Land Use

10,000 years BCE there were around 1 million humans walking this planet. By 1800 AD there were around 1 billion. From Stone Age man, hunting and gathering a wide ranging diet we became farmers, and by 1800 we were dividing up the land of Britain through the Enclosure Act.

There are 7 billion plus world population today. Agriculture is big business with so many mouths to feed.

Humans began farming within small populations around the same time all over the world. People learned through trial and error to develop farming techniques, but some were more inventive than others. Archaeologist have found Incas never had wheels, but Mesopotamians and the Mayas of Central America did. No-one has yet been able to show how grass was grown into an edible form of corn, how bread was invented, how something so inedible as grass became a world wide necessity through farming and baking techniques. As farming requires a settled community around it, then the diet of that community becomes refined down to basics. No longer is the wide ranging healthier diet of the nomadic life available to all.

Hills and mountains are constantly eroded, particularly as an Ice Age melts away, reducing the nutrients in the soil and creating scrub, heath and bog. Where I live, I watch the rains sweep away the rocks, smashing them up on their way to the sea via the many sikes, burns and rivers around our cottage. These high places will one day be gone, washed away. The skin of the Earth constantly changing, we can only imagine what it may have looked like before the last Ice Age.

Land around me has been used to farm sheep for centuries. It was Neolithic Man who made sheep dependent on humans (domesticated), about 10,000 years ago, in south west Asia. People learned sheep were found to be suppliers of milk, clothing material, as well as meat. Sheep were a feral animal in Europe when they were domesticated in Asia. European sheep, genetically, are thought to be descended from Type B compared to Type A for Asian and C linked with Turkey and China. A Type B sheep was found in the Bronze Age in China and thought to have been introduced in 5000 BC.

In the Highlands of Scotland, indigenous people were forced from their homes and no longer allowed to live on land they used to cultivate and survive on. Instead, the land was given over for sheep walks. The sheep were considered more important to the landowners than people. For a short while, such landowners became very rich until the competition from New Zealand sheep farmers broke their hold on the market.

I knew very little about sheep when we came to live here. Being surrounded by a few thousand sheep which fed right up to the fence of the cottage resulted in a fast learning curve. We became very fond of them and grew to recognize them as you would neighbours in your street. They do not have an easy life. The ewes bond with their lambs in a powerful way. They are excellent mothers unless they are unwell. When the lambs leave to be taken to market, they scream for their babies for a few hours, until hoarse. Then they seem to accept they are lost, gone forever. They lose their milk and become fitter, ready for their next pregnancy. These sheep do not have coats which can be used to make wool as they are coarse. They are farmed for their meat only.

We also had around 200 cattle intermingling with the sheep, roaming the hills, making dramatic silhouettes against the skyline as they moved through the fells. As with sheep, it was Neolithic Man in the Near East who domesticated the cow. Cows are strong, so could be used to pull the plough or carry loads, and their blood was found to be nutritious (often extracted from the living animal). One dead cow could feed a large group of people and the skins could be used for clothing and for making useful items. The cattle on this farm were reared for beef.

Land has to be cleared to make way for cattle and sheep. In Britain this started about 6,000 years ago. Wildwood was cut down and probably burned to grow grass for the animals. Early on the cattle would be small, supplying milk and beef. Gradually cattle were farmed for milk, or beef. Beef cows suckle the calf for between 7 and 10 months. After weaning the calves are finished through a variety of feeding systems. Cows are lovely animals, though we found them scary when they came to our fence and had their calves with them. They hate dogs, so, seeing them in our garden, they used to look so fierce and bay at us all. We had to quickly get the dogs in if they arrived unexpectedly, as they often did.

All the sheep and cows are now gone as the new estate owner is planting trees, replacing the animals. The people of Scotland mostly departed these shores (late 1600s onwards) and left it to the landowners to choose how to make profits from the hectares they purchased. There are only around 5254800 (mid-2011) people living in Scotland today, and that population has been boosted by foreign immigrants (over 42,000 arrived in 2011).

Scotland is full of history, enchantment and mystery. 61% of UK windfarms are built in Scotland, reducing the splendour of wild landscapes to industrial degradation. This is clean energy and our Scottish Parliament are proud of their policy of accelerating the placing of Turbines taller then The Eye in London amongst the greatest landscape views in the world, hacking the peat away to ground the monstrous eyesores and possibly knowing, in 25 years time, they will not be decommissioned as promised. I rather expect them to be left to rot. But I am unlikely to be around to find out.

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About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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