A name given to that part of Scotland northwest of a line approximating to the Highland Boundary Fault that joins Helensburgh in the southwest to Stonehaven in the northeast, the Highlands is a term that can be used both as a geographical or cultural definition. Geographically, it comprises the upland areas of Scotland in the Grampian Mountains and the North West Highlands which are separated from each other by the Great Glen. Culturally, the lower eastern margin from Caithness round the Moray Firth to Moray and Aberdeenshire can also be included in the Highlands. The area is also geologically distinct, with metamorphic rocks predominating, which are older than those lying to the south.

This mountainous region, noted for its spectacular scenery, is regarded by some as one of last great wildernesses in Europe. This claim is contentious; forests which had spread over much of the Highlands following the end of the last Ice Age, 11,500 years ago, were felled by farmers from Neolithic times to clear the land for agriculture and significant losses continued until the 19th century as wood was used for fuel, and the building of homes and ships. The Romans, who were never able to conquered the Highlands, still described the existence of sizeable Caledonian Forests. Animals such as wolves, bear, elk, lynx, wild boar and beavers also disappeared through habitat loss and the actions of humans. Without predators deer numbers grew, and this species was valued for hunting by the owners of the Highland Estates. Thus the environment of the Highlands is much-altered. Climatic change brought wetter weather which promoted the growth of peat bogs that now typify the Highlands, and overgrazing by sheep and deer prevent the regrowth of trees. Some fragmentary plantation forests were developed in the years following the First World War by the Forestry Commission as Britain realised the limited extent of its woodland resources.

The peaty water of the Highlands are the foundation of the Scottish whisky industry, with approaching 100 distilleries located in this area. The mountains give way to highly productive flat-lying agricultural land in the east (Angus, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Black Isle and Caithness).

The Highlands were the cradle of the clan system and the Gaelic language. The population was sparse and eeked out an existence on what was mostly poor land. The Highland Clearances reduced the population further as people were attracted, encouraged or forced to move to the cities and overseas with the promise of a more prosperous existence. The population density is now approximately 22 per sq. mile (8 per sq. km), one of the lowest in the Europe, with around half of the population living in small towns and villages on the east coast. Highland Council Area, with its headquarters in Inverness, forms the core of the Highlands. This is the largest of Scotland's unitary local government divisions and includes the former counties of Caithness, Sutherland, Ross & Cromarty and Inverness-shire.

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