CONSERVATION SITES ON THE DORNOCH TO DUNCANSBY HEAD COAST
Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site
Loch Fleet qualifies as a Ramsar site, alongside the Dornoch Firth, because it supports a variety of important wetland features. It is a particularly good example of an east coast firth and , unlike other nearby firths, has been relatively unaffected by industrial developments. Morrich More is one of the most outstanding coastal sites in Britain. It is especially noteworthy for the development of an extensive low-level sandy plain on which a set of parabolic dunes are superimposed.
The site supports at least five Nationally Scarce wetland plants, at least two wetland Red Data Book species of invertebrate and the mammals found include common seal and otter.
The site regularly supports over 20,000 wintering waterfowl, which includes internationally important populations of Icelandic greylag goose, Wigeon and Bar-tailed Godwit. The wintering populations also include nationally important numbers of Teal, Eider and Curlew, and in the summer it is also a nationally important feeding area for Osprey.
The importance of the Dornoch Firth for wild birds (as detailed above) means that it has also qualified as a Special Protection Area.
East Caithness Cliffs Special Protection Area
The East Caithness Cliffs SPA is of special nature conservation and scientific importance within Britain and the European Community for supporting very large populations of breeding seabirds. It includes most of the sea cliff areas between Wick and Helmsdale on the north-east coast of the Scottish mainland.
The East Caithness Cliffs qualify as a SPA by regularly supporting, in summer, internationally or nationally important breeding populations of nine seabird species. These are Fulmar (15,000 pairs); Shag (2,300 pairs); Herring Gull (9,400 pairs); Great Black Backed Gull (800 pairs); Kittiwake (32,500 pairs); Guillemot (106,700 individuals); razorbill (15,800 individuals); Black Guillemot (1,500 individuals); and Cormorant (230 occupied nests).
In addition to its importance for individual seabird species, the East Caithness Cliffs Special protection Area is of strong scientific interest for the overall assemblage of breeding seabirds it supports. These include, in addition to the species listed above, Arctic Skua and Puffin.
Duncansby Head Site of Special Scientific Interest
This section of coastline has cliffs reaching 70m in height cut in Old Red Sandstone. Coastal erosion has produced stacks, sea arches, caves and geos. There are large seabird colonies of national importance on the cliffs and the vegetation on the cliff top represents part of the range of maritime vegetation found in Caithness.
The seabird colonies on the cliffs comprise 2% of the total British population of Guillemots (in 1986 - 17,341 individuals), 2% of Kittiwakes (in 1986 - 6,601 pairs) and over 1% of Fulmars (in 1986 - 4,286 pairs). Razorbills, Puffins, Shags, Cormorants and gulls also breed in substantial numbers.
Geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest
In addition to the biological SSSIs mentioned above there are a number of geological sites (Dunrobin SSSI, Helmsdale Coast SSSI, Long Berry Coast SSSI and Inverbrora SSSI) which are of real value and importance in understanding the geography and environment that existed in this part of the Moray Firth in Jurassic and Devonian times.