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Durness Environment

The coastline, protected by a National Trust Conservation Agreement, is fringed with spectacular beaches of silver sand, soaring cliffs and deep caves. It is an ideal place to explore the solitude of the highlands, to watch the varied wildlife and birds, or enjoy a spot of fishing or golf.  The spectacular mountain scenery is formed from some of the oldest rocks in the world, Lewisian Gneiss     This is an ancient land with many historical remains to be explored. Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age relics are sometimes exposed from the wind blown sand and various artefacts have been discovered.. There has been very little detailed professional investigation into the numerous sites. Birds and flowers are the main wildlife features. More than 550 plant species have been recorded in the area. The rare and the beautiful are not always difficult to find, for what is rare in many parts of Britain is often common in the far north.       This is especially true of mountain plants that descend to sea level on the north coast. The north west corner of Britain is renowned for the variety and numbers of birds Well in advance of 200 species have been observed and recorded including some of the rarest. This area is frequently visited by both professional and amateur geologists as there is a great variety of rock including rock from the Precambrian – period which includes some of the oldest rocks in the world. Much of Durness is designated a site of special scientific interest in recognition of the important colonies of plants and birds. Look for the very rare Scottish primrose, mountain avens and wild orchids. There are seabirds galore on Clo Mor and Faraid Head. Otters, foxes, badgers, eagles and peregrine falcons may also be seen. Watch out for whales, dolphins and porpoises and both grey and common seals along the coast

Durness SSSI STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE by Scottish Natural Heritage

David Horsfield 16th June 2004.



To the north are the distinctive headlands of An Fharaid and Faraid Head with dunes and sea-cliffs rising to 100m in height. Coastal cliffs also extend from An Fharaid around Aodann Mhór and detached cliff sections occur at Leirinbeg and Lerinmore.  The dunes of the ground west of Keoldale to Balnakeil stretch about 1.5 km inland and rise to about 59m. Further inland, south-east of Lochs Croispol and Borraile, upland grassland and moorland rising to 90m occupies the ground southward to the shores of Loch Meadaidh. Two small sections of upland grassland and moorland occur at South Kyle and Grudie at the southern end of the site. West of the Kyle of Durness there are sections of coastal cliff, heathland and grassland between the ferry landing and Achiemore and north of Daill.

The rocks are mainly Durness limestone and dolomite with An Fharaid and Faraid Head Lewisian gneiss and Moine psammite. West of the Kyle of Durness, with the split through Grudie, there is Lewisian gneiss and Torridonian sandstone.  The limestone and dolomite terrain, including limestone pavement, is best developed in the Keoldale – Balvaich sector between Loch Borraile and the A838 road. There are cliffs around much of the coast.  Inland, slopes are mainly gentle, though there are cliffs and steep slopes above Loch Borraile and moderately steep to steep ground on the west of the Kyle of Durness. This is a mixed interest site with important coastal, aquatic and upland habitats. The main importance of the upland habitats is due to the calcareous habitats associated with the Durness limestone.


Summary of importance

  • Durness is a low altitude site of mixed interest consisting of coastal, aquatic and upland habitat.

  • There are extensive outcrops of Durness limestone occurring mainly as pavements or crags.

  • The site is nationally and internationally important for a range of calcareous habitats associated with Durness limestone including Dryas-Carex heath, Festuca-Agrostis-Thymus grassland, limestone pavement and alkaline fens.

  • The site is nationally important for a range of flush mires including communities undescribed in Britain.

  • Other internationally important upland habitats include dry heaths, wet heaths and tall-herb community.


Three small earthquakes have been recorded at Durness, the largest village in the remote north-western corner of Scotland.

The British Geological Survey recorded a 1.5 magnitude quake on Friday night 9th January 2015 during a storm with 100 mile an winds, and quakes of 1.4 and 2.4 in the early hours of Saturday.

A 2.4 magnitude earthquake was previously recorded at Durness in Sutherland in February 2013.

Small earthquakes are frequently recorded in the Highlands.

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