Perth and Kinross has a great variety of both upland and lowland terrain. It includes inhospitable high mountains, waterlogged river valleys and most environments in between. Fertile arable land, rough grazing, marginal uplands, low-lying carse lands and flooded mosses were all present in medieval Perth and Kinross. Any attempt to develop regional research priorities must recognise the diversity of environments in this part of Scotland.
The RCAHMS surveys of eastern Perth and Kinross provide valuable insights into the evolution of the landscape over much of the region, and may hint at relevant trends in areas not covered (RCAHMS 1990; 1994). In many parts of Perth and Kinross there have been significant changes in land usage between the Middle Ages and today. Post-medieval drainage projects, modern agricultural practices and urban expansion have all affected the landscape. Both written records and modern scientific methods can help us understand the rather different landscapes of the past. For example, recent landscape archaeology projects at the University of Stirling have used documentary evidence and environmental science to shed light on medieval land use (Tipping et al 2016, 111–28).
A large body of property records, such as charters and rentals, survive for much of Perth and Kinross from the 14th century onwards, and there is fragmentary written evidence for earlier periods. These economic and legal documents contain a significant amount of information on land use and notable geographic features. Later maps and estate records also have considerable potential for highlighting changes which have occurred between the Middle Ages and the present. It is hoped that future research will increasingly link the remarkable textual and physical evidence present in Perth and Kinross.
Many of the questions we ask regarding landscape will relate to local and site-specific topics of interest. However, some broad themes are worthwhile highlighting. At present our understanding of the degree of variation in land use between upland and lowland areas, and the many gradations between, remains limited. Our knowledge of biodiversity in Perth and Kinross in the Middle Ages, and how that compares to other regions and periods, could similarly be improved.
Climate change and its impact on upland and marginal communities could also be an area for further research. While climatic alterations in earlier periods, such as the Bronze Age, have been the subject of considerable archaeological interest, experiences of climate change in Perth and Kinross in the Middle Ages have been relatively neglected. This is surprising, as there is evidence for farming and settlement at relatively high altitudes prior to the 14th-century cold spell. For example, the study of the deer park at Buzzart Dykes, Middleton Muir revealed rig and furrow at 270m above sea level, apparently associated with a building dated to the 13th or 14th centuries (MPK3821; D Hall and Malloy 2016, 27; see Buzzart Dykes Case Study). Building and cultivation remains have been found at similar heights across much of the north-east uplands of Perth and Kinross (RCAHMS 1990; Strachan et al 2019).