EH Resources artWelcome to EH Resources the home of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast.

Throughout history, humans have been affected by the natural environment, but they have also been agents of environmental change. Historians are now providing fascinating insights into the relations between humans and their environments in the past. This website explores the ways in which people have interacted with their environments in the past. Read more >>

Cultured nature: The Nature Scenery Act of the Netherlands

Huis den Berg

Huis Den Berg in Dalfsen. Example of a country house in a park like settings. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When thinking of national parks most people think of famous examples like Yellow Stone and Yosemite in the United States or the Serengeti in Tanzania. These parks are large in scale with an emphasis on wild life conservation and the preservation of scenic landscapes. Human activity and presence are restricted and regulated and people are visitors.

In smaller and densely populated countries like Britain or the Netherlands, the creation of large national parks is complicated. In these countries landscapes are far from natural and humans are part of the fabric of the landscape. For this reason, it is difficult to restrict human access and activities to create national parks.

NSA estates map

Map showing Nature Scenery Act estates, ca. 1950. Source: VU Geoplaza

In the Netherlands nature and human activity are almost inseparable because about half of the country is at or below sea level and is reclaimed or drained. Consequently, the landscape of the Netherlands is mostly the product of human intervention and can therefore be described as a cultural artefact. As a result, formal protection of landscapes and wildlife came late. One of the early attempts to create protected conservation areas came in 1928 with the Natuurschoonwet, freely translated as Nature Scenery Act. This Act was mostly about protecting country houses set in park like settings.

Wybren Verstegen, Senior Lecturer in economic, social and environmental history at the Free University Amsterdam has researched the Dutch Nature Scenery Act. On this episode of the podcast he discusses the Scenery Act and puts it in an international perspective. Wybren suggests that as an area of study, landed estates have been overlooked  by environmental historians.

 

Further reading and resources

Wybren Verstegen, “The nature scenery act of 1928 in the Netherlands”, Forest History Today (spring/fall 2015), 4-12. Download from the website of the Dutch Foundation of Castles, Country Houses and Rural Estates

Map sheets showing Dutch estates according to the Natuurschoonwet, ca. 1950. The original maps are accessible as images in the Free University Library Image Base collection.

Jan Oosthoek, Nature vs. culture or cultured nature?, Environmental History Resources Blog.

The Forest History Society

Staff page Wybren Verstegen

 

Music credits

Southern Delight” by Stefan Kartenberg, available from ccMixter

soaring” by urmymuse, available from ccMixter

Contested climate: the debate on the climatic influence of forests – Postscript

By Stephen Legg

Within the general context of ideas about climate change and variability, the focus of the research described in the interview on episodes 71 and 72 of Exploring Environmental History, was confined to the contested debate about the climatic influence of forests during the period before the late 1950s (a preliminary assessment is shown in Legg 2014). That end date was chosen primarily because of the discontinuity thereafter in easily accessible digitised mass newspaper sources as a forum for public opinion. Nevertheless, some significant progress in scientific research on the climatic influence of forests has been made in recent years, and is worth noting here. These new scientific theories developed particularly from the late-2000s offer a greater sense of closure to the narrative – or perhaps more precisely, they mark the beginning of a new phase in the debate. A few comments are also offered below linking the study’s findings to the current issue of scientific consensus on the threat of the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect (‘Global Warming’) as well as a brief consideration of other public debates about perceived threats to climate in the period from the end of the Second World War. Continue reading

Podcast 72: Contested climate: the debate on the climatic influence of forests – episode 2

Deforestation

Deforestation in the tropics by colonial powers as well as in settlement colonies such as Australia and New Zealand sparked fears of regional climate change. A debate that quickly spread around the globe and was publicly conducted in newspapers. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

How does one go about researching over a century of newspapers on the topic of the climatic influence of forests resulting in a few million hits? This was the daunting task facing Stephen Legg, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University. His research into the 19th century debate of climatic influence of forests in Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States led him to trawl through tens of thousands of articles online collections such as Trove. This second of two podcast episodes with Stephen Legg, explores the practical and methodological issues surrounding the use of online collections of historical newspapers.

The second half of the podcast focuses on the relevance of the 19th and early 20th century debates on forestry and climate in the light of modern climate change. Can such parallels be drawn or does such “presentism” distort the history of what people thought at the time? These are not just important questions for historians of climate change but for environmental historical research in general.

Read also Stephen Legg’s postscript blog post on climate and forests and modern climate change.

 

Further reading and resources

Trove, National Library of Australia

How to find Newspapers? – State Library Victoria

 

Music credit

Silica” by fluffy, available from ccMixter

 

Podcast 71: Contested climate: the debate on the climatic influence of forests – episode 1

Newspaper article climate forestry

Example of a newspaper article on forests and climate: Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 23 January 1869, p. 4

Dating back to classical antiquity in the western world, the contested notion that climate was changing due principally to the human impact on forests was strongly revived in the mid-nineteenth century. Foresters and botanists, many of whom were employed as public servants, led the revival. They argued on the basis of the lessons of history and scientific evidence in an attempt to shape government policy on forest management. Much of the concern with the impact of forests on climate would have remained the almost exclusive domain of scientists, were it not for the role of journalists in popularising and politicising the idea. Throughout the latter half of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries, newspaper coverage of the debate transformed a dusty scientific enquiry into a vibrant but increasingly polarised public debate. An increasingly widespread popular article of faith, the twin ideas of climate change and forest influence persisted until at least the 1920s buoyed by a sympathetic press and growing bands of conservationists. Ultimately, however, the ideas were debunked by climatologists and rejected by mainstream science.

Stephen Legg is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University. In this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast Stephen discusses the development of the debate surrounding the influence of forests on climate, the role of the press in shaping and communicating scientific ideas and how it illuminates the broader role of science in society. He also compares the engagement of governments, science and the press internationally, and how this debate in turn related to ideas about conservation and climate change.

Further reading and resources

Stephen Legg, “Debating the Climatological Role of Forests in Australia, 1827 – 1949: A Survey of the Popular Press”, in: James Beattie, Emily O’Gorman, and Matthew Henry (eds.), Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand (Palgrave, New York, 2014), pp. 119-136.

Clarence J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian shore: Nature and culture in Western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century (Oakland: University of California Press, 1973).

 

Music credits

Silica” by fluffy, available from ccMixter

C120-12string-guitar-arps” by Javolenus, available from ccMixter

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