How landscape zones can help define Scotland’s bioregions

Recently I did a presentation in Kilmartin, mid-Argyll, on bioregions and someone suggested I look at Scottish Natural Heritage’s project to split Scotland into 21 landscape zones, each with its distinctive character.  He thought these might form the basis for bioregions.

I went and looked it up on the internet. My zone is defined as no. 14, Argyll West and the Islands, which includes Arran and Bute in the Clyde as well as Islay, Jura and Gigha on the west coast.

Back at the Kilmartin event I had suggested that our bioregion might be defined as Argyll “without Bute”, as the island falls within what I thought of as the Firth of  Clyde bioregion. Afterwards a participant came up to me and said he was really disappointed that I had decided to leave Bute out! He came from Bute and felt an affinity with the areas to the west – the Cowal and Kintyre peninsulas – which are very much rugged west Argyll and distinct, as he saw it, from the rest of the Clyde.

So it was fascinating to see that the compilers of the landscape zones had come to a similar conclusion. They had put both Bute and Arran in with west Argyll and put the inner part of the Clyde into the West Central Belt zone.

As a concept I think that landscape zoning has a lot to offer;  however, work needs to be done to adapt it to the more wide-ranging concept of bioregions. Whilst the foundation of a bioregion is its distinctive landscape character, the bioregion is much more: a framework around which people can grow a sense of local identity and use this to develop resilient, self-sustaining local economies.

Nevertheless a foundation is a foundation and the work of SNH in producing their 21 zones for Scotland is impressive. They have actually conceived of 365 distinct landscape character types for Scotland e.g. rocky mosaic coast;  a number which reflects the huge variety of landscapes in this small country. One for every day in the year.

West Argyll and the islands either side of the Kintyre peninsula do, indeed, seem to have a unique character. The grain of the landscape is N.E./S.W. with Islay and Jura, and Gigha and Cara, forming distinctive chains of islands along this axis. Both Arran and Jura have iconic, memorable mountainous profiles.

The land is largely upland, occasionally mountainous, though there are many raised beaches which give rise to good quality coastal farmlands in contrast to the adjacent moorland areas.  The coastline is highly indented with sea lochs and the famous “kyles” of Bute where the northern half of the island is surrounded by the land of Cowal but separated by a narrow sea channel.

For the past ten years I have been working on projects that encompass Kintyre, the Cowal, mid-Argyll, the Oban area, Helensburgh, Bute, Arran, Gigha, Islay and Jura – virtually all the areas within the natural heritage zone. So it is already starting to feel like a bioregion in the Transition and Permaculture sense.

About edwardtyler

I live in Kintyre, the long peninsula acting as a natural breakwater for the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. A Permaculture and Transition practitioner, I am working with fellow community activists to co-create a resilient and vibrant local bioregion.


  1. Thanks for this Ed – The work of SNH as you describe is interesting and I agree that Bioregioning is more than just the landscape or even ecology – it is the interaction of those who live there with the land and with other people as well.

    • edwardtyler

      Yes you are right to focus on these interactions. The three patterns I describe elsewhere in the blog are all about such interactions. The net pattern is about what I am doing to make a web of fruitful bioregional connections with groups and individuals; the nest is about how I relate to others in my bioregion in terms of settlements of folk; the tree is about structures of decision making and the flow of resources.

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