Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve

Upon arriving at the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve, many people find themselves quite surprised at the somewhat barren landscape that characterizes the reserve. They may feel that it is impossible for such a rocky, seemingly barren place to sustain life of any sort. It is interesting that the word ‘Hamar’ means ‘rocky outcrop on the hillside’ – an entirely appropriate description of the Scottish nature reserve. However, despite appearances, the Keen of Hamar is decidedly brimming with life. You will find some of Britain’s rarest plants nestled amongst the stones in shallow earth. While there may not be many mammals living in the area, there certainly is rich abundance of truly special plants.

Declared a protected area in 1975, the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve enjoys rather unique features that have lead to the adaptation of the many special plants that can be found here. It is thought that the reserve’s current state closely resembles what the rest of Northern Europe might have looked like not long after the ice-age some 10 000 years ago. Whilst the ‘serpentine’ rock type is not unique to the Keen of Hamar, this is one of the largest expanses of this type of rock in Europe. The Keen of Hamar also has more debris (small angular rock fragments) than that found at other serpentine outcrops. As a result, the soil quality is old and poor. Also, because the stone is constantly being weathered away, causing the stone stripes which characterize the area to move slowly downward by a few centimeters each year. These many elements have contributed to the unique habitat that is currently found at Keen of Hamar.

Botanists should take special note when visiting this nature reserve. The Keen of Hamar is home to a variety of specially adapted flowers which have the honor of being some of the most impressive flowers in this part of Europe. You will find northern rock cress, hoary whitlow grass, scurvy grass, stone bramble, sea plantain, thrift, Edmonston’s chickweed and Norwegian sandwort. Each of these plant species is different from those found elsewhere in the world since they have adapted to the harsh conditions around them. Because of the peculiarity of this particular site, it regularly swarms with botanists and scientists. So visit this curious little corner of Scotland and discover this unusual reserve for yourself…

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