Uists could lead the world in climate change research

Artefacts from the Udal site  in North Uist offer a real  insight into changes in the world's climate over the past 5,000  years.
Artefacts from the Udal site in North Uist offer a real insight into changes in the world's climate over the past 5,000 years.

A world-class educational and scientific ‘living laboratory’ of international importance in the study of climate change could be based in the Uists.

And the proposed Hebridean Archaeological and Environmental Research Centre (HAERC) would also see the Udal archaeological artefacts returned to the island of their discovery.

The ambitious vision was enthusiastically received by universities and members of the scientific community at an event held by MSP Alasdair Allan in Holyrood earlier this year; and recently gleaned local community backing through a workshop held in North Uist.

As the Uists act as a ‘barometer’ of climate change within Western Europe - with changes happening there first - a research facility could inform others what will occur as the planet’s climate alters.

Palaeo-environmentalist Dr Richard Tipping, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at the University of Stirling, who attended the Holyrood event, commented: “The centre would, I hope, remind people that we live on a fragile planet.”

Dr Tipping continued: “The Udal face the Atlantic Ocean, the source of our weather and climate. Changes in climate over time at the Udal (sand dune formation; sea level rise) can highlight current concerns.”

The Udal Collection, currently housed in the Comhairle, is the result of 35 years of excavation in North Uist and comprises a huge number of diverse artefacts from human and animal bones to tiny grains and pollens.

Excavated by Ian Crawford, a detailed record of where each artefact sat within the landscape can effectively catalogue climate changes over the past 5,000 years – the remains of a Petrel, now only found in the South Atlantic, were found in the Udal excavations for example.

Now a collaboration of the North Uist Development Company (NUDC); Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund will take forward a feasibility study into the creation of the HAERC.

“We’re at the first level with the feasibility study,” expanded NUDC Chair Robert Fraser. “The vision has the potential to be huge and having a centre of such importance would bring nothing but benefit to the Uists.

“It would bring in people to live here through research posts, bring scientists here all year round, be a visitor attraction and provide real climate change information to the science going on in that field.”

Once complete, the feasibility study will be published on the NUDC website – www.isleofnorthuist.com – and island residents are urged to make their views about the proposed centre known.