Natural History of Culloden

Culloden Moor is a very special location. Not only is it the site of the last pitched land battle fought in the British Isles; but it and the surrounding area act as an important refuge for countless species of plants and animals. Culloden benefits from featuring a multitude of habitats – each with their own unique flora and fauna. Today we shall take a look at these habitats, learn about some of the creatures that inhabit them, and the conservation work undertaken on the moor to ensure that the battlefield remains not just a place for memory, but an important ecological refuge for many rare species.

The first main habitat to look at is grassland. On the day of the battle the moor was primarily used for grazing – our Shetland cows are a call back to this previous land use. Today the grassland habitat at Culloden is home to a variety of different plants: Thistle, gorse, willowherb and foxglove (some previously mentioned in our posts about medicinal plants).  In terms of animals the grassland is populated by vast numbers of insects and arachnids; when walking the battlefield particularly in spring and summer you may catch sight of a garden tiger moth caterpillar. These hairy caterpillars sometimes walk across the paths looking for more plants to munch so take care not to step on them! Garden Tiger moths have been on the decline since the 1970s so having them at Culloden is important.

Culloden Battlefield cows (01 of 10)
Shetland Cows at Culloden

Conservation wise perhaps the most important species in Culloden’s grassland environment is the Skylark. Chances are you will hear them before seeing them; these small birds fly as high as possible and sing as loud as they can to mark their territories. If you hear a loud bird on the moor look up and see if you can spot it. Skylark numbers have plummeted with numbers dropping 75% between the 1970s and 1990s – with threats including fewer places to nest – making them a red list species. The fact skylarks not only live but also nest on the moor makes Culloden a very important place for these rare birds.

Another important habitat on the battlefield is the quintessential bog/moorland habitat. Moorland is home to many damp-loving animals and plants like frogs and newts which frequent the ponds and pools. A personal favourite plant of mine can be found here – the horsetail. A living fossil that has been around since before the dinosaurs it gets its name from its appearance resembling the tail of a horse. 3000 million years ago Scotland was covered in huge forests of horsetail with some reaching heights of over 100 metres!

horsetail
Horsetail

This fragile habitat is at risk of a process of “succession” – where it runs the risk of turning into woodland if trees are allowed to grow unchecked. If a forest grows it will dry up the moor and the special animals and plants that live there are lost. At Culloden we help preserve this habitat and halt succession through manual work and grazing via livestock to keep the moorland healthy.

Technically we’re cheating here since this is not on Trust land but the third main habitat found on Culloden Moor is woodland. Until the Trust purchased our part of the battlefield Culloden Moor was almost completely engulfed with woodland. The Forestry Commission today manages the woodland around the battlefield, and is home to animals such as jays, roe deer and, perhaps most importantly of all, red squirrels – whose populations have plummeted following the introduction of the invasive grey squirrel from America.

Next time you visit the battlefield be sure to look out for any of our special flora and fauna that live here, and if you find anything interesting be sure to report it! Who knows what else rare, strange and special may be living here at Culloden Battlefield.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best,

The Culloden Team

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