Nature Champions: Arctic Birch

(c) John Muir Trust

Arctic birch is a shrub that can grow to around 1m in height. It is found in the Scottish Highlands, from Perthshire to Sutherland and grows at a range of altitudes up to around 800m. Today, it is classified as nationally scarce: its range is fairly scattered and it struggles to naturally regenerate unless grazing levels are low.

Recent research has suggested that it is likely to see almost total habitat range loss in Scotland by the end of the century due to climate change, with the production of viable seed also due to dramatically reduce. Management to allow natural regeneration and larger populations to develop may increase genetic diversity and potential for adaptation to changing conditions.  (Borrell et al. 2019)

It provides habitat, shelter and food (in the form of new buds and leaves) for a variety of upland animals, including black grouse, ring ouzel, ptarmigan and mountain hares. Arctic birch was highly prized in the Highlands for producing the brightest yellow dye.

Action Needed

  • Support strong deer management measures. 
  • Support mountain scrub expansion through rural development programme measures and greater flexibility within the Woodland Grant Scheme. 
  • Support the implementation of muirburn licencing.
  • Ensure the next Scottish Biodiversity Strategy includes a policy direction for land management that encourages natural regeneration of native upland woodland.


Arctic birch is declining as a result of overgrazing by deer and sheep, afforestation and burning.

MSP Nature Champion

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