 2005, a storm blowing consistently in excess of hurricane force 12 destroyed hectares of machair and killed a family of five.[5]


  1. ^ "Machair". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  2. ^ Novo, Francisco García; Crawford, Robert M. M.; Barradas, Mari Cruz Díaz (1997). The Ecology and Conservation of European Dunes. Universidad de Sevilla. p. 42. ISBN 9788474059922.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Angus, Stewart. "De Tha Machair? Towards a Machair Definition" (PDF). Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  4. ^ Ritchie, W. (1976). "The Meaning and Definition of Machair". Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh. 42 (4): 431. doi:10.1080/03746607608685306.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Love, John A. "Oh, dear! What can the Machair be?" (PDF). Glasgow Natural History Society. Retrieved 18 December 2013. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Ratcliffe, Derek (2012). A Nature Conservation Review: Volume 1. Cambridge University Press. p. 141.
  7. ^ a b c "Machair - unknown jewel". European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  8. ^ "To him who hath shall be given…" (PDF). The Crofter. September 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  9. ^ "SCF Contribution to the Scottish Government Food Policy Discussion "Choosing the Right Ingredients"" (PDF). Scottish Crofting Federation. Retrieved 20 December 2013.
  10. ^ Beament, Emily (14 May 2013). "Machair under threat from rise in level of seas". The Herald. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  11. ^ "Machair". Wild Scotland. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
Ann Marie Di Mambro

Ann Marie Di Mambro (born 18 June 1950) is a Scottish playwright and television screenwriter of Italian extraction. Her theatre plays have been performed widely; they are also published individually and in collections and are studied in schools for the Scottish curriculum's Higher Drama and English.

Berneray (North Uist)

Berneray (Scottish Gaelic: Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh) is an island and community in the Sound of Harris, Scotland. It is one of fifteen inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. It is famed for its rich and colourful history which has attracted much tourism. It lies within the South Lewis, Harris and North Uist National Scenic Area, one of 40 such areas in Scotland which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure its protection from inappropriate development.With an area of 10.1 square kilometres (2496 acres), Berneray rises to a height of 305 feet (93 m) at Beinn Shlèibhe (Moor Hill) and 278 feet (85 m) at Borve Hill. There is strong evidence that points to Berneray being inhabited since the Bronze Age, and possibly before. The island is scattered with ancient sacred sites, stone circles, signs of Viking inhabitation and historical buildings, some several centuries old.

Butt of Lewis

The Butt of Lewis (Scottish Gaelic: Rubha Robhanais) is the most northerly point of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The headland, which lies in the North Atlantic, is frequently battered by heavy swells and storms and is marked by the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. The nearest populated area is the village of Eoropie, about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the south.The road to the lighthouse passes a sheltered cove called Port Stoth. Agricultural lazy beds are also visible along the coast. The Butt of Lewis features some of the oldest rocks in Europe, having been formed in the Precambrian period up to 3000 million years ago. Southwest from the lighthouse is a natural arch called the "Eye of the Butt" (Scottish Gaelic: Sùil an Rubha), best viewed from the Habost machair.

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, designed by David Stevenson, was built at Butt of Lewis to aid shipping in the 1860s. Unusual for a lighthouse in Scotland, it is constructed of red brick, and is unpainted. The station was automated in 1998, one of the last to be converted. A modern differential GPS base station has now been sited on a nearby hill to further aid navigation. This hill was also the site for a LLoyd's Signal Station from the 1890s.

The road to the lighthouse passes a sheltered cove called Port Stoth. Agricultural lazy beds are also visible along the coast. The Butt of Lewis features some of the oldest rocks in Europe, having been formed in the Precambrian period up to 3000 million years ago. Following the coast southwest from the lighthouse there is a natural arch called the "Eye of the Butt" (Scottish Gaelic: Toll a’ Ròigh). It can be best viewed from the Habost machair.


Cairnryan (Scots: The Cairn; Scottish Gaelic: Machair an Sgithich) is a small village in the historical county of Wigtownshire, Scotland. It lies on the Eastern shore of Loch Ryan, 6 miles (10 km) north of Stranraer. The village is important in maritime history, with two ferry services connecting Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Calcareous grassland

Calcareous grassland (or alkaline grassland) is an ecosystem associated with thin basic soil, such as that on chalk and limestone downland. Plants on calcareous grassland are typically short and hardy, and include grasses and herbs such as clover. Calcareous grassland is an important habitat for insects, particularly butterflies, and is kept at a plagioclimax by grazing animals, usually sheep and sometimes cattle. Rabbits used to play a part but due to the onset of myxomatosis their numbers decreased so dramatically that they no longer have much of a grazing effect.

There are large areas of calcareous grassland in northwestern Europe, particularly areas of southern England, such as Salisbury Plain and the North and South Downs.

The machair forms a different kind of calcareous grassland, where fertile low-lying plains are formed on ground that is calcium-rich due to shell sand (pulverised sea shells).

Camas Uig

Camas Uig (Uig Bay) is a bay on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The Lewis Chessmen were discovered in the dunes behind the beach.

Camas Uig contains a variety of small islets including Fraoch Eilean, Leac Holm, Sgeir a' Chàis, Sgeir Liath, Sgeir Sheilibhig, Tom and Tolm.

Camas Uig is part of the South Lewis, Harris and North Uist National Scenic Area.In 1831, the 12th-century Lewis Chessmen were discovered in a small stone structure in the dunes behind the beach near Ardroil. Two large wooden chessmen, carved by Stephen Hayward, stand outside a museum on the machair at Ardroil, near where the hoard was found.

Emergent coastline

An emergent coastline is a stretch along the coast that has been exposed by the sea by a relative fall in sea levels by either isostasy or eustasy.Emergent coastline are the opposite of submergent coastlines, which have experienced a relative rise in sea levels.

The emergent coastline may have several specific landforms:

Raised beach or machair

Wave cut platform

Sea cave such as King's Cave, Isle of ArranThe Scottish Gaelic word machair or machar refers to a fertile low-lying raised beach found on some of the coastlines of Ireland and Scotland (especially the Outer Hebrides).

Hudson Bay, in Canada's north, is an example of an emergent coastline. It is still emerging by as much as 1 cm per year. Another example of emergent coastline is the Eastern Coastal Plains of the Indian Subcontinent.

Environmentally sensitive area

An environmentally sensitive area (ESA) is a type of designation for an agricultural area which needs special protection because of its landscape, wildlife or historical value. The scheme was introduced in 1987. Originally it was administered by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, then the Rural Development Service for the United Kingdom Governments Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and currently Natural England following successive re-organisation of the departments. In 2005 the scheme was superseded by Environmental Stewardship and closed to new entrants. Existing agreements remain active until they expire, meaning the designation will remain active until 2014.

Farmers entered into a 10-year contract with the government and received an annual payment for the area that is part of the scheme. Farmers were expected to adopt environmentally friendly agricultural practices.

There are 22 ESAs in England:

Avon Valley

Blackdown Hills



River Clun

Cotswold Hills


Essex Coast


Lake District

North Kent Marshes

North Peak

Pennine Dales

Shropshire Hills

Somerset Levels and Moors

South Downs

South Wessex Downs

South West Peak

Suffolk River Valleys

Test Valley

Upper Thames Tributaries

West PenwithThere are 10 ESAs in Scotland


Loch Lomond

Machair (Western Isles)


Central Borders (inc Whitlaw Eildon)

Central Uplands

Western Uplands

Cairngorm Straths

Shetland Islands

Argyll Islands

Fèis Bharraigh

Fèis Bharraigh is an annual Gaelic arts and culture event, held on Barra. The first event was held in 1981. Events continue to promote, encourage, foster and develop the practice and study of the Scottish Gaelic language, literature, music, drama and culture on the islands of Barra and Vatersay.

The Fèis movement came about when a group of parents and other individuals on the Isle of Barra became concerned that local traditions were dying out and that island children were not being taught traditional music in the context of formal education. This first Fèis, which means "festival" in Gaelic, laid down the path for many more Fèisean, inspired by the success of the first Fèis, to spring up around Scotland with each one community led and tailored to local needs. By 2007, there were 40 Fèisean held across Scotland.In 2007, Fèis Bharraigh launched "BarraFest - Live @ the Edge", a weekend festival of traditional and modern Scottish music held on the Tangasdale machair. BarraFest 2008 was held on 25–26 July.

Janice Hally

Janice Hally (born 18 March 1959) is a Scottish playwright and television screenwriter who has written more than 300 broadcast hours of prime-time British television drama serials and individual screenplays. She was co-creator and main screenwriter on the first-ever, long-running Gaelic drama serial Machair.

Julie Fowlis

Julie Fowlis (born 20 June 1978) is a Scottish folk singer and multi-instrumentalist who sings primarily in Scottish Gaelic.

Machair (TV series)

Machair was a Scottish Gaelic television soap opera produced by Scottish Television Enterprises between August 1992 and September 1998.

Machair (disambiguation)

Machair is a Scottish Gaelic word referring to the fertile grassland near the shore, particularly prevalent in the Outer Hebrides.

Machair may also refer to:

Machair (TV series), a Scottish Gaelic TV series that ran from 1992 to 1998


The Machars (Scottish Gaelic: Machair (Ghallghaidhealaibh); lit. "the Plains (of Galloway)") is a peninsula in the historical county of Wigtownshire in Galloway in the south-west of Scotland. The word is derived from the Gaelic word Machair meaning low-lying or level land, known as "links" on the east coast of Scotland. Although there are no high peaks in the Machars, it is not flat and would best be described as undulating or rolling. The North Atlantic Drift or Gulf Stream creates a mild climate, and dolphins and basking sharks are frequently seen in the seas.

North Uist Machair and Islands

The North Uist Machair and Islands is a protected wetland area in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. A total of 4,705 hectares comprises seven separate areas: four sites on the west and north coasts of North Uist, as well as the whole of the island of Boreray and parts of Berneray and Pabbay in the Sound of Harris. The site primarily contains machair areas, with a range of habitats including sand dunes, acid grassland and freshwater wetlands, including nutrient-rich marshes and fens, wet and dry machair and saltmarsh. It has been protected as a Ramsar Site since 1999.The area supports a nationally or internationally important populations of numerous birds, including greylag geese, barnacle geese, dunlin, corncrake and sanderling. The sites also contain the rare slender naiad.As well as the North Uist Machair and Islands being recognised as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, it has also been designated a Special Area of Conservation.

Northern colletes

The northern colletes (Colletes floralis) is a species of bee within the genus Colletes. Northern colletes are solitary bees, though females may nest in what are termed aggregations – sites where the bees nest close together, but do not form colonies as social bees do. They nest underground in soft (often sandy) soil, digging burrows up to 20 times their body length. It is often to be found nesting in coastal sand dunes and, on Hebridean islands, machair (coastal grassland).


Sollas (Scottish Gaelic: Solas) is a small crofting township on the northern coast of the island of North Uist, Scotland.

From Sollas, the road that heads towards Bayhead is known as the Committee Road. It is called this as it was organised by a committee charged with providing famine relief in the 1840s. The Battle of Sollas took place in 1849 during the time of the clearances Today, the village of Sollas has a local supermarket and the old school building has been turned into a community centre - Taigh Sgire Sholais. Every July, the residents of Sollas host a series of events known as Sollas Week. Sollas is situated in the parish of North Uist, and the people are almost entirely Protestant.

The Battle of Sollas is featured in the novel The False Men by Mhairead MacLeod.Sollas beach is featured in the novel The Chessmen by Peter May. Northern & Scottish Airways inaugurated services to Sollas in February 1936, using beach and the machair (on which it laid out two grass runways, a hangar and a fuel depot). Services continued until British European Airways retired its De Havilland Rapides in the 1950s. The beach at Tràigh Ear continues to be used infrequently by light aircraft. Highland Aviation uses the beach for its beach landing training course, along with Traigh Mhòr beach at Barra (the site of Barra Airport).

South Uist

South Uist (Scottish Gaelic: Uibhist a Deas) is the second-largest island of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. At the 2011 census, it had a usually resident population of 1,754: a decrease of 64 since 2001. The island, in common with the rest of the Hebrides, is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Gaelic language in Scotland and the population – South Uist's inhabitants are known in Gaelic as Deasaich (Southerners) – is about 90% Roman Catholic.

The island is home to a nature reserve and a number of sites of archaeological interest, including one which is the only location in Great Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found. In the northwest, there is a missile testing range. In 2006 South Uist, together with neighbouring Benbecula and Eriskay, was involved in Scotland's biggest-ever community land buyout.



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