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Moray and Nairn Coast Ramsar Site and Special Protection Area
The Moray and Nairn Coast Ramsar Site and SPA comprises the Culbin Bars, Findhorn Bay and Spey Bay which together form the easternmost estuarine component of the Moray Basin Ecosystem. The boundary of the site generally follows the coastline within the Culbin Sands, Forest and Findhorn Bay SSSI, the estuarine limit of the Spey Bay SSSI and the boundary of the Lower River Spey SSSI.

The area qualifies as a Ramsar site because:
" It supports a variety of wetland features. The dunes and shingle at Culbin Sands are of outstanding importance for their vegetation. The large areas of mudflat and saltmarsh at the Culbin Bars and Findhorn Bay are relatively undisturbed and are unaffected by reclamation or industrial development. The mosaic of habitats at Spey Bay/Lower River Spey are the nearest approach in Britain to natural floodplain forest.

" It supports at least 4 nationally scarce aquatic plants, and at least 5 aquatic Red Data Book species of invertebrate. Other important species are Common Seal, Otter, Salmon and Sea Lamprey.

" It supports over 20,000 wintering waterfowl, including internationally important wintering populations of icelandic/greenlandic Pink-Footed Goose, icelandic Greylag Goose, and Redshank. In addition there are nationally important numbers of wintering Velvet Scoter, Red-Breasted Merganser and Bar-Tailed Godwit.

The area qualifies as a Special Protection Area because:
" In addition to the bird populations mentioned in the Ramsar qualifications above, the site provides foraging grounds for nationally important numbers of breeding osprey, and an important breeding population of Common Tern.

Culbin Bar candidate Special Area of Conservation
This site consists of Culbin Sands, Culbin Forest and Findhorn Bay SSSI and has been chosen because:
" It is considered to be one of the best areas in the UK for coastal shingle vegetation outside the reach of waves. This encompasses a wide range of vegetation found on coastal shingle above the reach of waves. It includes the open pioneer stages close to the limit of the tide, in which there are a number of specialised flowering plants, such as yellow horned poppy. It also includes the grasslands, heath, scrub and moss and lichen dominated vegetation of very old, stable shingle further inland.

" It supports a significant presence of Atlantic salt meadows. This habitat encompasses saltmarsh vegetation containing perennial flowering plants that are regularly inundated by the sea.

" It supports a significant presence of shifting dunes. These are low dunes that develop along the upper shore above the high tide line. Only a few plant species are able to survive these conditions such as sand couch, lyme grass, sea sandwort and sea rocket.

Troup, Pennan and Lion's Head Special Protection Area
This site is a 9km stretch of sea cliffs along the Aberdeenshire coast, contained within the Gamrie and Pennan Coast SSSI. The cliffs support large colonies of breeding seabirds. The site qualifies as an SPA because:

It supports over 20,000 individual breeding seabirds. In fact in 1995 the site supported about 150,000 individual seabirds of 9 species.

It supports internationally important breeding populations of Kittiwake (31,600 pairs in 1995) and Guillemot (44,600 individuals in 1995). The other breeding seabirds include Fulmar (4,400 pairs), Gannet (540 pairs and the only mainland colony in Scotland), Shag (180 pairs), Herring Gull (4,200 pairs), Great Blacked Gull (12 pairs), Razorbill (4,800 individuals) and Puffin (620 individuals). All figures are estimates for 1995.

In addition to the sites of biological interest which are mentioned above much of the coastline is of great geological interest.

Culbin Sands, Culbin Forest and Findhorn Bay SSSI - Geological Interest.
Culbin is a site of exceptional interest for the scale, complexity and diversity of its coastal geomorphology. The features of major significance include the complex history of postglacial landform evolution, the long history of sand movements and the range of dune and sandhill landforms that rest on a platform of shingle deposits. The ancient dunes, now stabilised by afforestation, form one of the largest areas of blown sand in Britain. Furthermore, the spectacular erosional features and rapid retreat of the eastern coastal foreland, together with the highly dynamic spit and bar environments to the west whose changes are well documented, provide excellent examples of a whole range of coastal landforms which can be clearly linked to coastal processes. Culbin is therefore a site of outstanding importance for studies in coastal geomorphology.

Spey Bay SSSI - Geological Interest
Spey Bay is a site of the highest importance for coastal geomorphology. It is outstanding on several accounts. Firstly, it includes the finest active shingle ridges in Scotland. These are developed on a massive scale over a distance of 8km and provide almost unique evidence for short and medium-term term dynamic coastal processes. Secondly, there is the delta and related forms at the mouth of the Spey, a complex and shifting area with a documented history of dramatic changes. Thirdly, the active coastal margin is backed by a magnificent strandplain of post-glacial shingle ridges, recording the progressive history of coastal development. The scale of development, juxtaposition and inter-relationships of these key elements makes Spey Bay one of the most important coastal physiographic sites in Britain.

Lossiemouth East Quarry SSSI
Lossiemouth East Quarry has yielded the largest range and largest numbers of fossil specimens of late Triassic reptiles in Britain (eight species and eighty individuals). The fauna is unique in the northern hemisphere in its strong similarities to faunas from the south (e.g. South America and India).. Type material of six species, five of them unique to Lossiemouth, has been collected, including a very early dinosaur. These include many forms without clear relatives elsewhere in the world, and they have yielded important information with regard to the evolution and relationships of early dinosaurs and their ancestors, the thecondontians. Historically this is one of Britain's most important sites for vertebrate palaeontology.

Lossiemouth Shore SSSI
The Lossiemouth Sandstone Formation is well-exposed in the coastal section, around Lossiemouth. This formation, which is partly aeolian (wind blown), partly fluvial in origin, is dated as Late Triassic on the basis of its vertebrate fauna and is, therefore, the youngest established Triassic deposit in the Moray Firth basin. A distinctive unit, the 'Cherty Rock' occurs at the top of the formation. This is a silicified rock with many similarities to present day siliceous soils of arid and semi arid areas. A key site for the elucidation of environments during Triassic times.

Clashach - Covesea SSSI
The coastal section between the 'New Red Sandstone' quarry at Clashach and the disused quarry at Covesea provides an excellent section in the Hopeman Sandstone Formation. This formation is dated as Lower Triassic on the basis of its contained vertebrate fossil material. The sandstones show a variety of sedimentary lamination types within large scale dune bedding. Cross strata, often affected by spectacular post-depositional deformation structures, dip generally to the west indicating palaeowinds blowing from the east during that time.

Masonshaugh SSSI
The disused 'New Red Sandstone' quarries at Masonshaugh and the coastal section between Burghhead and Cummingstown provide continuous exposures in the Burghhead Sandstone Formation. This is a set of predominantly fluvial deposits, which although unfossiliferous contain reptilian footprints, and appear to lie conformably on the Hopeman Sandstone Formation below. A Triassic age for them is therefore indicated. A unique feature of the sandstone is the abundance of fluorite and barite within the sediment binding together the sand grains.

Masonshaugh Quarry has yielded an excellent range of fossil footprints (small, meduim and large), probably made by mammal like reptiles. The large ones appear to be unique in the world, whilst the smaller ones compare with widespread finds from the Upper Permian in England and Germany. the tracks are the only fossils in the extensive Hopeman Sandstone Formation, and are thus the only hope for dating it at present. This is one of the best Permian footprint localities in Britain.

Cullen to Stakeness Coast, Whitehills to Melrose Coast, and Rosehearty to Fraserburgh Coast are also geological SSSIs.


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