Past & Present

The Changing Landscape

Over the last 12,000 years the western coastline of the Outer Hebrides has gradually moved east because the Western Isles are slowly sinking into the sea. Mainland Scotland, particularly its west side, has risen since the Ice Age, because a huge weight of ice has disappeared from the land. But the sea between the mainland and the islands – the Minch – has acted as a hinge. As the land across the Minch has risen, it has slowly forced the Western Isles down. The waves now wash over what was once the western coastal edge of the Outer Hebrides, in some areas well over a kilometre out to sea.

These changes in land level mean that the sea is taking areas that were settled in prehistoric and more recent times. The process is exacerbated by gales pushing sand inland, every so often burying farms and fields that were originally some distance from the coastal edge. The wind-blown sand becomes a new soft land over the once-settled ground, which can be easily eaten up by huge storm waves. This coastal erosion is destroying prehistoric and historic buildings, middens and fields, washing them into the sea at a rate of as much as 10m per gale in places.

By Jill Harden

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