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Exploring Environmental HistorySelected Essays$
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T. C. Smout

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780748635139

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748635139.001.0001

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The Improvers and the Scottish Environment: Soils, Bogs and Woods*

The Improvers and the Scottish Environment: Soils, Bogs and Woods*

(p.135) CHAPTER 8 The Improvers and the Scottish Environment: Soils, Bogs and Woods*
Exploring Environmental History

T. C. Smout

Edinburgh University Press

By the first half of the eighteenth century, Scotland had been suffering from several thousand years of slow environmental degradation without any effective actions having been taken to reverse it, and from at least two centuries of declining and stagnant living standards, which flight and famine on a rare scale had failed to relieve. In the course of the succeeding century, in the rural Lowlands, though perhaps not in the Highlands, environmental degradation had been counteracted, and the living standards of the population in the rural Lowlands, though evidently not in the Highlands, had improved. The economic, social and political leaders of the countryside in this dramatic century were the Improvers, once much praised as enlightened patriots, now more subject to historical deflation. The term ‘Improver’ refers to those landowners of the period 1720–1820, assisted by their land stewards and large tenants, who, in their own districts, deliberately broke with the agricultural traditions of the past. This chapter addresses the questions of whether their attitudes and actions contributed significantly to the turnaround. Did they address what the Danish historian Thorkild Kjærgaard describes for his country as an ecological crisis overcome by a green biotechnological revolution? Or were they irrelevant?

Keywords:   Scotland, environmental degradation, Lowlands, Highlands, Improvers

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