Loch of Winless
Significance: a key site recording the vegetation history of Caithness and which
provided the first clear timescales for the development of the
peat bogs of the flow country
Loch of Winless
Significance: a key site recording the vegetation
history of Caithness and which provided the first
clear timescales for the development of the peat
bogs of the flow country

Loch of Winless

Significance: a key site recording the vegetation history of Caithness and which provided the first clear timescales for the development of the peat bogs of the flow country

The bed of this loch carries a sequence of organic muds and sands, marls and peat which spans almost the entire postglacial period. Peglar (1979) extracted cores from this sediment pile for pollen analysis and produced pollen diagram that give a detailed record of vegetation and environmental change. The site remains the most detailed record in Caithness and is designated as a SSSI (Birks, 1993).

The basal sediments date from around 12500 radiocarbon years ago and probably do not include the very first colonisers of the land after ice retreat. The Lateglacial vegetation was a grassland with tall herbs and open ground specialists, now confined to the high ground in the Northern Highlands. In the early part of the present interglacial, the Holocene, there was no major development of woodland on sandy soils. This marks the lowlands of Caithness as quite distinctive in comparison to elsewhere in mainland Britain. Instead diverse vegetation communities developed, including scrub birch, hazel and willow, grassland and herbs. Progressive leaching appears to have led to nutrient-poor soils and the expansion of Calluna heaths after 6000 years ago. There is no obvious human impact on the vegetation until as late as 2500 BP, even though older human settlements developed nearby. This is 1500 yr after the first influences appear in the vegetation record on Orkney and may reflect the differing potential of the two terrains for human occupancy and impact.

North end of the Loch of Winless / © Copyright Paul Simonite / Geograph