The inland waters of the Outer Hebrides

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1979
Authors:A. R. Waterston, Holden, A. V., Campbell, R. N., Maitland, P. S.
Journal:Proc. R. Soc. Edinburgh. Sect. B. Biol. Sci.
Keywords:Invertebrates, Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides comprise approximately 1·3% of the land area but 15·8% of the area of standing waters of Great Britain. Streams there are generally small and only three are as large as fifth order. The majority of the lochs occur below 200 m altitude and are less than 25 ha in area. A total of 1375 stream systems enter the sea, and drain the land mass through 9240 stream segments. There are just over 6000 lochs, of which less than half are connected to these networks. Most of the water systems are on geologically base-poor rock or soil, and less than 3%, situated on machair, are base-rich and eutrophic. The islands, due to their situation, receive precipitation in the form of very dilute sea water (with some non-marine sulphate probably derived from fossil fuel combustion) and this leads to unusual concentrations of chloride in the inland waters. Metamorphic rocks are resistant to weathering, so there is usually little variation in the composition of fresh waters except in the machair areas, where calcareous sands affect calcium concentrations and alkalinities.

The flora and fauna reflect the aqueous conditions and there are some unique successions of species from high to low salinities even in the same water body. The lochs provide a wide range of habitats for aquatic vegetation, ranging from the rich machair lochs to the oligotrophic peaty lochs (which show marked similarities with their counterparts on the mainland). Three broad categories can be delineated on the basis of their water quality and vegetation: brackish lochs with varying degrees of marine influence, calcareous machair lochs which may also be affected by sea connections, and the peaty lochans of low alkalinity. A few brackish water animals are sufficiently euryhaline to exist in the machair lochs, which are otherwise dominated by freshwater species. The occurrence of chloride in inland waters enables some crustaceans, e.g. Neomysis integer, Gammarus duebeni and Diaptomus wierzejskii to extend into what are poor freshwater habitats. The main constituents of the freshwater fauna are molluscs and arthropods, and a few species of euryhaline fishes, i.e. salmon, sea and brown trout, three-spined and ten-spined sticklebacks and eels. There are some populations of non-migratory charr. No amphibians are present.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith