ECOLOGIST James H C Fenton
A View from Argyll James Fenton’s perspective on current conservation issues
The Scottish Hills are Natural!From The Munro Journal March 2020 Note: My website address has changed to This is because after Brexit the .eu domain name is no longer valid.The old address Contact: James FentonPolldoranClachan SeilOBAN PA37 4TJScotland  All items on this site Copyright James HC Fenton © 2021 Items on this site may be copied, downloaded or printed for personal use but must not be used in any way for commercial gain. Website produced by James Fenton using Xara Web Designer
The Historiographer Royal, Professor Christopher Smout in his book Nature Contested states: “Let us begin with the Great Wood of Caledon. It is, in ever sense of the word, a myth.” And Jan Oosthoek in 2001 said: ““There is a version of Scottish woodland history that can be re- garded as the 'popular version of woodland history'. The rough outline of this popular history is as follows: after the last ice age a massive forest developed in Scotland. The destruction of the so called Caledonian Forest began during the Neolithic period, and the Romans made a second major impact, burning large areas in warfare. From the fifth century AD various invaders, most notable the Vikings, cleared the forests for strategic reasons, shipbuilding, construction and so on. Then in the 17th and 18th centuries the Great Wood of Caledon was cleared for Iron smelting in the west and, more recently, for timber, cattle, deer and sheep. “This is a logical and widely accepted story of destruction but the question is what its origins are and how reliable this history is. In this paper I shall discuss how the 'Myth of Caledon' became part of Scottish popular culture. It will be shown that the Myth is a 19th century creation and how more fallacious elements were added to it during the 20th century. Then it sets out to discuss the short- comings of the popular version of Scottish woodland history and how the authors who popularised it ignored evidence that refuted much of the myth.” Abstract of a presentation at a conference of the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland, 'Landscape, Environment and Culture: The Shaping of Scottish Society from the Earliest Times', 22-23 September 2001, Edinburgh. The myth persists and, if anything, is becoming more prevalent. So why are ‘rewilders’ in Highland Scotland conflating ‘rewilding’ with ‘reforesting’? See also my paper Woodland or Open Ground.
Ronnie Rose Trophy September 2021 At this year’s Scottish Game Fair I was pleased to be presented with the Ronnie Rose Trophy for Conservation & Education by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. This was for my defence of the open moorland of Scotland. In 2015, on behalf of the Association, I produced A Future for Moorland in Scotland: The need for a locational strategy, a need which persists to this day. At the awards ceremony I said the following: “As someone who has been involved in nature conservation all my working life, I feel surprised nowadays to be associated with the gamekeeping profession. However keepers and myself share a love for the traditional Highland landscape of open hill and moor. We know, in spite of all that is said, that moorland is the natural vegetation of these areas. “If I may be a scientist for a while, I am always surprised about the lack of knowledge in conservation circles about postglacial vegetation succession: a period of woodland expansion to a maximum (the mesocratic phase) followed by woodland decline (the oligocratic phase). We are in this latter phase of declining soil fertility and woodland cover. “This is why it is so hard to get trees back into the landscape, which must involve all or some of the following: reducing grazing to ridiculously low levels, industrial deer-fencing, ploughing, mounding and the addition of fertilisers. “I am seriously concerned about the way the relatively natural open Highland landscape is currently undervalued, and the determination of the woodland lobby to plaster it with trees depresses me. Open moorland receives a bad press from many quarters and if shooting becomes too hedged about with regulations, then many owners may give up and cover the hills with industrial Sitka spruce plantations. Traditional deer-stalking in particular is perhaps the most benign use of the declining Highland landscape. “I am very pleased to receive this trophy, so thank you to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association.” My views on the issue are summarised in my essay in the Munro Journal