Some ramblings on land use


A wall of ice recedes.
Image:Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia Commons

About 15 000 years ago, Sweden was covered in kilometres of ice. As the Earth slowly warmed, the glaciers receded and revealed a changed landscape. The land was quickly colonised by plants and animals, and humans.

And humans came very quickly – there is no discernible gap between the ice receding and people being around. Which means that the Swedish ecosystem has always included humans. There’s no ‘untouched wilderness’. The entire ecosystem has our fingerprints on it.

This leads to some interesting problems. For at least a thousand years, Swedes have maintained different types of forest. An open oak forest provides grazing land for cows and sheep, a good habitat for berries and mushrooms and strong wood for shipbuilding.


This forest isn’t as useful as it once was.

But these day, we don’t need oak planks for ships, and it’s easier to keep cows on cleared paddocks. So we stop using the forest. But these ecosystems developed around humans, and actually require humans to function properly. When we stop using them, things get out of balance. The ecosystem degrades, and many species disappear.

As an Australian, I have a love of nature and the vast untouched wilderness of our continent. But wilderness is a lie – the ecosystems of Australia have all been managed for forty thousand years or more. In the past few hundred years that management has been disrupted, and that change is still echoing through the landscape.

A question: what do we do with an ecosystem when what we want from that ecosystem changes?





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