Updated: Nov 1, 2022
I recently discovered that one of my usual foraging spots falls inside or alarmingly close to a SSSI (Special Site of Scientific Interest) so I’ve decided to put some time into properly understanding the rules around foraging within an SSSI and to map out the foraging prohibited areas on Arran.
Harvesting the overground parts of plants is legal but NOT within protected areas, such as a National Nature Reserve or an SSSI. If you are harvesting roots of plants or digging them up you need the landowners permission and harvesting commercially requires permission too. For more information on the legalities of foraging across the UK, see this very helpful article by British Local Food.
What even are SSSIs? I’m glad you asked!
According to Nature.Scot they are
“…areas of land and water that we consider best represent our natural heritage.”
This can be because they contain rare or endangered flora & fauna, geology or landforms. So an SSSI is a bit like a conservation area. You are allowed to access the land within an SSSI because of the Right to Roam in Scotland, but the vast majority of them require consent to take any plants, mushrooms, wood or turf.
SSSIs cover 12.6% of Scotland’s land, however on Arran they cover far more. Roughly around 60% of the land on Arran falls within a designated SSSI. So foraging on Arran involves an awful lot of dodging SSSIs boundaries and it's important to be clued up before you head out, basket in arm.
Each SSSI has its own name and comes with reports stating the reason for the designation and information about what is being protected.The restricted activities for each SSSI include things like removing plants or rocks and using vehicles.
There are many protected areas of land on Arran but 7 of them that de facto prohibit foraging. The table below shows a breakdown of each SSSI on Arran and whether or not you can forage there. We’ll look at the biggest SSI in detail in this articl
North Arran Mountains SSSI
This covers the moorland and mountains of the Northend of the island. It is the largest and most diverse upland habitat in west central Scotland. This SSSI was set up to protect the upland birch woodland between Lochranza and Catacol, which is the most extensive area of native birch woodland on Arran. It also protects the important geological landscape of Sannox and a number of other species, such as:
Whitebeam - the nationally rare Arran service-tree, the Arran whitebeam and the Catacol whitebeam
golden eagle and
red throated diver
water beetle and
purebred red deer
While the statement produced by Scottish Nature Heritage states the pressures on this SSSI are mainly from burning, grazing, over-zealous geologists (not even kidding, it really says that), trampling from recreational activities and invasive species, it still prohibits foraging. Among many other restrictions, you need to apply for permission to do the following:
“The killing or removal of any wild animal, including pest control.”
“The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including tree, shrub, herb, hedge, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus, leaf-mould and turf.”
Basically no foraging for anything inside the boundary of the SSSI. Some of the most popular walking routes on Arran fall within this SSSI. Goatfell itself is within the site, as well as Glen Sannox and Glen Iorsa, so no nibbling on the way up!
Arran Moors SSSI
This moorland habitat supports breeding hen harriers, which make up approximately 3.6% of the overall British population of the birds. The site is much more scattered than Arran North Mountains SSSI due to the distribution of habitat. The site supports other rare birds such as:
Arran Moors SSSI has similar restrictive activities as North Arran Mountains SSI, some of the items stated in the restrictions are different but the effect is identical. Sadly foraging is also restricted here. You need a permit to do the following:
“The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of plant or plant remains, including tree, shrub, herb or moss…”
“Recreational, research, educational or other activities, other than those carried out responsibly in keeping with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and except for:
i) Those which are under a licence issued by SNH.
ii) Angling from banks and boats between 31 July and 15 April”
This basically means that you are allowed to access the land, but are not allowed to forage in case it damages the delicate population of hen harriers.
Smaller SSSIs of Arran
All but one of these include restrictions against removing or cutting plants, dead plants, herbs, moss, mushrooms, lichen, fern, turf or algae. They all also prohibit recreational activities that fall outside the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, such as foraging.
South Coast of Arran SSSI
This one exists to protect the very rare and declining oysterplant that lives in the coastal habitats of the Southend.
The coastal landscape consists of dykes and sills, which are igneous intrusions of rock. They were formed when molten volcanic rock was forced upward to fill cracks which form in the Earth’s crust. The numerous dykes exposed along the southern coast of Arran, known collectively as the Arran Dyke Swarm, are of international importance.
The SSSI restricts the collection of shingle, soil, minerals, sand and shells or any plant matter, as well as using vehicles anywhere on the site. You need permission to do these activities. So no beachcombing on Torrylinn beach!
Ard Bheinn SSSI
This is the site of some important Tertiary Igneous rocks formed by volcanic action. It is also part of the hen harriers nesting and feeding area.
You need permission to forage here or to gather anything from the area.
Benlister Glen SSSI
This SSI is a wet woodland ecosystem with rare species such as green spleenwort, mountain sorrel and the nationally scarce alpine enchanter’s nightshade.
Of course this site is stated as important for hen harriers as well.
Gleann Dubh SSSI.
This is an upland bog habitat that supports many rare species of plants as well as (you guessed it) hen harriers. The rocky outcrops here are home to some specially rare plants such as roseroot, green spleenwort, alpine enchanter’s nightshade, rock whitebeam, stone bramble, alpine meadow-rue and alpine saw-wort.
Dippin Head SSSI
There are rock formations known as the ‘Dippin Sill’ at this site. The sill is of national interest because it forms an important feature associated with volcanic activity that is not seen so well represented elsewhere. Plus our old friends, the hen harrier, are here too.
Extraction of minerals is prohibited unless you have permission, however this site is the exception to the rule, as it is NOT prohibited to collect plants, i.e. you’re allowed to forage here.
Overall, if you’re out foraging on Arran it is well worth looking up the boundaries of the SSSIs on the island because they cover so much of the land. Foraging on these sites may lead to damaging some rare species or their vitally important habitats.