Orkney Islands Council
Working together for a better Orkney

Special Protection Areas SPA

Orkney’s 13 SPAs are located at:

East Sanday Coast

West Westray

Calf of Eday

Papa Westray (North Hill and Holm of Papay)

Rousay

Marwick Head

Orkney Mainland Moors

Hoy

Switha

Pentland Firth Islands

Auskerry

Copinsay

Sule Skerry and Sule Stack

East Sanday Coast SPA

The East Sanday Coast SPA comprises a 55 km stretch of the coast of Sanday, and consists of both rocky and sandy sections. It is notable for the presence of sand dune and machair habitats, rare outside the Hebrides, as well as extensive intertidal flats and saltmarsh. The site is further characterised by a series of tombolos, bars, spits and shingle ridges. The coastline supports internationally important populations of wintering waders. These include Bar-tailed Godwit Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone.

West Westray

The island of Westray is one of the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. The SPA site comprises an 8 km length of Old Red Sandstone cliffs on its western coast, together with adjoining areas of species-rich maritime grassland and heath. The area is rich in cliff-top plants including the nationally scarce Scottish Primrose, Sea Plantain and Spring Squill. The cliffs support large colonies of breeding seabirds including Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and Kittiwake, whilst the grassland and heathland areas support breeding colonies of Arctic Skua and Arctic tern.

Calf of Eday SPA

The Calf of Eday is a small, uninhabited island located to the north of the island of Eday. The island has a rocky coastline with cliffs on the north and east coasts. The dominant vegetation on the island is dry dwarf-shrub heath dominated by heather, with smaller areas of wet heath, semi-improved grassland and coastal grassland. The site is of importance as a nesting area for breeding seabirds, which feed in surrounding waters outside the SPA and use most of the island for loafing. During the breeding season, which extends from spring until early summer, the area supports large numbers of seabirds including Guillemot, Kittiwake, Great black-backed gull, Cormorant, and Fulmar.

Papa Westray (North Hill and Holm of Papay)

The island of Papa Westray lies to the east of Westray. Known locally as Papay, it rises to a height of 48m above sea level at North Hill and is surrounded by a rocky coastline backing onto maritime sedge heath. Salt-tolerant grassland immediately above the shore grades inland to maritime sedge heath with a few small pools. The site supports a wide variety of plants, including the nationally scarce Scottish primrose. The Holm is a small, low-lying island off the east coast of Papa Westray which is dominated by a rocky coastline and maritime grassland. Both islands form an important breeding site for Arctic Tern and Arctic Skua.

Rousay

The island of Rousay lies to the north-west of the Orkney mainland. The site is composite and consists of two parts located at the north-west and north-east ends of the island. Here, sea-cliffs grade inland to areas of maritime heath and grassland. The maritime heath contains numerous base-rich flushes characterised by black bog-rush, various sedges and grasses. The maritime heath also supports colonies of the nationally scarce Scottish primrose. The site holds a diverse assemblage of breeding seabirds, including Guillemot, Kittiwake, Arctic Skua, Fulmar and Arctic Tern. The nesting seabirds feed in the waters around Rousay outside the SPA, as well as further away.

Marwick Head

Marwick Head lies on the west coast of the Orkney mainland. The site comprises a 2km section of high, eroded Old Red Sandstone cliffs rising to 85m and backed by cliff-top maritime grassland. The site is of importance as a nesting area for large numbers of Guillemot and Kittiwake. These species feed outside the SPA in surrounding marine areas.

Orkney Mainland Moors

Orkney Mainland Moors SPA comprises four areas of moorland in the West Mainland of Orkney. The predominant habitats include extensive areas of blanket bog, acid grassland, wet and dry heath, raised-mire and calcareous valley mire. The presence of extensive moorland provides nesting opportunities for an assemblage of moorland breeding birds, including Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl. Sheltered river valleys and dales support willow scrub, tall-herb and flush vegetation, and several scattered lochans provide important breeding areas for Red-throated Diver.

Hoy

The island of Hoy lies to the south of the Orkney mainland and makes up much of the western shoreline of Scapa Flow. The Hoy SPA covers the northern and western two-thirds of the island, which is formed of Old Red Sandstone and contains Orkney's highest hills. Most of the island is moorland, drained by numerous streams, and it supports a diverse mixture of mire, heath and alpine vegetation, as well as Britain's most northerly native woodland. On the west coast, Old Red Sandstone cliffs reach 339m in height and include several notable stacks and crags. These cliffs provide important breeding sites for a number of seabird species such as Puffin, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Great Black-backed Gull and Fulmar. Inland moorland areas also support large numbers of breeding birds, in particular Great Skua and Arctic Skua. Red-throated Diver nest on the numerous small lochans found on the moorland. Peregrine are also known to breed in Hoy. The divers and seabirds feed in the rich waters around Hoy, outside the SPA.

Switha

Switha is a small, uninhabited, low-lying grassy island at the southern end of Scapa Flow. Switha has a rocky coastline with cliffs along the north, east and west shores, and is almost totally covered by maritime grassland, with smaller areas of heath and bog. Switha is of importance as a winter roosting site for Greenland barnacle goose.

Pentland Firth Islands

The Pentland Firth Islands are located between the Orkney Islands and the mainland coast of north-east Scotland. They consist of two main islands, Swona and Muckle Skerry, and a group of rocky skerries in the Pentland Firth. The islands contain a variety of habitats, including cliffs, rocky shores, maritime heath, moorland, rough grassland marsh and open freshwater. They provide nesting sites for Arctic Tern which feed outside the SPA in the rich surrounding waters of the Pentland Firth.

Auskerry

Auskerry is a small, low-lying island situated to the north-east of the Orkney Mainland. The shore is a mixture of rocky platforms interspersed with low cliffs and boulder/shingle beaches. The vegetation is mainly composed of sheep-grazed heath and acidic grassland, with smaller areas of other semi-natural habitats including marshy and coastal grasslands, bog and mire, and standing water. There is an extensive area of peat cuttings in the south of the island, almost all of which are now disused. The site is important as a nesting area for a number of breeding seabirds including Arctic Tern and Storm Petrel. These birds feed outside the SPA in the waters surrounding the island, as well as in more distant waters.

Copinsay

The Copinsay SPA lies 4km off the east coast of the Orkney mainland. It consists of the island of Copinsay and three islets (Corn Holm, Ward Holm and Black Holm). The three holms are vegetated and a storm beach connects them to Copinsay at low water. The islands have good examples of unimproved sub-maritime grasslands and coastal inundation grasslands with a number of distinct vegetation zones. Copinsay is formed of Old Red Sandstone with the largely horizontal bedding planes providing ideal breeding ledges for seabirds (auks, Fulmar and Kittiwake), especially on the sheer cliffs of the south-east of Copinsay which reach to over 60m. Great Black-backed Gull also breed on the islands. The seabirds feed outside the SPA in the nearby waters, as well as more distantly.

Sule Skerry and Sule Stack

Sule Skerry and Sule Stack are small islands situated off the north coast of Scotland and to the west of Orkney. There shorelines consist of shingle beaches, sea cliffs and islets and these support colonies of Northern gannet, Storm petrel, Leach’s petrel, Puffin and Shag.

For further information visit the Scottish Natural Heritage website, available from the 'Related Sites' section of this web page.

Related Sites