Exploiting Scottish Semi-natural Woods, 1600–1850<sup>*</sup>

T. C. Smout

in Exploring Environmental History

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780748635139
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651375 | DOI:
Exploiting Scottish Semi-natural Woods, 1600–1850*

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This chapter examines the question of how far the exploitation of Scottish woodland, 1600–1850, was, in modern terms, ‘sustainable’. Sustainability is essentially a twentieth-century term, the meaning of which has evolved gradually, beginning with the American Progressive notion of a ‘maximum sustainable yield’ applied to fisheries and forestry in the era of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, but more recently expressed by the Brundtland Report as a universal ideal of sustainable development which ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. It might be said that if early modern woodland management practices met the needs of the time without compromising those of future generations, that was probably an intended consequence, but if they happened to preserve biodiversity or to be socially acceptable to the commonality, that was an accidental by-product. Furthermore, to be realistic, it is perfectly possible and even likely that a management regime which maintained and increased the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ of timber products would, to some degree, both damage biodiversity and offend the local population. This was certainly true in late eighteenth-century Scotland.

Keywords: Scottish woodland; exploration; sustainability; environmental history

Chapter.  8582 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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