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Understanding the changing value of natural resources: an integrated palaeoecological–historical investigation into grazing–woodland interactions by Loch Awe, Western Highlands of Scotland

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Abstract Aim 

We aim to compare fine resolution pollen data from a former seasonal pasture with historical evidence for grazing and woodland use. We discuss the complexities and benefits of integrating qualitative and quantitative information, and the implications for studies of past wood–grazing interactions and their relevance to current conservation management. Location 

Corries is an abandoned farm township in Scotland's Western Highlands. Methods 

Two sources were used: (1) pollen evidence from a former seasonal pasture, analysed at c. 20-year intervals and dated using 14C and 210Pb, provides a c. 1100-year local vegetation and land-use history; (2) written sources document resource regulation and changing socio-economic circumstances at local to national scales over the last c. 400 years. Results 

Each source records woodland and livestock management at different spatial and temporal scales: written evidence provides a clearer understanding of general (estate) rather than farm-scale changes, while small pollen basins record localized woodland–grazing dynamics, which can be difficult to extrapolate to the landscape scale. Both sources indicate a dynamic wood–grazing balance and together provide clearer evidence for incentives and drivers controlling this relationship. The first palynological phase of woodland incursion (adc. 1210–1490) pre-dates the surviving written records, but a second (adc. 1680–1760) occurs during a period of increasing market value for cattle, when farmers may have increased grazing despite regulations to protect woods. The site is not representative of grazing intensification associated with the introduction of extensive sheep farming because the farmer protected the woods (adc. 1760–1880) until they were cleared (adc. 1880–1920) for quarrying (ad1885–1904), which accounts for the limited palynological evidence for grazing. Main conclusions 

Written evidence for past stocking levels is too fragmentary and ambiguous to allow long-term quantitative analysis, but a local historical context is important for interpreting local pollen records. Management decisions that determined grazing–woodland interactions were shaped by changing values, markets, agricultural practices and regulatory structures, which can result in nonlinear relationships between stocking levels and woodland continuity. Many woods were managed for multiple purposes in the past and promoting natural processes or pursuing pre-anthropogenic baselines will result in the erosion of cultural features that have shaped present landscape values.

Keywords: Environmental history; UK; grazing ecology; interdisciplinarity; long-term ecology; palaeoecology; pollen analysis; vegetation history; wood pasture

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2007-10-01

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