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Machair LIFE+, a few reflections by George Campbell

When we attended a few public meetings in the Uists in the winter of 2009, the weather outside was pretty stormy. On occasion the atmosphere inside was pretty stormy too. We were left in no doubt that the crofting population valued the machair and was deeply concerned about its future. It was also made clear to us that there were significant challenges that would need to be addressed if crofting was to survive and flourish on the machair.

We listened to these concerns and whilst there are inevitable constraints with any funding programme, I believe we made significant progress in either addressing them, or helping to show how they could be addressed in the future. We showed that a well-organised and motivated team could minimise crop damage from geese. We worked in partnership with townships, which reaffirmed the value of seaweed as a fertiliser. We helped get some old binders going again and discovered the frailties of the modern equivalent. Seed drying and shallow ploughing proved popular, as did rotovating and our SRDP workshops. Local schoolchildren were enthusiastic about our machair art courses and produced fantastic art work which hung in a gallery and scarecrows which stood out in the fields.

We had great help and support from our partners and most of all from the crofting community of Uist. I think it went better than we could have hoped, or imagined, and great credit for that must go to the project staff. My only regret is that it is all over so soon. We achieved a lot, but if there is a lesson, it is that managing a resource as valuable and fragile as the machair, involves a lot of people, needs a lot of support and must be subject to a long term approach.

George Campbell, Director, RSPB North Scotland Regional Office
The Conserving Machair Life+ project ran from January 2010 to June 2014.

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Machair LIFE+ Conserving Scottish Machair - A' Dìon Machraichean na H-Alba from UistFilm.

Machair is the Gaelic name for a rare and distinct type of coastal grassland that supports a huge diversity of wildlife in the Hebrides of Scotland. This is the story of crofting on the machair in the 21st century and a partnership project to support this unique landscape.

Machair Life was a four-year project which ran from January 2010 to June 2014, and aimed to demonstrate that traditional crofting practices have a sustainable future. We hope that the project will have helped to secure the immensely important conservation value of the unique machair habitat, 70% of which was covered by the project.

Machair Life was supported by the European Union LIFE+ scheme, and managed by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) and the Scottish Crofting Federation (SFC).

Machair habitat is extremely rare, and changes in local agricultural practices have occurred that are now threatening the condition of the habitat and the conservation status of key flora and fauna populations.

Through working closely with crofting communities, agencies and partners within the designated Natura 2000 sites, the project team hope to secure and improve the conservation status of 70% of the world’s machair.

The project mostly covers Uist, as this is where the majority of machair occurs. However, areas of Barra, Coll and Tiree, Oronsay and south Colonsay, Islay and Lewis are also included. See our map and more details of these areas.

Machair is rare, bio-diverse coastal grassland, unique to the north-western fringe of Europe. For generations, man has worked and moulded machair in a low intensity crofting system that has created a mosaic of open habitats.

September 2013

Machair conservation top of the agenda on Uist. The machair LIFE+ conference was held on Thursday 29th August at Talla an Iochdar and was well attended by a wide range of delegates. More...

August 2013

The Machair LIFE+ conference sees the launch of the latest in our series of advisory leaflets. The new leaflets cover the use of seaweed as an organic fertiliser and the indigenous varieties of cereals grown on the Uists. A further advisory leaflet on the topic of crop protection will be published later this year.

June 2013

Explore the machair and the special wildlife to be found there. These FREE events include a talk/discussion with members of the Machair LIFE+ survey team to learn about the scientific monitoring work they are undertaking on behalf of the project; and a gentle walk across the machair and adjacent habitats to explore and identify the wider natural history interest of these sites. More...

April 2013

Bookings are now being taken for the Machair LIFE+ Conference, Thursday 29 August 2013, 9.00-17.00 at Talla an Iochdar, South Uist. More...

November 2012

The seaweed season is upon us and the Machair LIFE+ tractor is ready on stand-by. Please let us know at the Machair LIFE+ office - 01870 603361 - if there are any large quantities of ‘tangle’ washing up in your area. More...


August 2012

We are offering payment incentive of £400 per hectare to crofters who are able to put aside corn crop for seed by binder or combine for 2013. This option is open to applicants within the Uist and Barra Natura 2000 network (SAC, SPA). If you are interested in this option please contact the office for more information.

July 2012

We lifted and spread over 90 hectares of seaweed across the machair this winter to provide vital organic nutriants for the growing of crops. This work has been very popular with crofters and in support of this we commissioned SAC to run tests on the nutritive value of seaweed as an organic fertiliser so that we can advise crofters on appropriate application rates to obtain quality yields from their crops. More...

April 2012

Machair Art Project underway with help of young crofters from Lionacleit School, Benbecula

February 2012

Children from Balivanich Primary School have been getting experience of traditional crofting activity – collecting seaweed for fertiliser from a beach with the help of a pair of ponies. If you'd like to know more follow this link:

January 2012

We have been busy this winter signing-up crofters to Management Agreements to carry out beneficial works on the machair this year. The number of agreements has doubled from last year and we now have 60 crofters who have agreed to take part in project works in 2012. More...

December 2011

We have begun lifting seaweed this winter to assist crofters with the collection of this valuable organic fertiliser. Last year we spread just under 50 hectares of seaweed across the Uists. More...

September 2011

Our reaper binder has been out harvesting crops across the Uists and in Barra. More...

August 2011

The Uist Goose Management Scheme has commenced for 2011, funded and coordinated by the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project. The project, a partnership between SNH, RSPB, the Comhairle and the Scottish Crofting Federation and co-funded by EU LIFE+ money, is now in it second year and looks to build on the successes of its first season. More...

July 2011

Come and meet us at the Uist Agricultural Shows this summer. We will be at South Uist and North Uist shows on 23rd July and 10th August where you will have the opportunity to meet with the team and look over our modern reaper binder machine. We look forward to meeting and talking with you about how the project may support crofting on your croft.

Goose Damage - Are Geese Damaging Your Crops? If so, get in touch, as the project is deploying goose scarers to enable crop protection. Please contact Uists Goose Scheme Coordinator Rory Macgillvray on 07879 443518 For more information, please visit the How Can We Help page, and click Crop Protection.

June 2011

The project is stepping up its engagement with local schools through a series of practical wildlife and crofting sessions on the machair and a planned interpretation of the machair through school arts programme and crofting connections. More...

The project has successfully committed four applications to the Scottish Rural Development Plan for Biodiversity in North Uist, Barra and South Uist 2010 to benefit Natura 2000 designated features. More...

The project has initiated 30 Management Agreements with crofters across the Uists, which have agreed a series of traditional crofting practices which will benefit the machair, such as the late harvesting of arable crops. Management work has included over thirty hectares of seaweed being spread as organic fertiliser to benefit machair crops, resulting in management uptake.

Botanical and invertebrate survey and monitoring work will begin week June 6th. This is the second year of work by our appointed Cambridge–based consultancy Applied Ecology Ltd. We hope this work will reveal important findings.

April 2011

We had a big turn-out by local crofters and local government agency staff to demonstration events in North Uist and Benbecula on shallow ploughing and rotovating to benefit the machair. More...

Survey work this summer is taking place to assess breeding wader populations across five machair study areas at Iochar, Balranald, Bornish, Askernish and Berneray. More...

February 2011

The project is stepping up its engagement with local schools through a series of practical wildlife and crofting sessions on the machair and a planned interpretation of the machair through school arts programme and crofting connections.

January 2011

We have been busy meeting crofters across the island to agree management work which is known to benefit the machair and to trial additional initiatives where we can measure the wildlife benefits alongside crop yield. More...

We held four successful workshops on the Uists, Barra and Lewis for crofters and independent agents in the Scottish Rural Development Programme for Biodiversity application process. Continued funding is essential in order to support traditional crofting management. More...

October 2010

Corncrake recovery back on track - farmers and crofters credited with recent population increase More...

The project has successfully committed four applications to the Scottish Rural Development Plan for Biodiversity in North Uist, Barra and South Uist 2010 to benefit Natura 2000 designated features. The continued availability of funding to support crofting is essential if we are to maintain this valuable habitat. More...

September 2010

The first year of fieldwork has just been completed relating to botany and insects on the Uist machairs. As part of the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ project two surveyors from Applied Ecology, a Cambridge based consultancy, have spent much of the summer collating valuable data on lesser known fauna and flora of arable machair habitats. More...

August 2010

The Machair LIFE+ Project attended this year’s South Uist agricultural show to support the International Year of Biodiversity. More...

Have you got a reaper binder hidden at the back of your shed waiting to see the light of day? If so the Conserving Scottish Machair LIFE+ Project would like to hear from you. More...

July 2010

The Conserving Scottish Machair Life+ Project, Uist Greylag Goose Management Scheme document has been produced. Download a copy of it (if you cannot view PDFs, download a viewer). This explains how the Project will coordinate the 2010 Uist goose management scheme. We will be utilising a mix of coordinated goose management methodologies, including some tried and tested methods, but also some new, which have been proven to work in other schemes. The project will be closely monitoring what works best for the Uists.