THE Highlands basking in a sun-soaked, sub-tropical climate sounds

like a cruel fantasy in bleak midwinter. Three thousand years ago, that

is just how it was.

Scientists studying silt from the bed of Loch Ness have discovered

that prehistoric Highlanders once enjoyed Mediterranean-style sunshine,

sizzling summers, warm, dry winters, weather capable of sustaining

vineyards, and clear, blue skies for most of the year.

The EU-funded Rosetta Project is examining 20ft-long cores of mud,

drawn from the loch bed 600ft below the surface, which has lain

undisturbed since the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

The researchers study seeds and pollen found in the layers, deposited

each year on the floor of the loch, to calculate ancient climates.

Environmental scientist Dr Kate Farr, of Wolverhampton University,

said: ''The best period was from about 2000 BC to 50 BC when, our

studies show, the northern part of the British Isles basked in the same

kind of climate that the countries round the Mediterranean Sea enjoy


Dr Farr said the period spanned the end of the Stone Age (neolithic)

when the inhabitants of the area started using tools made from bronze.

Other scientists probing the same period have come up with evidence of

hippos in the River Thames, Dr Farr revealed.

With greenhouse gases thought to be causing global warming, Dr Farr

believes Loch Ness could once again enjoy high temperatures.

She added: ''There are so many little triggers, like volcanoes which

cool the atmosphere, that it is hard to be certain about climate change.

But there is a strong feeling among my colleagues that global warming is


''That could mean sub-tropical sun back at Loch Ness but,

unfortunately, not in our lifetimes.''

A Scottish Tourist Board spokeswoman said: ''I wish we could turn back

time. These conditions would certainly make our jobs a lot easier. If we

could sell sub-tropical sun alongside Highland scenery, we would

probably be employed to keep visitors away.''