2.11 Landscape and Environment Research Agenda

Palaeoenvironmental Research

A key theme at a regional level is that there are long-established palaeoenvironmental trends and events (such as the elm declines climate event). However, new regional palaeoenvironmental and environmental histories can be moved forward by new, improved and multi-proxy methods of analysis. Producing more pollen studies which demonstrate what we already know provides little new information. An integrated approach is required to test competing hypotheses, which means including more analysis of plant macrofossils, insects and comparison with independent palaeoclimate data.

Topography  map of south east scotland
Map of topography of the South East of Scotland, focussing on the Firth of Forth © Director General of the Ordnance Survey, UK (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

There is a need to appreciate that synchronicity does not equate with causality – understanding the complex nature and range of relationships between climate, vegetation and land-use. For example, as Richard Tipping has emphasised, human activity may be a consequence rather than a cause of changes apparent in the palaeoecological record (2010).

This may then support enhanced interpretations and baseline narratives within all sources of investigations – be it academic, development-led or community-led research – pertaining to human influences and reactions to climate change, environmental change and past human groups wider relationships with landscapes.

Further specific priorities have been identified:

  • Re-assessment of existing good quality pollen analyses; recalibration of radiocarbon dates and age-depth model using Bayesian analysis
  • Targeted sampling and re-analysis of key sequences
  • Use of tephra to enhance chronologies
  • The smaller number of palaeoenvironmental studies across South East Scotland highlights the need for high-resolution and well-dated sequences from both coastal, lowland and upland settings. The lack of lochs means that alternative suitable locations need to be identified.
  • Application of statistical analyses of pollen data to help model vegetation cover and land use.
  • Development of independent high-resolution palaeoclimate records for the late Pleistocene and Holocene
  • Pollen analysis should be undertaken were applicable alongside a range of complementary techniques, including NPPs, plant macrofossils, coleoptera, testate amoeba, chironomids.
  • Investigation of pollen and other palaeoenvironmental records around hillforts to attempt an understanding of their functions beyond monumental structures such as within the rural economy and more widely.
  • Understanding landscape change and fluvial chronology from source to sea. Expanding an understanding of how past climates and economies have shaped uplands in particular.