Loch drainage and improvement in Scotland

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This paper sets out a history of loch (lake) drainage during the Improvement period in Scotland. A range of case studies are presented that trace the practice from before the eighteenth century through the second half of the nineteenth century. Evidence is presented to suggest that drainage was viewed during the Improvement period as essential to new agricultural practices implemented at this time. The importance of loch drainage can be seen in the exhaustive nature of the practice in parts of Scotland. It has been recently shown that different patterns in the intensity and timing of loch drainage occurred across Scotland, but the reasons why some areas saw more intense drainage, even where similar physical geographies exist, remain unexplored. It is suggested here that the framework of interpretation that has been applied to the much better studied practice of enclosure can equally be applied to drainage. Possible motivations and drivers for loch drainage are suggested here that show correlation in the intensity of drainage with areas that suffered particularly severely during a long period of poor harvests, due to cooler and wetter climate at times in the decades leading up to the Improvement period. This paper throws light on loch drainage as an important agrarian practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as rural Scotland shifted away from a largely subsistence economy to one characterised by more capitalist production.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-89
Number of pages19
JournalLandscape History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2018


  • Loch drainage
  • Scotland
  • Improvement period
  • enclosure
  • land-use change
  • eighteenth century
  • nineteenth century

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