Holocene changes in the physiography and vegetation of the Atlantic littoral of the Uists, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

William Ritchie, G. Whittington, Kevin John Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Immediately W of the islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides is a wide, low-gradient submarine shelf on which glacifluvial deposits of Devensian age and calcareous sand accumulated. Following moulding by Devensian ice, the Lateglacial landscape of the littoral zone of the Uists became a series of low-lying bedrock ridges and basins. The analysis of sub-tidal organic deposits has shown that in the early Holocene this landscape supported water bodies, marshes and a vegetation mosaic of Betula-Corylus woodland and Calluna vulgaris-herbaceous taxa open ground. The submergence of this littoral area during the Holocene Marine Transgression, together with wave action typical of the position on the Atlantic margin, led to the transfer onshore of submarine shelf deposits, so creating machair (sand plain) landscapes. This brought about vegetational changes, eventually creating calcareous grasslands. The timing of these events was asynchronous, being location- and site-specific due to variations in the configuration of the littoral zone. Although the date of the initial transfer of sand is unknown, evidence from the sub-tidal deposits indicates that a major incursion of sand, in North Uist, occurred c. 7600 BP (8450-8340 cal BP). The same source also suggests that a further major sand movement took place during the period 5800-4200 cal BP, a period of widespread sand drift in NW Europe. The analyses of the sub-tidal deposits have also reinforced the current theory of machair evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-136
Number of pages15
JournalTransactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh-Earth
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • coastal submergence
  • inter-tidal deposits
  • machair
  • pollen analysis
  • radiocarbon dating
  • sand incursion
  • vegetation history


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