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Loch Ness and Morar Project Report 1980

© Loch Ness & Morar Project.
May be used for private research only. All other rights reserved


Supported and Approved by The Scientific Exploration Society
Field Leader:
Adrian J. Shine F.R.G.S.



Adrian Shine ‑ Leader
Tony Bell
John Bellars
Peter Bellars
Marianne Wilding

Adrian Shine ‑ Leader
Rob Shepherd ‑ Deputy Leader

Don Ball
Sylvia Ball
Bob Ballard
Mike Beauchamp
Barry Bell
Mark Burghan
Johnathon Dobbyn
Ricky Gardiner
Gary Ibbetson
Ray Jalland
Elaine Jalland
Paul Jalland
Jane Mulvey
Nick Neve
Neil Ray
Elaine Ray
Dick Raynor
John Say
Susie Volk






We would like to express our thanks and appreciation to Mr. & Mrs. H. Ayton. Balachladaich Farm, Dores and Mr, A. Volk, Manchester for their help and assistance. We would also like to thank those Project Members who visited us in the field as it was a great encouragement to Field Members.

The Project has now been open to subscription for over a year and we have had to recognise reluctantly that it is unlikely that funds significant enough to make much of a contribution to field work will be raised from this source. However, we are pleased to say that the contributions of field members are now such as to meet most of the running costs of exercises mounted.

The Project shall not resort to regressive methods such as surface watching in a pretence at continuing the search. One of the reasons why obtaining a sponsor for a scientific search is difficult, is the widespread impression that intensive research has already been conducted with negative results. This has resulted from sympathetic media over‑statement of the efforts so far mounted and the position can only be worsened by further ineffectual sallies which can only contribute to mounting scepticism. The Project itself does not claim to have done any valid "monster hunting" since 1977. We believe we know what needs to be done, what we need to do it with and how much it will cost.

Our present duty therefore, is to maintain Project resources and manpower in a state of readiness to utilise funds derived from sponsorship when available. We are able to do this by devoting our field expeditions to the pursuit of rather more conventional, and less demanding, scientific objectives, which will provide in themselves objective justification of members investments so far. In addition, many of these "more mundane" pursuits are in fact fundamental to the construction of the hypothesis on which a search for large creatures would be based, Finally, these exercises, by the very nature of the environment, make demands both material and human which stimulate our tradition of invention, extend the water borne experience of our members and perhaps more importantly bring more of them into contact with the scientific method.

This year, between 26th July and 20th August, the Project made its first large scale visit to Loch Ness for the main purpose of establishing a base camp and depot at Balacladaich near Dores. Other objectives included the construction of surface craft, sonar trials, depth survey and the acquisition of cores from the loch bed which should shed light upon its post glacial history. In short, we have provided a base form which a respectable operation can be mounted.

The prime requirement in our selection of a base at Loch Ness is that of securing a sheltered beach from which vessels may work. Other requirements, are sheltered, flat ground for tents, road access and electricity. These conditions are met very well at Balacladaich Farm near Dores and we are most grateful to Mr & Mrs Ayton for the very warm welcome extended to us.


One of the special problems of working on the larger Scottish lochs, is that though the depths and surface conditions resemble those found at sea; they are (with the exception of Loch Ness) land locked, making it difficult to place vessels of a suitable type on them. Limnological work such as sampling has to be conducted much deeper than is customary in fresh water research. For anything even more ambitious, such as underwater television or sonar search equipment, which may have to be deployed at short notice, the problem is even more acute.

No operation at Loch Ness can be any cheaper than its surface craft, which if of a suitable size would be prohibitively expensive to buy. If chartered they would act as a drain upon Project resources, against our policy of accumulating our own material assets for the majority of our outlay. Chartered vessels are also difficult to adapt to our needs even with the owners consent, since modification may well include such things as holes in the bottom!

Loch Ness can be dangerous for boats owing to the proximity of steep rocky shores with few beaches, making things difficult for a conventional vessel with engine failure. Ordinary vessels owned by the Project would require winter mooring and maintenance, causing administrative and manpower problems. Finally, some of the Projects methods are to require sailing vessels in the interest of economy and for silent sonar patrols.

For all the above reasons, a requirement arose for a surface vessel system adaptable to any and every experiment likely to be mounted, capable of transport between Loch Ness and Loch Morar, safe in confined waters, requiring a minimum of maintenance and to be as cheap as possible.

This requirement has been met with the design of 18ft. inflatable pontoon units. Each basic unit is constructed of conventional boat materials and is sub‑divided into two compartments for safety. The unit supports a load of over 1,0001bs., and when deflated forms one man load. The units can be linked in any configuration by deckings constructed on site. The deckings can be built of relatively cheap materials and can be adapted quickly to most needs.

Two prototype units have now seen service at both Ness and Morar and have survived all tests from being fitted with square sailing rigs for sonar runs to 35hp., engines for fast communications. They have also mounted cabins for instrumentation and one version has been successfully despatched over a waterfall! Deflation tests suggest a high standard of reserve buoyancy

It is envisaged that deckings shall be depoted at both Ness and Morar and only the inflatable units transported. The system has the advantage that additional units can be purchased piecemeal as funds allow.

In addition to the 18ft. units, it is proposed that two vessels incorporating 40ft., pontoons in a catamaran configuration, be commissioned at Loch Ness. One is already under construction and shall have a cabin, engines and a square rig to enable silent and economic operation as a sonar patrol vessel.

In brief, the Project has now developed a system from which vessels of any size may be constructed at short notice. At present we need two 40ft. and three 18ft. vessels, plus a reserve of units for special purposes. These shall form the basis of "The Ness Flotilla".


We are still anxious to confirm the existence of depths in excess of 750ft., as reported by the Vickers Oceanics submersible 'Pisces", during her freshwater trials in 1969. It may be remembered that a visit for this purpose was made in 1979 with negative results. It was then suggested that greater depths might be found to the north of the area we covered in detail.

This year we used a Kelvin Hughes MS44 echo sounder, calibrated and tested as usual. A series of six transects were made from Urquhart Castle to the northern limit of the bay. Two runs were then made at right angles.

We have yet to find depths in excess of 720ft. We can only assume for the present, that there is a possibility of very localised holes and perhaps dunes, which are not registered by an echo sounder due to shallower returns recorded by the outer parts of the sound beam.


Some trials were made with underwater cameras to ascertain the amount of light needed for photography under Loch Ness conditions.


One of the fundamental elements of any "monster" hypothesis must be the explanation of how the species could have invaded the lochs in the first place, assuming that a population is resident. There has never been any question of Loch Less being an evolutionary cul‑de‑sac, in which "prehistoric animals" could have survived, since it was subjected to glaciation during successive ice ages.

During this period, the valleys were deepened by the glaciers moving through them, to form the deepest depressions in the British Isles. To find a depth of equal to that of Loch Morar (1018ft) it would be necessary to go beyond the continental shelf west of St. Kilda. When the ice retreated for the last tine, approximately 10,000 years ago, the sea level rose a little due to the melting and for a time some of the lochs were open to the sea. Subsequently, relieved of the weight of ice, the land rose slowly and Lochs Ness and Morar now lie at 52ft., and 30ft., above sea level respectively. The evidence for higher sea levels can be seen in raised beaches at both lochs.

Since we assume the overland migration of a species of the expected size, from freshwaters elsewhere, to be most unlikely and since most of the known species in the lochs are those capable of migration via the sea, we might also expect any unknown animals to have been marine originally. The invasion of the lochs by marine species would be facilitated if the lochs in question were actually arms to the sea. Entry would have been easy and there would have been a slow change to fresh water. Both Lochs Ness and Morar, are still open "to the sea" by way of the short rivers which drain them.

The problem with raised beaches as evidence, is that we cannot be sure that they do not refer to an inter‑glacial period when the loch would have been opened to the sea only to be subjected to a further glaciation. The sequence as understood at present, indicates the last Ice Age proper, ending approximately 12,000 years ago. This would have had the probable effect of opening both lochs to the sea after which the land would have risen. A brief local event, known as the Loch Lomond Re‑advance, would have resulted in further glaciation, after which the lochs may or may not have been open to the sea. This is the crucial period.

One of our tasks has been to establish whether the lochs were open to the sea after this last short ice age. Sediments accumulating on a lake bed, provide a history of events. The differing materials range from glacial clays, from the time when the ice melted, to darker organic lake sediments since. Sediments can be dated by 14C methods for organic material and sometimes, when an undisturbed sequence is available, by comparing the alignments of magnetic particles (paleomagnetism). Pollen grains are almost indestructible and when found in the sediments, provide a history of the surrounding vegetation of interest in its own right to the paleobotanist. The silica cases of microscopic plants (diatoms), also endure, locked in the sediments and by examining these, it is possible to see whether marine species were present and at what time.

It is desirable to obtain cores from the deeper parts of a lake in order to reach less disturbed material than would be found nearer the shores, which would be under the local influence of wave action and streams. The sloping walls of a loch also encourage slumping and disturbance of the sediments. Deeper down, there are also less creatures living in the sediment and disturbing it by burrowing (bioturbation).

Unfortunately, coring at depths of up to 1,000ft.(equivalent to the height of the Eiffel Tower), presents technical problems, especially with difficult surface conditions. None of the existing coring equipment for lakes was really suitable for the depths encountered. Only oceanographic devices could do the job but these require specialised vessels with heavy winching facilities at quite prohibitive cost.

Broadly, there are two types of corer available. The first is the gravity corer. This consists of a weighted tube, which is lowered into the sediment. Generally there is a one way valve in the top of the tube to allow water to escape on being displaced by material entering the bottom and to close on withdrawal, thus retaining the core within the tube.

The second type in the Makereth corer, of which there are only a few in the country. They are more costly (about 10,000) and work on another principle. First an anchor drum sucks its way into the silt, by having water withdrawn from it. When a firm purchase has been made, the core tube is forced down from within an outer cylinder by means of compressed air. The coring tube moves past an inner piston, which retains the core. Much greater lengths of core are obtainable using this piston, as without it ( as in the case of the gravity corer) the sediment only rises a limited distance within the tube, before compacting and locking, no matter how far the tube is driven into the lake bed.

Both types of corer, even if obtainable, are unsuited to work in very deep water. In the case of the weighted gravity corer, it is necessary to hold good station in order that the tube shall enter the sediment perpendicularly. Once the corer begins to penetrate, it is necessary to exercise a fine control of the line or the weights will overbalance the apparatus, which will fall over sideways. Finally, the whole corer with weights must be laboriously raised to the surface. In the case of the Makereth corer, the boat must first be anchored, as lengths of hose have to be kept attached to control the operation of the corer. Clearly, it is also expensive to provide 1,000ft. of grouped hoses. Operation of the corer at depth also requires much greater amounts of compressed air.

Our own coring programme began in 1978. In January of that year an operation was mounted at Loch Morar using a gravity corer from the Dept of Geology, Edinburgh University and with the support of 75 Engineer Regiment. A raft was successfully located over the deep area and the corer lowered and raised twice. No core was retained however, due to the problems already listed and the exercise was called off since the Edinburgh staff were unable to continue.

By the summer, a gravity corer of our own design had been developed. This was a free fall device incorporating fins for stability and with discharging ballast. Several cores were obtained including four from the deep basin.

One 5in. core obtained from 300ft., at the western end of the loch, had penetrated to glacial clay. When analysed by Dr. Birks of Cambridge University, it was found to contain cysts of marine algae. This is good evidence that the loch was connected to the sea, possibly as recently as 6,000 years ago. The deep-water cores were not long enough (14in.) to penetrate to the clays and consist of later lake sediments. These are deposited with the Freshwater Biological Association, the British Museum and Cambridge University.

In 1980 two major modifications were made to our corer design. As the result of experiment, it was found that the resistance of a tube entering sediment, is not primarily due to the pressure on its mouth, but to the increasing friction upon its walls. The same can be said of sediment rising within. Therefore, instead of sharpening the end of the tube we attach a collar or shoulder to its mouth, which pushes the sediment clear of the walls. This invention allows a breakthrough in the length of core obtainable by gravity coring especially when a similar collar slightly smaller than the tube is attached within. This has the effect of producing a core with a slight tolerance, which rises loosely to a much greater height within the tube.

The second modification consists of a steel chamber containing air at atmospheric pressure, placed above the core tube from which it is isolated by a valve. As the corer arrives at the loch bed, this valve opens and water pressure creates an effect of suction similar to the piston principle.

The system was used this year at Loch Morar and later at Loch Ness, where we have obtained cores up to 12ft. long. These cores are being analysed at Edinburgh University by Mr. Richard Grinvalds, whose work is partly supported by the Project. It is not yet known whether the quality of the core obtained by this method is adequate for paleomagnetic work but stratification is very evident and we should know whether or not a marine transgression occurred post-glacially.

In November, Mr. Grinvalds was able to obtain a Makereth corer from the Department of geophysics, Edinburgh University, and two 15ft. cores were obtained from the western end of Loch Morar. These should reveal a very precise sequence of events.

We have therefore, established that Loch Morar was connected to the sea post-glacially. The case for Loch Ness is still subjudice.

  Adrian J Shine

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Loch Ness and Morar Project Report 1980 - Adrian Shine