The upland areas of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park fall into three broad categories: at the highest level lies the ‘montane zone’ of high mountain habitat where no trees can grow and even plants like heather are ground-hugging due to the fierce winds and inhospitable climate. Below this is the ‘sub-montane’ zone dominated by heather and alpine grasses.
Some trees such as willows and conifers manage to grow here but they are scrubby and stunted to a few feet in height as their branches are clipped by the wind and their roots struggle to establish in the shallow soil. Grazing by deer and sheep mean that scrub woodland is almost absent from the sub-montane zone in the National Park.
Below this comes the forest zone which once would have been covered in large areas of native woodlands. Thousands of years of human management such as burning, cutting timber for wood, and grazing by domestic livestock, have cleared this woodland to create extensive areas of heather and grass moorland. Large areas of this are blanket bog where high rainfall has allowed a deep layer of peat to form, which further inhibits tree growth. Since the early 20th century, much of this zone has become tree-covered again thanks to the cultivation of timber producing trees such as spruce, larch and fir. This zone extends down to the edges of enclosed farmland round the glen floors and river valleys.
The Park contains extensive mountain areas, mainly located in the north, that attract hillwalkers from far and wide due to the high number of Munros. A Munro is a mountain over 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) and there are 21 in the National Park including Ben Lomond and Ben More. There are also 19 Corbetts, mountains over 2,500 feet (762 metres), in the Park; these include Ben Arthur and Ben Ledi.
Natural Heritage Value
The high montane areas of the National Park have cooler temperatures, higher rainfall and stronger winds than the lower moorland areas. Despite these harsh conditions, they are home to a diverse range of habitats. Distinct communities of plants and animals live in these high altitude conditions. Hardy montane scrub species, mainly juniper and several species of willow manage to grow in this harsh environment. The lack of trees and scrub mean that many unusual species of flowering herbs, club-mosses, mosses, liverworts and lichens grow in these places.
On some of the more inaccessible areas of the Breadalbane hills, you can see unusual alpine plant communities that thrive in areas where the soils are rich in calcium carbonate due to underlying bands of alkaline lime-rich rocks. The steep slopes on the north side of Ben Lui near Tyndrum hold good examples of these unusual plant communities. Many rare flowering plants such as purple saxifrage and yellow saxifrage are found there. In most other locations, the rocks and the soils created from them are acidic and support a quite different range of plants.
In addition to the differences arising from the acidity or alkalinity of the underlying geology, the plant communities in the mountains are also affected by the shape of the slopes. In hollows sheltered from the sun and wind, snow can form deep drifts that linger on into early summer. Only a few plants such as mat-grass and some mosses can survive months of burial under snow and these form distinctive snow-bed communities.
In drainage lines where water seeps slowly for most of the year, flush communities are found with species such as butterwort and yellow saxifrage. Other distinctive plant communities occur on rock ledges where large grazing animals are unable to reach.
The alpine tundra, heather and grass moorlands and blanket bogs that cover much of the upland areas of the Park also support a wide variety of bird species including peregrine falcon, merlins, ptarmigan, red grouse and the elusive golden eagle amongst others.
The mountains and moorland of the National Park are important for farming hill sheep and cattle as well as being home to herds of wild red deer. These all supply valuable food and their management is an important source of employment and income for local communities. Moorland management for game and farming can have valuable positive impacts for nature conservation and landscape quality. For example, burning drier forms of heath in small patches every 12-15 years improves the diversity of plants and thus benefits the animal species that feed off them too.
The mountains and moorland areas of the National Park form an integral part of Scotland’s landscape providing a valuable wildlife habitat, nature conservation and recreational and scenic resource.