The weather might not be quite on a par with that of down under, but it has certainly shaped the islands into some of the most dramatic and wildlife-rich corners of the UK. Each winter gales tear through the north and west of Scotland, pounding cliffs and whipping sand from the beaches to create such diverse but iconic places as the Old Man of Hoy and the Uist machair. These landforms are home to some of our rarest and perhaps most important wildlife, supporting large seabird colonies and some of the last extensive flower-rich meadows in the UK.
People and cultural history
The islands that make up Orkney and the Outer Hebrides also have a long and fascinating cultural history that starts way back in the Neolithic period and continues to this day. Their inhabitants have left behind many monuments such as Skara Brae and the Callanish Stones, while more recent signs are seen in the causeways that now link a number of these islands in an attempt to keep remote communities alive.
People are an integral part of the environment, and can shape it to the benefit of the wildlife. Crofters in Uist practice low-intensity agriculture on the machair, which has created a mosaic of floral communities that enhances wildlife diversity and habitat for nationally important numbers of breeding waders. That same habitat is a stronghold for the rare great yellow bumblebee, which is now largely restricted to Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.
This diversity depends on the management of the environment and, sometimes, the lack of manipulation that has allowed these two archipelagos to continue to support such a variety of wildlife.
What epitomises a healthy environment most of all is the number of top predators, and Orkney and the Outer Hebrides excel in this area. Both support large numbers of breeding hen harriers and short-eared owls, while merlins and golden eagles occur at their highest densities in Western Europe in Lewis and Harris respectively.
The interplay between environmental conditions, wildlife and human activity makes a trip to the Scottish Islands a fascinating and memorable experience