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Avena strigosa


In Scots the name for oat is ‘ait’ or ‘ate’ and A. strigosa on Shetland and Orkney is Shetland oat or Shetland ate. On the Western Isles it is usually referred to as small oat in contrast to big, mainland or white oat, Avena sativa. The vernacular Gaelic name for small oats given by crofters is Corc beag – small oat in contrast to Corca mòr, big or mainland or white oats. On Tiree it was named Tiree oat.

Chromosome No.: 2n = 14, 28 (Stace 2010).

Avena strigosa


Seed cleaning and seed certification have reduced its occurrence as a weed to the point of extinction, and records in the New Atlas for mainland Britain are mainly as bird feed spill. The concentration of records for the Southern Outer Hebrides in the New Atlas reflects its occurrence as a weed associated with cultivation on the Uists. This was checked in BSBI-funded fieldwork in 2006 (Scholten et al. 2008).

As a crop it has disappeared from former stronghold Wales (Chater 1993) and from most parts of Western Scotland. Few growers on Shetland and Fair Isle use it, mainly for crafts such as chairs and basketry. The 540 hectares of small oat in cultivation on the Uists form one of the largest remaining areas of cultivation of this ancient crop in Europe, and the largest area of surviving landraces in Britain.

BSBI Hectad Map 

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Origin: a non-native synanthropic species. It is not considered an archaeophyte because it does not naturalise (Preston 2004).

Rarity: as a crop, it is a landrace, with local varieties grown and seed saved on farms over generations by farmers, or in Scotland, crofters.

Threat: many local varieties have gone extinct, including the Welsh varieties and the Tiree oat. Shetland oat is severely threatened and the Fair Isle grower is retiring.

Conservation: for cultivated plants, no Red Data List or equivalent of Species Action Plan exist.


Pankhurst (1991) lists it as a diagnostic species for the weed community of the Chenopodium album - Viola tricolor subsp. curtisii association of the cultivated machair of North and South Uist. As a crop, small oat is usually grown in a mixture with rye and/or bere barley on the narrow strip of coastal grasslands, the machair. Soil nutrient deficiencies, alkalinity, salt spray in combination with high rainfall and high winds give rise to very marginal agricultural conditions (Grant 1979). The local landraces are yielding under low-input conditions. Mainland oat (A. sativa) would require spraying with copper and manganese in order to produce straw or grain. The traditional rotation with natural fallow of 2 to 3 years is associated with phase-specific weed communities (Kent 1996).

Avena strigosa habitat


Further Work 

Continued inventory of cultivated populations. Especially for Skye and Kyle, recordings are needed and BSBI members are requested to report.

Genetic diversity study from different parts of the UK and Europe.

Study of conservation policy methods to support maintenance of landraces.

You can help! Please record occurrences of cultivated A. strigosa to

  • Angus, S. 2001. The Outer Hebrides: Moor and Machair. SNH
  • Chater, A.O. 1993. Avena strigosa Schreb., Bristle Oat and other cereals as crops and casuals. In Cardiganshire, V.C. 46 Welsh Bulletin of the BSBI, no 55, pg. 7-14
  • Fenton, A. 1978. The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. John Donald Publishers Ltd. Edinburgh
  • Grant, J.W. 1979. Cereals and grass production in Lewis and the Uists. Proc. Roy Soc Edinb 77B: 527 –533
  • Kent, M., Weaver, R., Gilbertson, D., Wathern, P. & Brayshay, B. 1996. The present-day machair vegetation of the southern Outer Hebrides. In: D. Gilbertson, M. Kent & J. Grattan (eds) The Outer Hebrides: the last 14,000 years, 133-145. Sheffield University Press, Sheffield.
  • Marquand, C.V.B. 1922. Varieties of Oats in Cultivation. WPBS bulletin No 2
  • Pankhurst, R. 1991. The Flora of the Outer Hebrides, British Museum
  • Podyma, W. 1993. Genetic resources and variability of Avena strigosa Schreb. Schreb., s.l. In: Freson E.A. Koenig, J. Schnittenhelm, S. (eds) Report on the 4th meeting of the ECP/GR Avena working group, IBPGR Rome, pg. 13-29.
  • Preston, C. D., Pearman, D.A. and Hall, A.R. 2004. Archaeophytes in Britain. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 145: 257-294
  • Scholten, M., N. Maxted, B. Ford-Lloyd and N. Green (in press) Hebridean and Shetland Oat (Avena strigosa Schreb.), and Shetland cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.) landraces: occurrence and conservation issues BIOVERSITY/FAO PGR Newsletter
  • Scott, W. & R. Palmer 1987. The flowering plants and ferns of the Shetland Islands. The Shetland Times Ltd. Lerwick
  • Stace, C.A. 1997. New Flora of the British Isles, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Scholten, M. (Date accessed). Species account: Avena strigosa. Botanical Society of the British Isles,