History: Geography of Scotland
Flora & Fauna:
The Scottish Natural Heritage, the public body and government agency responsible for conservation designations, has given "protected" status to 20% of Scotland's total area and has designated 55 National Nature Reserves. Thirteen percent of these lands are Sites of Specific Scientific Interest.
Although many of Scotland's larger mammals, such as the lynx, brown bear, wolf, elk, and walrus have been hunted to extinction, the country harbours some incredibly important ecological specimens. Scotland's seas, for example, are among the most biologically productive in the world, with an estimated total number of marine species exceeding 40,000. These include over one-third of the world's population of Grey Seals and one-third of Europe's Harbour Seal population, as well as the world's most northerly colony of Bottlenose Dolphins (they reside in the Moray Firth). Inland, nearly 400 genetically distinct populations of Atlantic salmon inhabit the country's rivers, making Scotland one of Europe's largest salmon resources. In 1988, scientists discovered the Darwin Mounds off the northwest coast, underwater sand mounds composed of 100 square kilometers of ancient deep-water coral reef.
Scotland also boasts internationally significant nesting grounds for seabirds such as Northern Gannets and Peregrine Falcons; while the Scottish Crossbill is the only bird endemic to the British Isles. The majority of Britain's Golden Eagles also reside in Scotland, which has adopted the bird as a national icon. While only six amphibians and four land reptiles are native to Scotland, many species of otherwise rare invertebrates live there: an estimated 14,000 species are protected by conservation action plans.
Scotland's flora has been the subject of folklore, song, and poetry since the start of time. It includes over 1,600 native species of vascular plants, 1,500 lichens, and 1,000 bryophytes. Although the total number of vascular plants is low by world standards, Scotland's bryophytes form a population of global importance, containing 5% of the world's total species. A certain Douglas fir in Argyll is the tallest tree in the United Kingdom, while the legendary Fortingall Yew is the oldest tree in all of Europe.
Fourteen percent of the country is wooded in boreal Caledonian and broad-leaved forests and Scots Pine woodlands, although the natural extent was much larger before humans cleared the land. The ancient Caledonian forest, for example, which once covered 1.5 million hectares in the Highland, is only 1% of its original size. According to folkloric tradition, Scotland lost the Caledonian forest when a Norse king, upon seeing the lush pine forests of the Picts, was stricken with jealously. He went to his stepmother, a monstrous creature with the head of a woman, the body of a whale, and the wings of an eagle, and asked her to destroy the Caledonian forest so that it would not outshine anything he had in his own realm. His stepmother flew across Sutherland, Ross-shire, Moray, and Inverness, summoning her dark magic to consume the woods with huge tongues of flame. The Picts sought help from the Wise Man of Kinguise, who lived in the Grampian Mountains. He told them to gather all their beasts and livestock in a field and compel them to bellow as loud as they could at the same time. The Picts did as the Wise Man had instructed them: when the monster stopped her rampage to see what was going on, the Wise Man shot her with a magic arrow. The monster's spell was immediately broken as the arrow pierced her skin. The fires immediately vanished, leaving a small bit of the great Caledonian forest unharmed.
Other prominent features of the Scottish flora include heather moorland, which covers 17% of the country. The Picts were renowned for their heather ale - Robert Burns' favourite tea, in fact, was made of heather leaves. Aside from its uses in thatching, rope-making, and medicine, heather was also supposedly lucky: Clan Ranald attributed a victory won in 1544 to the heather they wore in their bonnets, and Cluny of MacPherson said he was able to escape his enemies following the Battle of Culloden because they overlooked him while he slept in a patch of heather. Legend has it that heather grows on battlefields where no blood was spilled, and over the final resting places of faeries.
Scotland's landscape is also distinguished by the blanket bog of Caithness and Sutherland, one of the largest and most intact in the world; and the coastal machair, fertile dune pasture land formed by subsiding sea levels after the last ice age. These have attracted considerable attention lately because of their ability to harbour independent ecosystems.