Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve

An important nature reserve on the E coast of the Shetland island of Unst, the Keen of Hamar National Nature Reserve extends to 42.4 ha (104 acres) and protects barren stony scree which supports a unique collection of rare arctic-alpine plants adapted to the unusual geology here. This area represents the largest expanse of serpentine rock debris in Europe. The sparse vegetation includes Edmondston's Chickweed (Cerastium nigrescens, also known as Shetland Mouse-ear), which is found nowhere else in the world. This plant was discovered in 1837 by a noted local botanist, Thomas Edmondston of Buness (1825-46). Other rare plants that makes their home in this harsh environment include Norwegian Sandwort (Arenaria norvegica) and the nationally-scarce Northern Rock-Cress (Arabidopsis petraea). The remainder of the reserve is covered with thin glacial soil which support a heathland vegetation dominated by heather and sedges, together with a wide range of flowering plants.

The eastern part of the reserve was designated a National Nature Reserve in 1975. The Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland (NCCS) bought this land in 1986, together with a 11 ha (27 acres) further to the east, although the enlarged reserve was only formally declared in 2005. The reserve is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and forms the larger part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) important not only for its plant assemblage, but also for its geology (part of an ophiolite complex which includes unusual minerals) and periglacial geomorphology. Today, the reserve is managed by NatureScot, successor organisation to the NCCS.

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