Principle or Practice? Landscapes of the Scottish Islands

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First, thanks and apologies to Larry Harrell for being the contact for the blog while I was on vacation. Also an apology for getting back to this late. I returned to a crush of full time graduate school classes, and have just now had time to look at the blog.

My travel in the islands of western Scotland was for pilgrimage. I have to recommend it for folks interested in forests, because of the uniqueness of being somewhere where the conifer forests are (mostly) introduced. Tourism, (relatively intensive) forest management, and grazing seem to live together in relative harmony.

Vast numbers of tourists walk through sheep droppings and around sheep to see historical sites and views, and drive by plantations and clearcuts on the main roads. Big clearcuts, with no screening vegetation (I may get some photos of this later).

That is not to say there isn’t controversy about the non-native tree species. What I though was interesting in observing these landscapes was that a piece of land right now (say a recent clearcut) could be interpreted using different stories. For example, a clearcut could be either “a bad practice leading to a bad outcome” if you don’t like non native-forestry. Or a “bad practice leading to a good outcome” if you convert the clearcut area back to native vegetation. Or just a “practice that uses the land to provide incomes for people.” Those are all stories that we interpolate between us and the specific piece of ground in a specific vegetative situation, and some judgment calls can only be made knowing what occurred in the past or might occur in the future. Aesthetically, these forests would be beautiful if they were native. But they’re not. So some see beauty and others see human destruction. Is that in some sense, “reality” or in some sense “choice”?

If you think they are too dense for some species of wildlife, then you can talk about what densities would be better. But if you don’t like exotic species based on principle, then it doesn’t matter. But sheep are exotic to the Islands too.

So if “humans making a living on the land” is bad because it changes things from the “natural” way, then that seems like it would be true of farming, forestry or tourism.

If it’s a question of specific practices damaging specific environmental values, then that seems more amenable to discussion and compromise.

Here is a photo of a display at Glencoe National Park:


It seems to me that most of us (even on this blog) are somewhere in the middle, and if so, there should be areas of compromise.


  1. I enjoyed a weeklong sojourn in and about Strathclyde Forest (north of Callander, south of Glencoe) in Scotland in April 1982, and was greatly impressed by the plantations of trees imported from North America, by the Forestry Commission rental cabin in which I kept snug at night, and by the Forestry Commission “ranger station” with green Land Rover parked in front. It was a highlight of my four-year assignment residency in London. I wonder what it’s like 32 years later.

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