Machair is not a plant, moreover a habitat. The word is gaelic for a geological formation – a fertile low-lying raised beach. The machair is famous for the flower-rich meadows which are spectacular in the spring.
There are two kinds of machair; one is a fertile sand dune pasture which has been under agricultural cultivation and is found in wet and windy conditions; the other is the land between a beach and the area where sand has covered over the edge of a peat bog further inland.
Best seen in spring and summer when the flowers are in bloom. This habitat supports rare low lying, so-called carpet flowers, such as Irish lady's tresses, orchids and yellow rattle. These in turn attract a range of bird species including the corncrake, dunlin, redshank, ringed plover and twite. Machairs have received considerable conservation attention because of their unique ecosystems which need careful management.
A machair will be found near to the seashore and are particularly renowned in the Outer Hebrides and along the north-west coast.
Some machairs are threatened by coastal erosion caused by rising sea levels, which is a long term effect of global warming. Others are under pressure due to an increased human recreational activity on nearby beaches.