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The words ‘Clyde-built’ and ‘Clyde-navigation’ originated in the heyday of maritime engineering and commerce in Clydeside at the beginning of this century and had a double meaning; they respectively became the hallmarks of high-quality workmanship and astuteness in business. The words are symbolic of and have a rooting in the proud tradition of the lower Clyde with its flat carse-land suitable for human settlement, its sheltered navigable firth and estuary facing the New World and its handy reserves of coal. A new industrial society was founded from communities of poor, rural people in Scotland and Ireland ready to immigrate and settle in this land of opportunity. The sons of crofters became skilled tradesmen, engineers and businessmen; the Clyde was made navigable to the heart of Glasgow and for a time became an open sewer.
Conservation of nature is a culture of the twentieth century possessing its own philosophical, ethical and scientific frame which is distinct from those of agriculture, forestry and other producer industries. In the latter, conservation is directed towards the creation and maintenance of the quality and quantity of the product, be it cereal, wood pulp or automobiles; in the former, nature conservation is directed towards the maintenance of numbers of different species distributed in different assemblages of natural or semi-natural type and towards the care of geological and physiographical features.
The Inner Hebrides have a natural history which, in geological time, dates from the Archaean and, in human history, from the Mesolithic 7000–6500 BC. The archipelago was a great attraction to scientists and historians in the 19th and 20th centuries which has resulted in an extensive literature. It started with Martin in 1703 and following a steady interest for about two centuries has blossomed in many spheres of scientific and other interests over the past 50 years. The islands are geologically outstanding and much pioneering work has been done on their Lewisian and Torridonian basement, Mesozoic fossiliferous sediments and Tertiary ring structures which has been of value in the understanding of the geology of the European and the North Atlantic provinces. The geomorphological features include glaciated landscapes, raised beaches and those caused by marine erosion and accretion.
The character of the islands is in great part determined by a mild, wet and windy climate. The soils are mainly ‘mor’ in character with localities of ‘mull’ soils overlying limestone or calcareous sand. Similarly, the vegetation and freshwaters are mainly oligotrophic except when overlying limestone or shell-sand which support meso- and eutrophic communities of plants and animals. There are important assemblies of breeding seabirds in Rhum and Treshnish Isles and wintering flocks of geese and other wildfowl in Islay. The large islands have populations of red deer, grey seals, common seals and otters breed throughout the islands. The Inner Hebrides hold stocks of plants and animals which are genetically distinct from those of the mainland and some have Lusitanian and American affinities.
The islands are mainly used for the grazing of sheep and cattle with local small-scale arable cropping in crofting and farming. Forestry is possible only in the sheltered parts of the larger islands or in small sheltered islands; the main crops are sitka spruce and lodgepole pine but there are broadleafed woodlands around large houses in many islands and gardens with exotic, sub-tropical plants, shrubs and trees. There are pelagic and demersal marine fisheries, shell fisheries and fish farms mainly growing salmon, rainbow trout and mussels. The mineral resources on a commercial scale, are minor. The nature conservation interest is high with two National Nature Reserves (including Rhum) and 62 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The methods of nature conservation applied within the Inner Hebrides are those which are now standard throughout Britain and are governed by legislation. The procedures for habitat or site protection and species protection are illustrated in the descriptions of the reserves, the Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the protected species within the archipelago. The reserves and sites cover interests in the geology, geomorphology, zoology, botany and ecology of the islands and the surrounding seabed. National Scenic Areas are also mentioned. Relationships between nature conservation and the uses of land and sea are discussed. With the exceptions of the commercial exploitation of the island pastures in sheep husbandry, with much uncontrolled burning, and the exploitation of fin fish and shell fish and consequent widespread depletion of stocks, the Inner Hebrides are comparatively undisturbed by modern industrial development.
The historical review of scientific work done in the Outer Hebrides precedes a scientific profile of the archipelago including geographical, geological, botanical, zoological and resource outlines. Effects of the use of natural resources by man on the natural environment are discussed. Management of land and water for the purposes of nature conservation are given by descriptions of the Loch Druidibeg and Monach Islands National Nature Reserves and other Sites of Special Scientific Interest. These exemplify existing case studies and procedures in nature conservation conducted by the Nature Conservancy Council and others. In conclusion, the Outer Hebrides are set in the context of the National Planning Guidelines of the Scottish Development Department which show resources of ‘national’ importance in agriculture and nature conservation.