land

In photos: how we are changing Scotland’s landscape

“My view of the Highlands has changed,” says Richard Cross, a photographer based in Scotland.

“Where once I saw wilderness I now see a landscape scarred by human activity, vegetation depleted by grazing, moors drained to rear grouse and swathes of forestry plantations which support little biodiversity.

“Wind turbines and hydro schemes encroach on designated wild lands, while every year vehicle tracks push deeper into the hills unchecked by regulation or oversight.

“But things are changing. Our understanding of the value of biodiversity is increasing; regeneration, reintroduction and rewilding projects are gaining support and there seems to be a genuine appetite to reexamine our use of the landscape.”

Cross uses a drone for his photography to help shift perspectives on land use. He is studying the patterns, forms and usage of the Scottish landscape, and his Loch and Glen exhibition has been on display at the Moray Walking and Outdoor Festival.

Grazing

Deer Proof Fence / Lochaber

The minimum height for fences to protect against red deer is 1.8 metres. When seen from above the sterility of the landscape either side is startling.

Deer Proof Fence, Lochaber
Deer Proof Fence, Lochaber

Deer Proof Island / Isle of Harris

Islands provide plants with protection from grazing. These pockets of growth hint at what the Highlands could look like with controlled grazing.

Deer proof island, Isle of Harris
Deer proof island, Isle of Harris

Regeneration / Isle of Harris

With protection from grazing natural regeneration occurs relatively quickly. Trees and shrubs around rivers create ribbons of biodiversity and can help slow the passage of water, ultimately reducing the risk of flooding downstream.

Regeneration, Isle of Harris
Regeneration, Isle of Harris

Moors

Hill Tracks / Perthshire

Tracks for agricultural use do not need planning permission, as a result an increasing number of tracks have appeared in glens and upland areas, often on sporting estates. Sometimes they are relatively discrete all terrain vehicle tracks, others are bulldozed roads visible for miles around.

Hill Tracks, Perthshire
Hill Tracks, Perthshire

Muirburn / Pentland Hills

Muirburn is the practice of burning moorland to encourage new growth, a technique widely used by sporting estates to increase the numbers of grouse.

Muirburn, Pentland Hills
Muirburn, Pentland Hills

Drainage / Stirlingshire

Moorland is frequently drained to improve grazing and encourage grouse to breed. The result is a sterile landscape which has been described as a ‘wet desert’.

Drainage, Stirlingshire
Drainage, Stirlingshire
Land ownership banner

Forests

Plantations / Lochaber

Woodland cover in Scotland currently stands at around 18 per cent of land area, a significant improvement from the beginning of the 20th century when it was only 4.5 per cent. However much of this is plantations of non-native species, principally sitka spruce.

A recent announcement of a large tree planting initiative has yet to reveal what species will be planted and some are concerned this will mean more plantations which support little biodiversity.

Plantations, Lochaber
Plantations, Lochaber

Selective Felling / East Lothian

Selective harvesting is a common technique but hard to spot from the ground. By removing the central core of trees the landscape looks unchanged but the lumber has been extracted.

Selective tree felling, East Lothian
Selective tree felling, East Lothian

Clear Felling / Glen Etive

The rising price of timber means harvesting mature plantations is currently profitable, prompting a wave of clear felling across Scotland. The presence of commercial forestry in Glen Etive was cited as a reason to approve the development of seven small scale hydro schemes in the glen, three of which are on designated wild land.

Clear Felling, Glen Etive
Clear Felling, Glen Etive

Native Forest / Perthshire

Native Forest, Perthshire
Native Forest, Perthshire

Replanting / Perthshire

New planting helps expand and buffer the existing ancient oak wood, with 30,000 native trees being planted over the last 2 years in this woodland alone.

Replanting, Perthshire
Replanting, Perthshire

Cultivation

Lazy Beds / Isle of Lewis

Lazy beds (Gaelic feannagan) are a method of cultivation where parallel banks of ridge and furrow are dug to improve soil and drainage. Introduced by the Vikings, their traces can be seen throughout the highlands and islands.

Lazy Beds, Isle of Lewis
Lazy Beds, Isle of Lewis

Potatoes & Barley / Perthshire

Potatoes & Barley, Perthshire
Potatoes & Barley, Perthshire

Daffodils / Perthshire

Daffodils, Perthshire
Daffodils, Perthshire

Polytunnels / Blairgowrie

Polytunnels, Blairgowrie
Polytunnels, Blairgowrie

Golf

Golf / Perthshire

There are around 580 golf courses in Scotland, each covering approximately 185 acres. Added together the total area is around 160 square miles of land.

Golf, Perthshire
Golf, Perthshire

All pictures by Richard Cross as part of his Loch and Glen photo project.

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