Caithness

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Caithness (Gallaibh in Gaelic) is a registration county, lieutenancy area and historic local government area of Scotland. The name was used also for the earldom of Caithness and the Caithness constituency of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (1708 to 1918). Boundaries are not identical in all contexts, but the Caithness area is now entirely within the Highland council area. In 2007 the Highland Council, which is now the local government authority, created the Caithness ward management area, which has boundaries similar to those of the historic local government area.

Caithness became a local government county, with its own county council, in 1890, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889. Although officially within the county, the burghs of Wick and Thurso retained their status as autonomous local government areas. Wick, a royal burgh and traditionally the county town, became the administrative centre for the local government county. County and burgh councils were later abolished, in 1975, under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, and Caithness became one of eight districts, each with its own district council, within the new two-tier Highland region. In 1996, under the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994, the region became a unitary local government area, and the district councils were abolished.

As registration county, lieutenancy area and historic local government area, Caithness has a land boundary with the equally historic local government area of Sutherland. Otherwise it is bounded by sea. The land boundary follows a watershed and is crossed by two roads, the A9 and the A836, and one railway, the Far North Line. Across the Pentland Firth ferries link Caithness with Orkney, and Caithness has also an airport at Wick. The Pentland Firth island of Stroma is within Caithness.

In 2001 Caithness had a resident population of 23,866 and settlement centres include those of Berriedale, Burnside, Castletown, Dunnet, Halkirk, Haster, Reiss, John o' Groats, Latheron, Mey, Reay, Sibster, Thurso, Watten and Wick.

Caithness extends about 40 miles (64 kilometres) north-south and about 30 miles (50 km) east-west. The general aspect of Caithness, which measures in area about 712 square miles (1844 km²), is flat, in contrast to the majority of Highland Region. Until the latter part of the 20th century when significant areas were planted in conifers, this was rendered still more striking by the almost total absence of forest.

Most of Caithness is old red sandstone to an estimated depth of over 4,000 metres. This consists of the cemented sediments of Lake Orcadie, which is believed to have stretched from Shetland to Grampian during the Devonian period, about 370 million years ago. Fossilised fish and plant remains are found between the layers of sediment. Older metamorphic (granite) rock is apparent in the Scaraben and Ord area, in the relatively high southwest area of the county. Caithness' highest point (Morven) is in this area.

Because of the ease with which the sandstone splits to form large flat slabs (flagstone) it is an especially useful building material, and has been used as such since Neolithic times.

Caithness is a land of open, rolling farmland, moorland and scattered settlements. The area is fringed to the north and east by dramatic coastal scenery and is home to large, internationally important colonies of seabirds. The surrounding waters of the Pentland Firth and the North Sea hold a great diversity of marine life. Away from the coast, the landscape is dominated by open moorland and blanket bog, divided up along the straths (river valleys) by more fertile farm and croft land.

The underlying geology, harsh climate and long history of human occupation have shaped this rich and distinctive natural heritage. Today we see a diverse landscape incorporating both common and rare habitats and species, and Caithness provides a stronghold for many once common breeding species that have undergone serious declines elsewhere, such as waders, water voles and flocks of over-wintering birds.

Many rare mammals, birds and fish have been sighted or caught in and around Caithness waters. Harbour porpoises, dolphins (including Risso's, bottle-nosed, common, Atlantic white-sided and white-beaked dolphins) and minke and long-finned pilot whales are regularly seen from the shore and boats. Both grey and common seals come close to the shore to feed, rest and raise their pups, and otters can be seen close to river mouths in some of the quieter locations.

Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/

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