The other night, that girl and I watched a movie set and filmed in the Scottish Highlands. The rolling hills and the mountains, buttressed by stone, almost burned my eyes with their vivid green. As the cameras swept over the countryside I became increasingly aware that no trees populated the lush landscape. Clearly, trees would not want for rain.
Why no trees?
I searched the internet.
In crass terms, there are no trees because humans precipitated a steady deforestation of the Highlands. The first wave of deforestation occurred about 4000 years ago when farmers arrived with cattle, goats and sheep. These early settlers burned back forests to promote the growth of heather and grass for their animals. As time went on, the once dense forests retreated more in the face of woodcutters harvesting for building timbers and firewood. Farmers continued to nick away at the trees and their livestock overgrazed the open land. The forests withdrew in continuous fashion until only isolated pockets remained here and there in the Highlands. The woodland creatures such as lynx, wolves, and bears also vanished.
As the forests shrunk away and were replaced by grassland and livestock, the entire ecology of the landscape changed. The soil lost nutrients once provided by fallen trees and animals. Water shed more rapidly. The balance changed. Trees lost their footing entirely.
So came the grassy landscape captured by the cameras filming the movie we watched.
The Highlands are beautiful under the shawl of grass that covers them today. No doubt about that. But there now exists an interest in expanding the forests from the pockets into which they have withdrawn.