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The area known as the Highlands stretches north of the Highland Boundary Fault, a natural border running northeast from Helensburgh (west of Glasgow) to Stonehaven (south of Aberdeen). It covers about two-thirds of the country and, as its name suggests, consists primarily of rugged mountain ranges. The western coastline is deeply indented with dozens of long, deep saltwater lochs separated by rugged headlands and peninsulas. The profile of the eastern coast is generally smoother.
Dotted around the Highlands' north and west coasts are 790 islands, 130 of which are inhabited. To the north lie two island groups, Orkney and Shetland. The Western Isles (or Outer Hebrides) parallel the north-western coast. The Inner Hebrides is the scattering of mainly small islands farther south including Mull, Jura and Islay, and the sub-group of the Small Isles (Canna, Rum, Muck and Eigg). The larger islands of Skye and Arran, closer to the mainland, aren't usually included in the Inner Hebrides.
Although much of the country was once covered by Caledonian woodlands (a mix of Scots pine, oak, silver birch, willow, alder and rowan, with heather underfoot), deforestation has reduced this mighty forest to a few small pockets. From the 1970s concern about the dwindling native woodland inspired replanting projects by the Forestry Commission and conservation organisations, culminating in the ambitious Millennium Forest project to help restore native woodlands on hundreds of sites across Scotland. A large proportion of the country is uncultivated bog, rock and heather. Alpine plants thrive in mountainous areas like the Cairngorms, while in the far north there are lichens and mosses found nowhere else in Britain. Despite massive destruction since the mid-19th century, Scotland still has more lowland raised peatland than any other European Union country. Peatland is of immense importance for wildlife conservation, and more than 20 peatland reserves now enjoy the protection of Special Area of Conservation status.
Large numbers of grouse graze the heather on the moors, and in heavily forested areas you may be lucky enough to see a capercaillie. With extensive coastlines, it is not surprising to find millions of seabirds including gannets, kittiwakes, puffins, shags, fulmars and guillemots. The fabled wild Scottish salmon and varieties of trout are found in many rivers and lochs. Of the domestic animals, the distinctive and hairy Highland cattle are well adapted to survive the cold.
North Uist was hit hard during the Highland Clearances, and there was large scale emigration from the island to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. The pre-clearance population of North Uist had been almost 5,000, though by 1841 it had fallen to 3,870, and has further dwindled to about 1,300 people today. The clearances occurred later on North Uist, which was predominately Presbyterian, than on South Uist which was mostly Roman Catholic.
The main reason for the massive scale of emigration was the failure of the island's kelp industry. Since the French Revolutionary Wars the kelp industry had been North Uist's main source of income. Though with the collapse of their main source of income the crofters of North Uist could not afford the high rents. Even as the landlords reduced the rents, such as in 1827 when the rents were reduced by 20%, many crofters were forced to emigrate. The first real clearances on North Uist occurred in the 1820s. In 1826 the villages of Kyles Berneray, Baile Mhic Phail and Baile mhic Conon, located on the north-east corner of North Uist, were cleared of their inhabitants. Although some moved further east to Loch Portain, most of those affected moved to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The effect of this is shown in the rental roll of 1827, which states that over fifty families had "Gone to America", meaning Cape Breton.