8.5 Human ecologies

Landscapes are relationships between people and they are relationships between people and the material environment, but they are also relationships between people and other living things and between people and the natural environment. Indeed, thinking in landscape terms challenges us to integrate these distinct social, material and environmental relationships (see Olsen 2012). The sections above discuss research into the human-material dynamics and the social and cultural experiences, perceptions and politics of landscape. Here we turn to human-environment relationships.

The modern era has seen the development of a particular way of thinking and acting which places people and the natural world in opposition to one another – us versus ‘the environment’ – witnessed, perhaps above all, in the significance of climate change as a cultural and political as well as a scientific issue. Research should consider the changing relationship of people and environment in the modern past, investigating the ways in which people have exploited, impacted upon, managed, cared for and been influenced by the environment. Research should also help us to reflect upon and critically evaluate the very idea of a separation of people and environment, culture and nature. To what extent does the history of our interactions with our world support or challenge this idea?

The genealogy of modern human-environment relationships can be traced from the rural or semi-rural industries of the Early Modern period (e.g. 17th-century iron production in the Highlands (cf. Photos-Jones et al. 1998) or the Early Modern salt and coal industries (cf. e.g. Adamson 2008) to the industrial landscapes of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries (e.g. RCAHMS 1995). Energy landscapes range from the monumental bings of the on-shore (shale) oil industry in West Lothian to water-powered mill complexes like New Lanark and the early renewable energy facilities of the North of Scotland Hydo-electricity Board. Energy links the marine, coastal and land-scapes, with oil and gas platforms connected by pipelines and across the sea’s surface to the energy infrastructures of the land mass. Throughout the modern period, people have engaged with woodlands, but done so in many different ways, from the small-scale wood pastures associated with farming practice, to the ornamental woodlands adorning many designed landscapes, to the larger-scale commercial charcoal- and tanbark-producing woodlands which fed the iron and leather industries, to the block plantations of created by private and state landowners in the 20th century. (Under the broader banner of ‘environmental history’, there has been a lot of work in recent years in woodland history and in the inter-disciplinary analysis of people-woodland relationships (e.g. Davies & Watson 2007; Holl and Smith 2007; Smout 2003; Smout, MacDonald & Watson 2005)

In the modern period, humans created nature, both in the sense of promoting the idea that culture is separate from (and stands in opposition to) nature and in the sense that people have had profound impacts on the environment through pollution, through the physical alteration of the land, through (beneficial and negative) effects on biodiversity and in many other ways. The origins of many of the characteristics of Scotland’s natural environment are inextricably bound up with changing patterns of settlement and of resource management, seen in the of human management and stock grazing on woodlands, the species diversity of former field systems and shieling sites and, conversely, the loss of species-rich heather moors through intensive grazing from the Improvement period onwards (Tipping 2000, Davies and Dixon 2007; see also Stevenson & Thompson 1993; Chambers et al. 1999; Stevenson and Rhodes 2000; Hanley et al. 2008). And if modern environments are the by-products of past land use practices, they are also the conscious creations of modern conservation and environmental management practices, materially affected by their designation as wildernesses, ecological reserves and areas of scenic beauty, the active management of land and habitat to produce certain desired types of environment and the re-introduction of species (Hetherington 2008, Manning et al. 2009). In all of this, people have, consciously or not, significantly altered Scotland’s environments and, in doing so, significantly changed Scotland’s landscapes, not just re-shaping the world we inhabit but re-shaping us too by altering the character of our relationships with each other and with our surroundings.

See also the ScARF Case Study: An integrated approach to the modern environment

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