Find out why the landscape of Whitelee has played a prominent role in its habitats and human occupation including its present use as the UK's largest on-shore windfarm
The landscape of an area comprises the features or landforms (e.g. hills, valleys and glens etc.), water bodies such as lochs and streams, as well as forests and of course man-made structures, all of which give an area its character.
At Whitelee the predominant landscape feature is the plateau covered with peat bog that blankets the area. The topography of the area is of a relatively flat plateau with occasional hills rising above the flatter plateau landmass, all of which is overlain with deep peat, in some places reaching down past 8 meters. On top of this is found a mixture of plants that are specialised in living in the low nutrient peat environment and which give the area its distinctive appearance. The underlying geology of the area is what provides its shape and is the reason that the peat formed here in the first place. The hills and valleys of whitelee were shaped during the last ice age and the retreat of the glaciers left a landscape that was ideal for blanket bog peat formation. One further factor had to come into play for the peat to form of course - a high rainfall (oceanic) climate. This coupled with the underlying geology of Whitelee meant that blanket bog formed over the scarred hills.
Blanket bog as the name suggests covers areas in the same way a huge blanket would if thrown over the hills and valleys. To form, blanket bog requires a cool wet environment with steady rainfall throughout the year rather than just high rainfall. No-one knows exactly when blanket bogs began to form but its accepted that it was somewhere between 6000 and 9000 years ago.
Tree stumps that can be found in the peat (called 'bog oaks'), suggest that formation possibly began with the removal of trees, possibly by Neolithic farmers clearing areas for livestock and/or crops but it is not fully understood just how important the influence of humans was in the formation of peat bogs. Changes in climate resulting in lower temperatures and higher rainfall meant higher areas such as Whitelee couldn't support agriculture indefinitely and over time they were abandoned in favour of lower areas, allowing peat to not only form but spread and gain depth. Peat grows at approximately 1mm per year so it's probably not far wrong to suggest that the peat at Whitelee has been developing for around 8,000 years.
Peat bogs support specialist plant species that can tolerate the waterlogged low nutrient conditions and it is these that give peat bog, and therefore Whitelee, its distinctive habitats. For more information on the plants at Whitelee please see the 'wildlife records' page.
Whitelee contains a number of man made reservoirs that have historically provided a source of (water), power for mills as well as drinking water for the surrounding towns and villages through the years. The 3 main reservoirs are Lochgoin, Craigendunton and Dunwan but there are also smaller now defunct reservoirs such as Brocklees. The 3 main reservoirs still supply drinking water to around 50,000 homes. As well as the reservoirs there are a mosaic of small pools and burns throughout Whitelee and the source of the White Cart river can be found within the boundaries of the windfarm.
In the 1960's the wholesale introduction of forestry brought about huge change in not just land use from farming to forestry but also in the appearance of the area. A dense evergreen blanket descended on the whitelee plateau and is present to this day, obscuring the undulations of the hills and paths of streams. Views were also changed as was the social history of the area with many farmers leaving for good. The Whitelee Forest is now a highly prominent part of the landscape, but is in constant flux as areas are felled and others replanted - but its likely the forest will always be there. Areas of the landscape possibly not seen clearly for over 50 years will reappear as trees are removed, only to eventually vanish again.
Windfarm - Human Influence
The newest addition to the landscape of whitelee is of course the 215 turbines that punctuate the area and which can be seen from as far afield as East Kilbride, Glasgow city centre and Kilmarnock.
With the turbines have came roads and buildings further illustrating the impact of humans on this landscape but also opening up the vast Whitelee area to enthusiastic walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Humans have travelled through Whitelee for generations, along the Weavers Trail from Darvel to Eaglesham for example carrying lace and other manufactured goods, but crossing the peat bog was probably an exhausting and difficult journey. There is even a tale of a weaver from Darvel who is said to have vanished in Whitelee, possibly in one of the liquid peat hags. The introduction of the tracks and roads has therefore made travelling in the area much easier and of course safer.