Radiocarbon dating of historic mudflat sediments at Airth in the inner Forth estuary and the impact on the estuary of nineteenth century agricultural improvements

Richard Tipping* (Corresponding Author), Geoff Bailey, Joshua Birks, Elinor Louise Graham, Lucy Haseldine, Jason Jordan, John Reid, David Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The results of sediment-stratigraphic, diatom and pollen analyses, and AMS 14C dating of salt marsh sediments at Higgin’s Neuk, Airth in the inner Forth estuary in central Scotland are reported. Engineering borehole records of abundant peat within mudflat sediments encouraged work to establish rates of mudflat accretion over the last several centuries. However, six 14C assays on peat closely associated with buried archaeological structures of likely eighteenth century age record later prehistoric and early historic age-estimates. The assays are thought to be correct. The peat is not in situ. It probably originated from the well-documented, extensive late eighteenth and early nineteenth century clearance of raised mosses in the River Forth for agriculture. The sediment-stratigraphic evidence is important because it confirms the scale of the impacts of peat clearance on the inner estuary derived from contemporary documents. The peat may act as a marker horizon in mudflat and salt marsh sediments from which rates of post-eighteenth century mudflat accretion can be derived. At Higgin’s Neuk these were probably very high, given uncertainties in dating controls, around 0.8 cm/yr (1.2 yrs/cm) for the last ca. 150 years, a finding which accords with other studies around the North Sea.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-172
Number of pages15
JournalScottish Geographical Journal
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative for funding and support throughout the project and in particular to Kate Fuller (RSPB), to Tom Dawson, Jo Hambly and Tanya Freke of the ScAPE Trust, Richard Bates (University of St. Andrews), the many willing volunteers on the project, and the land-owner and Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot) for access. Jan Dunbar is thanked for cartographic support. The helpful comments of the two referees were much appreciated.
This work was supported by the HLF-funded Inner Forth Landscape Initiative.


  • Radiocarbon dating
  • estuarine sediment
  • archaeology
  • agricultural improvement
  • peat clearance


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