Geography & geology
Introductory information on the geography and geology of the area that the Whitelee windfarm is built on.
Geography of windfarm
- The windfarm lies on an area of elevated moorland extending over 30 square miles
- Whitelee lies approximately 3km south-west of Eaglesham
- 5km west of Strathaven
- 5km south of East Kilbride
- Whitelee contains the highest point in East Renfrewshire - Corse Hill (NS598465), which is 376 meters/1233 feet above sea level
The underlying geology of the Eaglesham plateau that Whitelee is built upon is of weakly permeable igneous rocks, with some moderately permeable sedimentary rocks
Underlying the majority of the area is carboniferous micro and macro porphyritic basalts
The northeast and northwest of the windfarm is underlain by sedimentary rocks of carboniferous age. The carboniferous sediments consist of beds of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, limestone, coal, fireclay and lesser amounts of ironstone and oil-shale.
The predominant soil type at Whitelee is peat along with peaty gleys and peaty podzols. The blanket bog habitat that this peat forms is one of the most important habitats in Scotland and Whitelee. In Scotland blanket bog covers an area of roughly 1.8 million hectares (18,000 kilometres square), or 23 % of the land area. Blanket bog is a rare habitat globally and Scotland holds a significant proportion of the European and world resource making it important that we look after it carefully.
Peat is typically about 5% organic matter and 95% water. Healthy peat is known to absorb and store carbon, one of the main 'greenhouse gases' believed to be influencing climate. As peat degrades however it releases carbon back into the environment, ending up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, better known as CO2. The UK's peat bogs are thought to store more carbon than was produced by over 20 years of industrial activity!
The mean or average peat depth at Whitelee is 2 meters but during construction it was found that the peat often went deeper, to 5 and even 8 meters.
The peat found within the site is of the blanket type meaning that it was formed in a flooded hollow in which wetland plants such as sedges, rushes and grasses began to grow. When these plants died they did not rot away but sank into the water filled hollow where over centuries this matter built up to form what's known as fen peat. This type of soil has few nutrients available to plants so only specialised species can grow in the deposited fen peat - specialist species such as sphagnum mosses. As these mosses then grew, the dead matter from them added further material that couldn't rot away in the wet conditions and so sphagnum peat started to built up, slowly raising the the peat-land above the surrounding land. (It is said that peat can rise above the surrounding land by as much as 10 meters - over 8000 years!) Sphagnum moss acts like a sponge, holding the water that falls on the peat, further raising the area. For peat to continue to form there must be steady rainfall, something Whitelee isn't short of, and Goode and Ratcliffe (1977), quote a minimum rainfall of 1 mm per day over 160 days per year for blanket bog development.
No-one knows exactly when blanket bogs started to form but studies suggest it could be anywhere from 1500 to 9000 years ago. Tree stumps that are often found in the lower depths of the peat (sometimes called 'bog oak'), are thought to originate from Neolithic man clearing woodland and their is some thought that this may have been the catalyst or starting point for blanket bog formation.
Active areas where peat is still being laid can still be seen at Whitelee but if looking to visit such an area please be very careful as the peat can be liquid - a bit like quicksand!