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Highlands

Glacially eroded landscape  along west coast of Scotland
Glacially eroded landscape along west coast of Scotland
The largest of the geographical regions, the Highlands embrace a variety of rock types which give rise to a most diverse landscape and soil pattern. Again, the lithology of the rocks, the structure into which they have been formed and their chemical composition influence their response to a geomorphological process. Undoubtedly the principal event responsible for creating the landscape has been the Pleistocene Glaciations.

Glaciated U-shape valley in upper reaches of River Dee, Lairig Ghru
Glaciated U-shape valley in upper reaches of River Dee, Lairig Ghru
Typical U-shaped valleys and rugged, highly dissected terrain with relatively narrow deep lochs within rock basins gouged out by the ice contrast with distinctive plateaux in central areas with smooth surfaces covered by vast deposits of intact and deeply-eroding peat. Around the deeply indented fjords of the north and west, steep, often rock or boulder strewn slopes arise from the waters edge and the sequence of high ridges separated by deep glens create a distinctive but, at times, repetitive landscape. All of the highest mountains in Scotland are present within this region.

LAND USE

Glacial moraines in valley bottom  and rock controlled hill slopes,  Central Perthshire
Glacial moraines in valley bottom and rock controlled hill slopes, Central Perthshire
Steep slopes, the possible presence of outcropping rock or boulders and soils in which peaty, wet surface horizons create workability problems, all combine to impose serious restrictions on land use. Flat land associated with alluvial deposits and/or river terraces represent the best sites for arable farming, such land often forms ribbons within major valleys and merges into improved grassland within the foothills. With increase in altitude, the resultant higher rainfall, lower temperatures and greater exposure all influence the chemical, physical and biotic processes in the soil such that peaty soils are widespread outwith the cultivated land. These areas are often set aside for rough grazing or the more specialised uses of grouse shooting or deer stalking. Forestry experiences the same climate and soil limitations as agriculture but in sheltered glens at low elevation good stands of deciduous trees are possible on deep, free draining soils. Elsewhere, Scots Pine, Lodgepole Pine and Sitka Spruce are represented in large-scale plantations which extend upslope to a maximum elevation of about 500 metres.

Learning & Resources


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.