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James HC Fenton

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Ecology
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THE ECOLOGY AND LANDSCAPES

OF SCOTLAND

The Ecology and Landscapes of Scotland


We live in a time when the natural world continues to be marginalised by politicians, with development being allowed to encroach into the heart of even our wildest areas. In the zeitgeist of ‘development at all costs’, no consideration is ever given to whether we want to keep some areas wild, places where nature is still in charge. Without such consideration, what sort of planet will our grandchildren inherit?


In the hills, much, but certainly be no means all, of this development comes under the umbrella of renewable energy, and proponents of such energy are often blind to the fact that there is no point in ‘saving the planet’ [from climate change] if we end up with a planet where there are no wild places left, where there is nowhere left to go to experience nature in the raw.


As someone brought up in the Highlands, and who has been passionate about nature and landscape conservation all my life, the above is key concern of mine. However I have another equally strong concern, and this is that most of those promoting nature conservation in Scotland do not see the importance of understanding the country’s ecological history – and the natural processes particular to Scotland which have shaped our landscape. Instead they appear to want to shape the land ‘in their image’, which generally means wanting to significantly expand woodland cover. This is in spite of little evidence that Scotland would naturally have more trees if only people over the centuries had not cut them all down or otherwise destroyed the forests.


Hence the current drive to turn Scotland, in particular the Highlands, into a designed landscape. This, together with the all infrastructure being built in the hills, only adds to the continuing attrition of our once wild hills: places where natural forces continue to shape the vegetation pattern and humans are not continually adding their own elements of design.


In fact I think the common understanding of the ecology of the Highlands needs a major revision: it is still based on Fraser Darling’s view of it as a degraded landscape in need of our help. But what if this is not true? What if in this telocratic phase of an interglacial, woodland naturally declines and peat naturally erodes?


In this section you will see I consider many of the above topics.