The Blackland Centre

Scotvein, Grimsay, North Uist, Western Isles HS6 5JA, Scotland

tel/fax 01870-602954


2010 by M.N. Scherbatskoy with members of CEIA (Crofting Environment Improvement Association): R.MacLeod, R.J.MacLean, Phil Jubb, Annick Merlin


Dr. Bruce Ball (SRUC Crop and Soil)
Dr. Ken Davies (SAC Vegetation Specialist, ret.)
Prof. Anthony Edwards (SRUC Crop and Soil)
Prof. Bob Rees (SRUC Carbon Management Centre)

The Blackland Centre investigates the character, history, and potential of the blacklands* that are common in the west of Scotland.  Such land once supported generations of crofting families through a mosaic of productive, diverse uses – here some potatoes, there a bog, here a half-acre of corn, there a hayfield.  In the late 20th century, the land was left to rough grazing by sheep and much traditional knowledge was lost.  Blackland is found on the east side of the Uists, and is an historic ecosystem wholly distinct from the machair on the west.

* organic, anthropic, acidic agricultural soils in an Atlantic climate

Since 2010, the Blackland Centre has been developing assessment methods and practical approaches for understanding and regeneration of such small-scale agricultural systems.  Recent research on traditional production methods on these soils indicate that:

–   historical knowledge is essential;

–   large modern agricultural machinery is not suitable;

–   ecological impacts are minimal compared to those arising from importation of food and fodder.

The Blackland Centre is a partnership of the Talamh Trust and the Uist crofting group CEIA which includes 8 crofts on over 80 hectares on the east side of the Uists.  We cooperate with research and teaching staff from the University of Edinburgh/SRUC, and are a site for student dissertation projects.  We also welcome other researchers who may be interested in the problems of organic, anthropic soils.

We believe that traditional systems such as blackland demonstrate sustainability and resilience, and should be seen as a ‘third way’ between extremes of production and conservation.  Resolving the paradox of underused land and vanishing skills at a time of growing demand for food, increasing climate instability, and rising fuel prices will be essential in the 21st century.