SCIENTISTS are preparing to be roped to experienced climbers in order to conduct the most intensive study of the rocks and plants of the northern face of Ben Nevis.

The three-year initiative by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) will involve 10 experienced climbers and two climbing botanists. They will conduct a roped-access botanical survey of the 300 acres that make up the steep north face of the Ben.

Also involved in the work is Midland Valley Exploration, who are providing geological survey technology and expertise. They will help investigate the influence geology has on the distribution of the plants.

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This week the climbers will find out more about the plants that live in the shady gullies and ledges of the mountain and learn how to identify individual species. This will also raise awareness in the climbing community of the vulnerability of rare plants on the face.

It is thought a number of new locations for rare species will be found, as well as some species which have so far gone unrecorded on Ben Nevis.

According to SNH, the mountain and some of its satellite hills provide exceptional habitats for rare arctic-alpine flora. Their importance is reflected in the designations of the Ben Nevis Special Area of Conservation and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Cathy Mayne of SNH said: "We are very excited to be doing this joint venture between professional botanists, climbers and geologists. It will yield important new records on the rare plants found on Ben Nevis.

"The results should tell us more about the geology of the face and the influence this has on plant distribution. It should also flag up any imminent threats to the plants and help us decide if any action is needed to help them."

She added: "Finding ­something not previously recorded here would be a real bonus and incredibly exciting were it to happen."