The Atlantic Oakwoods as a Commercial Crop in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries<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:
The Atlantic Oakwoods as a Commercial Crop in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries*

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The oakwoods of the western Highlands, and especially those that fringe the sea lochs of Argyll, are one of the glories of Scotland. In many parts of northern Europe and North America, fiords and inlets clothed with conifers are as frequent as they are beautiful. Much rarer is the sight of marine inlets clothed with oaks, and in fresh leaf in May they are breathtakingly beautiful. Ecologists call them Atlantic oakwoods, and are especially excited by the richness of their mosses and lichens that proliferate in the moist and mild climate. As a period in the total history of the Atlantic oakwoods, the episode of commercial exploitation was quite brief, in the main lasting from about 1700 to about 1900, and on a relatively intense scale only from about 1750 to about 1850. If the natural or semi-natural woods have been occupying the site for 8,000 years, this represents only 2.5 per cent and 1.25 per cent, respectively, of the total timespan that the woods have been with us. The precise ecological impact of the period of commercial exploitation is something to explore and remains uncertain in several ways, yet it tends to be uppermost in our minds because it affects both our cultural and scientific perspective on the woods.

Keywords: Atlantic oakwoods; Highlands; commercial exploration; natural woods; semi-natural woods

Chapter.  5081 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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