Page last updated at 01:37 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Island braced for winds of change

South Uist road
Scotland's increasingly wet weather is resulting in damage to roads on South Uist

In the second of a three part special about climate change, BBC Scotland's social affairs reporter Fiona Walker travelled to South Uist to learn about rising seas which threaten to erode the coastline.

Part One - Thailand's rising tide of problems

When you talk to people in South Uist about climate change, many already know what may be in store for them.

They really live the weather, noting down its changes and understanding its impact upon their lives.

Where Seumas MacDonald grew up he says people used to plough land that's now under water.

He said: "We probably lost about 20 to 30 yards along the coast. I was born and brought up here and I'd like to see it remaining. I'm really worried about it because this is all that's holding back the Atlantic."

In 2005 a storm took the lives of five members of the same family. The tragedy is one of the first things local people mention when you bring up climate change.

He said: "I was up to my knees in water at the boat-shed, the trees were whipping about like a field of barley with the most incredible screeching sound from the trees. We've never seen anything like it and we don't want to see it again."

But wetter winters are on their way and scientists say the sea level is rising.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has calculated the projected sea level rise around South Uist for BBC Scotland. It reports that by 2080 it's likely to have risen by 37cm. However, it could be as much 61cm.

Dr Dave Reay, from Edinburgh University, says that is a conservative estimate.

water lgged ground
Sea level rises - likely to be between 12cm and 61cm, with the central estimate 37cm
Winter precipitation [rain] - likely to be between 12% and 63% more rain, with the central estimate of 33%
Summer precipitation - likely to be between -40 and +5%, with the central estimate of -19%
Figures by Sepa for BBC Scotland

It was on the mind of Archie MacDonald who used to work for the Met Office.

He said: "It takes into account sea expansion, but the ice sheets are melting faster than we predicted and we could see a metre of sea level rise around the coast of Scotland this century."

If this is taken into account, South Uist could see a rise in water levels closer to those already seen in Thailand.

Donald Campbell is a ghillie who has lived on South Uist for 30 years. He says that kind of rise would split the island in two.

"Right through from the west coast to the east coast, a series of lochs, with the rise in water, would join together. The island is eventually going to lose an awful lot of land," he said.

It's interesting to hear people - who are not your typical global warming campaigners - talking seriously about climate change.

South Uist has been experiencing changes to its weather and its coastline over generations but only more recently have they called it "climate change".

Now local people are being given details about what to expect in the future and Seumas MacDonald believes that unless the authorities take action it "will make half the island useless".

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