GCR block - Quaternary of Scotland (QA-SC)

Quaternary of Scotland

Block Description

UK map showing distribution of GCR sites of GCR block QA-SC
Distribution of GCR sites of GCR block Quaternary of Scotland

The Quaternary Period is the most recent major subdivision of the geological record, spanning the late Cainozoic Era. Traditionally, it is divided into two intervals of epoch status – the Pleistocene and Holocene. The Holocene Epoch occupies only the last 10 000 years of geological time and is the warm interval or interglacial in which we now live. Consequently, it is often regarded as part of the Pleistocene rather than a separate epoch. In a strict geological sense, the base of the Pleistocene Epoch (and therefore that of the Quaternary Period) is defined in Italy at the type locality of Vrica, where it is dated to about 1.64 Ma (million years ago); it is now well established that the current warm period, the Holocene Epoch, is simply the latest interglacial in a long series of profound climatic fluctuations that have characterized the last 2.4 Ma.

The deep-sea sedimentary record shows that up to 50 ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ climatic oscillations have occurred within the last 2.4 Ma. Equally, the glacial and interglacial periods cannot be characterized simply as ‘cold’ or ‘warm’, respectively; the ice ages were not unbroken in their frigidity since the exceptionally cold phases (stadials) were punctuated by warmer periods (interstadials), in some cases lasting for several thousand years. The fundamental characteristic of the Quaternary Period is therefore one of change through time and space in geomorphological processes, floras, faunas and environmental conditions, all modulated by the changing climate. The record of such changes is preserved in a variety of landforms, sediment sequences and organic remains.

The abrupt onset of the late Cainozoic ice ages is, as yet, unexplained. However, the succession of ice ages (glacials) and interglacials has occurred at known frequencies, and changes in insolation (the receipt of solar radiation at the Earth’s surface and throughout its atmosphere) associated with the Earth’s orbital rhythms are now established as the principal external driving forces of the Earth’s climatic system.

Subdividing the Quaternary Period

The oxygen isotope chemistry of the deep-sea sediment pile now provides the main basis for subdividing the Quaternary swedimentary record, with a number of successive oxygen isotope stages recognized globally. These stages, running counter to normal geological practice, are numbered backwards in time and down through the geological column. Warm periods with correspondingly low volumes of ice are given odd numbers; the present interglacial, the Holocene, is numbered as Stage 1. Times of high ice volume (glacials) are given even numbers; the last main cold phase in Britain, the Late Devensian, being numbered as Stage 2. Stages are also divided into sub-stages, for example, Stage 5 into sub-stages 5a–5e, often reflecting stadial or interstadial events.

The position in the deep-sea sediment cores of a major reversal in the Earth’s magnetic field, the Matuyama–Brunhes Reversal at 780 ka, provides a yardstick with which to calibrate the oxygen isotope record. The boundaries of the different isotope stages have also been adjusted and refined with respect to known orbital patterns.

British Quaternary environments

In Britain, the area covered by ice varied considerably during different glaciations. During the last (Late Devensian) glaciation, ice extended as far south as the north Midlands, impinging on the north coast of East Anglia and covering most of South Wales. During earlier glaciations ice sheets were more extensive, but probably never reached farther south in south-central and south-east England than the present Thames Valley. In the South-West, there is a longstanding debate over whether pre-Devensian ice masses reached the northern shores of Devon and Cornwall and even the Isles of Scilly.

The major shifts of climate that characterize the Quaternary Period were accompanied by equally profound changes in environmental conditions that left a strong imprint on the landforms, fossils and sediments of Britain. During the cold or glacial stages, substantial areas were subjected to the effects of glacial erosion and deposition and a wide range of landforms and deposits was produced.

As ice sheets melted, vast quantities of meltwater were liberated, giving rise to characteristic suites of landforms and deposits.

Repeated climate change also subjected the flora and fauna of Britain to stress: fundamental changes in the distribution of plants and animals took place. Beyond the margins of the ice sheets and during the cold climatic phases of the Quaternary Period, periglacial conditions prevailed. Such environments were characterized by frost-assisted processes and by a range of frost- and ground ice-generated landforms and deposits. Mass wasting (downslope movement of soil on both large and small scales) and increased wind action were prevalent, also producing a range of characteristic features. In the fossil record, the flora and fauna of these cold periods is, not surprisingly, restricted in diversity and dominated by cold-tolerant species; large areas were dominated by tundra vegetation.

Conversely, the warmer or interglacial periods of the Quaternary are characterized by the absence of glacial, periglacial and glaciofluvial features, and there were times when chemical weathering, soil formation and the accumulation of organic sediments took place. Variations in the quantity and type of pollen grains preserved in organic deposits, such as peats and lake muds, have been used to define systems of pollen zones or pollen biozones. These zones are characterized by particular vegetational assemblages which can be used to chart sequences of vegetational, climatic and environmental change. Traditionally, these have been used as the principal basis for distinguishing between various interglacial phases in the land-based Quaternary record and for the definition of chronostratigraphic stages. Unfortunately, although several distinctive interglacial episodes in the British Pleistocene can be distinguished, very little evolution of the flora actually occurred, thus hindering biostratigraphic correlation. However, interglacial periods can be differentiated broadly on the basis of pollen assemblage zone biostratigraphy, with individual parts of interglacial cycles (sub-stages) being recognized; for example, pre-temperate, early temperate, late temperate and post-temperate sub-stages. Interglacial environments in the British Isles were generally characterized by a climax vegetation of mixed deciduous oak forest. The last time Britain experienced conditions similar to today was about 125 ka, when the interglacial (part of the Ipswichian Stage) lasted about 10 ka.

Unlike the flora, some elements of the Quaternary fauna have evolved. Therefore, certain glacial and interglacial periods can be characterized broadly by distinctive fossil assemblages, particularly those of large mammals. During the last interglacial, for example, creatures such as the hippopotamus, lion and elephant were indigenous to Britain. Likewise, fossils of both terrestrial and marine molluscs and Coleoptera (beetles) can be sensitive indicators of changing climatic conditions by analogy with their present-day environmental tolerances and geographical ranges.

The succession of glacials and interglacials and the growth and decay of ice sheets have been accompanied by equally profound changes in the coastal zone. World sea level has varied in time with the amount of water locked up in the ice sheets, and during glacial stages, world or eustatic sea levels have been lowered. The converse is true during warmer interglacial phases. The level of the land has also varied, sinking under the weight of advancing ice sheets and rising up or rebounding when they melted (isostasy). This complex interplay of changing land and sea levels has left a widespread legacy in Britain, manifested by the many beaches, shore platforms and marine sediments which now lie above the present sea level. Equally, a range of submerged shoreline features, drowned forests and valleys provide important evidence for sea levels which were relatively lower in the past.

Significant changes in the courses of rivers and their channel patterns have also occurred in the Quaternary Period. These are related to changes in discharge, sediment supply and sea level. Some rivers have reworked and built up large quantities of glacially derived sediments along their floodplains. Subsequent down-cutting has sometimes resulted in ‘staircases’ of terraces both in rock and superficial materials. In some valleys, terraces have been traced for considerable distances and been assigned specific names and ages with respect to their contained fossils and stratigraphical position; in many cases they can be ascribed with some certainty to particular interglacial or glacial phases or, more recently, to the oxygen isotope timescale.

The most striking feature of the Scottish landscape is the wide variety of landforms represented in a relatively small geographical area. The rugged Highlands with their accentuated relief contrast with the surrounding lowlands and the more rolling hills of the Southern Uplands and the Midland Valley. Further variety is introduced in the distinctive landscapes of the western and northern island groups and in the rich diversity of scenery around Scotland’s coasts. The present-day landscape is the product of a long history of evolution which reflects the interaction of geology, topography, climate, geomorphological processes and their changes through time. The study of the evolution of the modern Scottish environment during the Quaternary Period has revealed a sequence of events that range from the shaping of many of the major elements of the landscape by glacial erosion to the establishment of the present vegetation cover after the last period of glaciation.

GCR site selection

This GCR Block encompasses sites that merit conservation because of their significance to the geomorphological evolution and Quaternary history of Scotland. Sites important for fluvial geomorphology, in the sense of modern landforms and processes, and large-scale mass-movement features are encompassed by other GCR Blocks.

The landscape of Britain displays a rich diversity of Quaternary features and evidence of environmental change, often with distinct regional associations, related for example to a combination of geology, evolution of river systems, mountain glaciation or patterns of sea-level change.

Within the general regional framework, the approach adopted was to identify networks of sites that represent the main landscape features, distinctive aspects of Quaternary history and the principal research themes. Such features and themes were recognized at two levels: (a) those relating to the specific characteristics of the area in question; and (b) those relating to national interests or distributions (e.g. pollen biostratigraphy and sea-level changes during the Holocene) for which regional representative sites were required. It should be noted that this categorization relates to the occurrence of the interests and does not imply differences in the importance of sites in the different categories. Thus sites selected for a regionally occurring interest are nevertheless of national importance.

For Scotland, the sites can be grouped into the following areas:

• the Shetland Islands

• the Orkney Islands

• Caithness

• North-west Highlands

• Inverness area

• North-east Scotland

• Eastern Grampian Mountains

• South-west Highlands

• Inner Hebrides

• Outer Hebrides

• Western Highland Boundary

• Eastern Highland Boundary

• Fife and lower Tay

• Western Central Lowlands

• Lothians and Borders

• South-west Scotland

For Scotland, the sites are selected to represent the following networks:

• pre-glacial landform inheritance

• glacial erosion features

• glacial deposits

• periglacial deposits

• the Late Devensian glaciation

• the Late Glacial Interstadial

• the Loch Lomond Stadial

• Holocene climate, vegetation and sea-level change.


Volume Introduction

Quaternary of Scotland


Site List

Your selection found 140 GCR sites. Sites are sorted alphabetically by country, local authority and then by site name -
CodeNameCountryLocal AuthorityGrid RefGCR Site Account
3047Allt OdharScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ798368Site Account
178Bay of NiggScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ965046Site Account
2981BellscamphieScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNK019338Site Account
177Boyne QuarryScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ613659Site Account
922Burn of BenholmScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNO795691Site Account
1986Castle HillScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ794643Site Account
374Hill of Longhaven QuarryScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNK083424Site Account
911Kippet HillsScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNK030310Site Account
398KirkhillScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNK012526Site Account
369LochnagarScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNO250860Site Account
1994Milton NessScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNO770649Site Account
2750MorroneScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNO135900Site Account
936Moss of CrudenScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNK040410Site Account
370Muir of DinnetScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ430000Site Account
1958Philorth ValleyScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNK011635Site Account
179PittodrieScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ692244Site Account
2284The CairngormsScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ000000Site Account
373Windy Hills (Fyvie Gravels)ScotlandAberdeen City and AberdeenshireNJ791394Site Account
2746Coire FeeScotlandAngus and Dundee CityNO250750Site Account
1987Dryleys Brick PitScotlandAngus and Dundee CityNO709604Site Account
184MarytonScotlandAngus and Dundee CityNO683565Site Account
3051North Esk and West Water Glaciofluvial LandformsScotlandAngus and Dundee CityNO565695Site Account
718AchnasheenScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH160575Site Account
174An TeallachScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH038860Site Account
835Baile an t-SrathaScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyND142307Site Account
713BaosbheinnScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNG855676Site Account
714Beinn AlliginScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNG870595Site Account
175Ben WyvisScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH456714Site Account
1529Cam LochScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNC209135Site Account
717Cnoc a` MhoraireScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH284755Site Account
716Coire a` Cheud-chnoicScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNG955550Site Account
838Corrieshalloch GorgeScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH203782Site Account
3044Creag nan UamhScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNC268170Site Account
399DrumhollistanScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNC920654Site Account
715Gairloch MoraineScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNG792815Site Account
375LeavadScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyND174462Site Account
2748Loch MareeScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNG920720Site Account
2749Loch of WinlessScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyND293545Site Account
2747Loch SionascaigScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNC120140Site Account
1528Lochan an DruimScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNC435568Site Account
1954Munlochy ValleyScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH645528Site Account
372Sgurr Mor (Fannichs)ScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH204715Site Account
1891Struie ChannelsScotlandCaithness and Sutherland and Ross and CromartyNH672789Site Account
379Agassiz Rock, Blackford HillScotlandCity of EdinburghNT259702Site Account
2532Black LochScotlandClackmannanshire and FifeNO261150Site Account
909Kincraig PointScotlandClackmannanshire and FifeNT465998Site Account
1935Silver MossScotlandClackmannanshire and FifeNO450233Not available
383Bigholms BurnScotlandDumfries and GallowayNY316812Site Account
925Loch DungeonScotlandDumfries and GallowayNX525846Site Account
907Loch Skene and Grey Mare`s TailScotlandDumfries and GallowayNT168162Site Account
384NewbieScotlandDumfries and GallowayNY165651Site Account
923Port LoganScotlandDumfries and GallowayNX092402Site Account
385Redkirk PointScotlandDumfries and GallowayNY301652Site Account
2740Round Loch of GlenheadScotlandDumfries and GallowayNX450804Site Account
837The TauchersScotlandDumfries and GallowayNX462876Not available
382GeilstonScotlandEast and West Dumbartonshire, Helensburgh and LomondNS341777Site Account
381Rhu PointScotlandEast and West Dumbartonshire, Helensburgh and LomondNS264841Site Account
834South Loch Lomond: Portnellan, Ross Priory and CladdochsideScotlandEast and West Dumbartonshire, Helensburgh and LomondNS413876Site Account
2344Dundonald BurnScotlandEast Ayrshire and North Ayrshire MainlandNS337373Site Account
400Greenock MainsScotlandEast Ayrshire and North Ayrshire MainlandNS635277Site Account
368Nith BridgeScotlandEast Ayrshire and North Ayrshire MainlandNS594141Site Account
182DunbarScotlandEast Lothian and MidlothianNT661788Site Account
749Hewan BankScotlandEast Lothian and MidlothianNT285647Site Account
748Keith WaterScotlandEast Lothian and MidlothianNT440621Site Account
712Rammer CleughScotlandEast Lothian and MidlothianNT640720Site Account
1439BorveScotlandEilean Siar (Western Isles)NF769499Site Account
1996Gleann Mor, HirtaScotlandEilean Siar (Western Isles)NF086997Site Account
2744Glen ValtosScotlandEilean Siar (Western Isles)NB070344Site Account
1450North-west Coast of LewisScotlandEilean Siar (Western Isles)NB512656Site Account
1232Port of NessScotlandEilean Siar (Western Isles)NB537636Site Account
176Tolsta HeadScotlandEilean Siar (Western Isles)NB557468Site Account
380Clochodrick StoneScotlandInverclyde, East Renfrewshire and RenfrewshireNS374613Site Account
367Abernethy ForestScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH967175Site Account
924Allt na Feithe SheilichScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH850260Site Account
877ArdersierScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH780562Site Account
1955BarnyardsScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH531470Site Account
377ClavaScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH765437Site Account
908Coire DhoScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH193142Site Account
3046DalcharnScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH815452Site Account
1956DoresScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH598354Site Account
3048Findhorn TerracesScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH845366Site Account
1953Fort AugustusScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH366090Site Account
3049Glen FeshieScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNN850952Site Account
418Kildrummie KamesScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH830530Site Account
378Littlemill Fluvioglacial LandformsScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH705365Site Account
2103Loch EtteridgeScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNN695935Site Account
843Muckle Burn, ClunasScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH907446Not available
180Teindland QuarryScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNJ297570Site Account
1247TomintoulScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNJ176086Not available
1884TorveanScotlandInverness and Nairn and Moray, Badenoch and StrathspeyNH630420Site Account
836Beinn ShiantaidhScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNR521749Site Account
3050Eas na BroigeScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNN192598Site Account
350Glen Roy and the Parallel Roads of LochaberScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNN300850Not available
948Glenacardoch PointScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNR662378Site Account
1936GribunScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM450326Site Account
906Isle of Lismore, The Dog Stone and Clach ThollScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM899447Site Account
958KingshouseScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNN285555Site Account
1931Loch an t-SuidheScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM370215Site Account
1344Loch AshikScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNG691233Site Account
1335Loch Cill an AonghaisScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNR777618Site Account
1346Loch CleatScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNG416742Not available
1345Loch MeodalScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNG656113Not available
982Moss of Achnacree and Achnaba LandformsScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM917360Not available
1957Pulpit HillScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM852292Site Account
980Rubha a` Mhail to Rubha Bholsa Coast (Northern Islay)ScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNR400780Not available
1438ScarisdaleScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM523378Site Account
905South Shian and Balure of ShianScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM910421Site Account
173Sron an t-Saighdeir - Ard Nev (Western Hills of Rum)ScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNM309995Not available
981Tangy GlenScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNR657278Site Account
1347The CuillinScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNG460230Not available
979West Coast of Jura (Bagh Gleann Speireig - Carragh an t-Sruith)ScotlandLochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Argyll and the IslandsNR636969Site Account
2742Den WickScotlandOrkney IslandsHY576088Site Account
2743Mill BayScotlandOrkney IslandsHY665258Site Account
3045Muckle Head and SelwickScotlandOrkney IslandsHY213053Site Account
2741North Hoy (Ward Hill, Enegars Corrie and Dwarfie Hamars)"ScotlandOrkney IslandsHY213053Not available
185AlmondbankScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNO084262Site Account
832AucheneckScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNS478830Site Account
2023CareyScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNO173171Site Account
950CroftamieScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNS473861Site Account
484GartnessScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNS495875Site Account
1184InchcoonansScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNO242233Site Account
1933MollandsScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNN628068Site Account
1959PitlowieScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNO205228Site Account
186Shochie BurnScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNO071292Site Account
1960Stormont LochScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNO190423Site Account
1934TynaspiritScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNN666047Site Account
2303Western Forth Valley (Menteith Moraine and Kippen)ScotlandPerth and Kinross and StirlingNN595005Not available
1991Burn of AithScotlandShetland IslandsHU441295Site Account
181Fugla NessScotlandShetland IslandsHU310912Site Account
1992Garths VoeScotlandShetland IslandsHU408742Site Account
2752Ronas HillScotlandShetland IslandsHU305835Site Account
2751Sel AyreScotlandShetland IslandsHU176540Site Account
376Afton LodgeScotlandSouth AyrshireNS417259Site Account
711Carstairs KamesScotlandSouth LanarkshireNS937467Site Account
3053Falls of ClydeScotlandSouth LanarkshireNS885406Site Account
401Tinto HillsScotlandSouth LanarkshireNS954342Site Account
2531Beanrig MossScotlandThe Scottish BordersNT517293Site Account
3273Bedshiel KaimsScotlandThe Scottish BordersNT700500Not available
183CarlopsScotlandThe Scottish BordersNT140538Site Account
2745Din MossScotlandThe Scottish BordersNT805314Site Account
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