Loch Stiapabhat Local Nature Reserve
Loch Stiapabhat in Ness on the Isle of Lewis was declared a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) in July 2005 – a first for the Western Isles. The LNR is a locally lead initiative which is backed by Comunn Eachdraidh Nis (Ness Historical Society), Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Galson Estate Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The reserve is managed by a local management group known as ‘Friends of Loch Stiapabhat’.
Loch Stiapabhat is the largest eutrophic loch in Lewis and is situated on the main flyway from and to the Arctic. It therefore, attracts a great variety of migrant, and vagrant, bird species from both the Old and New Worlds. It is the first fresh water found by birds migrating from Iceland and Greenland in autumn, for washing, drinking & feeding, and the last for those returning in spring. None of our lochs has had a wider range of rarities recorded or possesses such a diversity of common water birds that can be so easily observed.
The tradition in Ness is that the area North of the loch was once an island formed after the ice age when sea levels rose. Relieved from the weight of ice, the land rose. As it did, the sea receded, creating Loch Stiapabhat – ‘the loch of immersing or soaking’. This may refer to the practice of soaking flax prior to its spinning (Dr R.Cox).
The loch covers 2.5ha and is rich in nutrients (pH 8.5), owing to underlying sand & runoff from crofts. It is probably spring fed since its level seldom fluctuates. Due to its marsh, machair & birdlife, it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The local community has erected a hide from which all this wildlife may be watched without disturbance. The loch is also close to other amenities such as the Butt of Lewis and Port of Ness, details of which are available in the Ness Historical Society Centre at Habost. Leaflets describing the loch and its environment are also available there.