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The Production and Dissemination of Knowledge in Scotland

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Lesley Graham

3. The informal transmission of knowledge

Science and tradition in the production of High Nature Value Landscapes in the Scottish Highlands and Islands

William Welstead

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1Traditional farming methods are closely associated in Europe with landscapes that support a diverse range of species. The concept of High Nature Value (HNV) farming has been used to advocate additional support for traditional farmers, including the crofters of the Scottish highlands and islands. These concepts are deployed here to explore the interaction between two knowledge systems: one based on traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), passed down experientially and through socialisation, and the other on the agricultural and ecological science flowing from the Scottish Enlightenment. There is evidence that traditional methods and skills have changed in response to market and financial pressures, but it does seem as if science has not been taken directly into the traditional knowledge base. Further it seems that contemporary site-based nature conservation managers rely on experiential knowledge much more that on scientific theory to cope with the complexity and uncertainty in the system.

2A visitor arriving by air at the Hebridean Isle of Tiree will come face-to-face with an interpretation board sponsored by the Scottish Crofting Federation that offers a short summary of the crofting style of farming and making claims for its environmental and cultural significance. In particular it claims that “the unique landscape has been greatly influenced by crofters’ past activities”. This paper examines the impact that traditional methods of farming have on producing a landscape that is rich in biodiversity. A second claim is that “Tiree crofters [have learned] to resist excessive outside influence but to have the flexibility to adapt to change”. This second claim is explored in the context of the ways that traditional farmers on Tiree and the western Scottish highlands and islands, have resisted or adapted to outside influences from the agricultural improvements flowing from the Scottish Enlightenment and from its modern day equivalent in scientific nature conservation. Leaving aside the rules that govern the construction of interpretation narratives, the two quotations given above offer a useful starting point for a cultural studies investigation of what are two competing knowledge systems. The largely oral tradition of Gaelic speaking crofting farmers is compared with the rational, scientific and literary traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment. To what extent have these two very different knowledge systems influenced each other?

  • 1 Berger, Peter and Luckmann, Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology (...)
  • 2 McClintock, D., “Considering Metaphors of Countrysides in the United Kingdom” in M. Cerf, D. Gibbon (...)

3The approach taken in this paper is to examine these statements in terms of the published literature on crofting, the enlightenment inspired improvers, contemporary scientific nature conservation and the capacity for learning new skills in response to market needs and the advancement of knowledge. Of necessity this approach crosses disciplines but it selects its questions in terms of a social constructivist model, as in Berger and Luckman, that focusses on ideas that seem self-evident or ‘taken for granted’.1 It also takes note of an approach developed by McClintock in which he examines the potential use of metaphors to convey understandings and to create new understandings.2

  • 3 European Union, Council directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fau (...)

4The first quotation from the interpretation board placed at the airport on the Hebridean Isle of Tiree lays claim to the cultural landscape that Tiree shares with the Western Isles. The landscape is unique both for its geomorphology and for the traditional farming techniques that have evolved since the Neolithic times. The three billion year old Lewisian gneiss, that makes up the impervious bedrock, outcrops as glacier smoothed hillocks of the typical cnoc and lochan landscape of mostly wet peatlands known as sliabh. In contrast the windblown Quaternary shell-sands have produced the fertile but fragile machair plains that are characteristic of the Hebrides and western Scotland and Ireland. This particular land form does not occur anywhere else in the world and is claimed for its unique nature value as a habitat in the EU Habitats Directive3 which provides official endorsement of the claim made in the first quotation given above.

  • 4 Firbank, Les G.; Petit, Sandrine; Smart, Simon; Blain, Alasdair and Fuller, Robert J., “Assessing t (...)

5The concept of High Nature Value (HNV) farming developed in the 1990s in Europe as it became clear that biodiversity is critically dependent on the continuation of low-intensity farming across large areas of countryside. Interest in HNV farming followed the recognition that intensification of agriculture has a damaging impact on biodiversity. In this sense intensification is seen as a suite of agricultural changes with one measure being the level of appropriation by humans of net primary production. In Europe it is estimated that 72 % of the energy captured in photosynthesis is appropriated for human needs leaving the balance to support the biomass of non-cropped animals, plants and micro-organisms.4

  • 5 Beaufoy, Guy; Jones, Gwyn and Oppermann, Rainer (eds), High Nature Value Farming in Europe: 35 Euro (...)

6The cornerstone [s] of HNV farming, and indeed European farmland biodiversity, are semi-natural pastures, meadows and orchards, as well as peripheral semi-natural features such as large hedges and copses.5

  • 6 European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism – About us. http://www.efncp.org/forum/about (...)
  • 7 Long, Deborah. (2009). “Machair and coastal pasture: managing priority habitats for native plants a (...)
  • 8 McCracken, David I. M., “Machair invertebrates: the importance of ‘mosaicness’”, in The Glasgow Nat (...)
  • 9 Mackey, E.; Blake, D. and McSorley, C., Mapping High Nature Value Farming in Scotland. Edinburgh: S (...)

7The development of the HNV concept owes much to the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism (EFNCP)6 which was formed in 1988 as a network of scientists, conservationists and policy makers to interact with farmers and land managers, and with agricultural and environmental authorities. One aim was to put pressure on the EU so that more funding from the Common Agricultural Policy could be directed at low intensity farmers. On Hebridean islands, including Tiree, traditional practices have made use of the geomorphological potential of the landscape. This permits cattle grazing through the winter on the calcareous coastal plains and their removal to the wetter more acid areas in the summer to allow for an abundant and diverse display of flowering plants. Grazing with cattle rather than sheep also contributes to the overall biodiversity of these areas.7 A further contribution to biodiversity is the variation in patches between acid and basic, wet and dry giving a mosaic of habitats rather than a monoculture.8 The ‘mosaicness’ valued by conservation managers, for its contribution to the biodiversity of a site and for its attractive visual aspect, is an example of the type of metaphor explored by McClintock. He considers the similar metaphor of ‘tapestry’ which reveals “diversity, wholeness, interconnectedness and local character” but conceals “human activity, changes, non-visual aspects and an outside observer” (McClintock 248). There is scope to examine further the concept of mosaicness and the value attached to it, both in terms of its basis in science and way that value is constructed in nature conservation discourse. The concept of HNV has now been adopted by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the agency which is responsible for advising government how best to meet its international obligations to the EU and for the International Convention on Biological Diversity.9

  • 10 Bignal, Eric M. and McCracken, David I., “Low-intensity Farming Systems in the Conservation of the (...)
  • 11 Branson, Andrew (ed.), British Wildlife 20: 5, Special Supplement: Naturalistic Grazing and Re-wild (...)
  • 12 Bignal, Eric and McCracken, Davy, “Herbivores in space: extensive grazing systems in Europe” in Bri (...)

8Bignal, a scientist who is himself a low-intensity farmer on Islay and was a prime-mover in the formation of EFNCP, writing together with McCracken from the Scottish Agricultural College, have stressed that for “for many landscapes and biotopes of high nature conservation value, the practicable, socially acceptable and sustainable management involves the continuation of low-intensity farming”. These authors writing in 1996 make the case for better support both from their ecologist colleagues and from policy makers for a better contribution from EU agricultural payments.10 This plaintive plea marks a disagreement between ecologists of what makes for a natural environment. Such is the contested nature of the discourse that the journal British Wildlife ran a special supplement in 2009 on “Naturalistic Grazing and Re-wilding in Britain”.11 Here authors discussed the idea of withdrawing farming completely in some areas to allow re-wilding where nature takes its course. Around the margins of this debate is the idea of reintroducing large predators such as wolves and lynx. In this supplement Bignal again argues the case for extensive grazing.12 He cites Rodwell in stressing that the European landscape is made up of layer upon layer of earlier management systems – a palimpsest (ibid., 45). This point is consistent with the claim made for Tiree crofters in the quotation at the start of this paper. HNV farming is being promoted as the basis for activism and advocacy for farmers and crofters. For example, the HNV Manifesto, supported by a consortium of agricultural and wildlife NGOs, calls upon farmers and crofters to organise and develop their voice in the following terms:

  • Farmers and crofters themselves are the most powerful advocates for HNV farming and can do much more to adopt and promote the concept.
  • They can champion high quality agricultural products they produce and help make the connection between low intensity farming, the natural environment and sustainable food production.
  • HNV farmers and crofters have a wealth of know-how and skills to contribute to knowledge exchanges and information sharing on HNV farming.13

9This common approach by farming and wildlife organisations illustrates the widespread agreement among ecologists that it is traditional ways of farming that produce the HNV landscape even though this viewpoint has to compete with the idea of re-wilding, which if applied indiscriminately in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland would have profound social consequences. The assertion that HNV farmers and crofters have a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge is explored further below.

  • 14 Oteros-Rozas, Elisa; Ontillera-Sánchez, Ricardo; Sanosa, Pau; Gómez-Baggethun, Eric; Reves-Garcia, (...)
  • 15 Holliday, John. (2015). An Island in 180 Names: The Norse Place-names of Tiree. Published online ht (...)

10The concept of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) sometimes referred to as indigenous ecological knowledge has been of special interest to students of sustainability and resilience. The online journal Ecology and Society has since 2000 carried numerous papers exploring the concept of TEK particularly for pastoral farmers. An edition of this journal in 2004 was devoted entirely to exploring traditional knowledge in education systems. For many TEK is closely associated with pastoralism and in particular the seasonal transhumance of livestock to summer pastures in the mountains. Oteros-Rozas and others explore how variations in the comparative cost of moving animals to the mountain pastures in Spain by truck, rather than walking the livestock up the traditional trails, risks the loss of at least some of this knowledge with a consequent impact on the biodiversity of the traditional routes.14 It is this practice of transhumance that makes a significant contribution to the nature value of the landscape. In the western Highlands and Islands of Scotland traditionally families moved with their livestock to shielings in the high pastures. On Tiree the practice of moving cattle off the machair grazing in summer means that coarse grasses have been grazed until after the ‘spring-bite’ thereby making space for the abundant wildflowers to bloom and set seed without competition from coarser grasses. Holliday has shown that settlement patterns on Tiree a millennium ago under Scandinavian occupation were structured to give each township access to summer grazing on the wet and acid sliabh.15 Successful farming on Tiree depends on having access to each of “a strip of shoreline for fishing and seaweed collection, some machair grassland inland of the dunes, fertile in-bye land for cultivation and wet inland sliabh for summer grazing and peat digging” (ibid., 11). It therefore seems likely that this long tradition is a result of the accommodation of the people through their direct experience of the geomorphological constraints and opportunities presented by this landscape.

11Although low-intensity crofting makes a proven contribution to the production of HNV landscapes, relatively little work has been done in Scotland on identifying the TEK associated with crofting. Some interest has also been shown in TEK by researchers from the Scottish Crofting Federation. MacKinnon and Brennan collaborated in a study of traditional ecological knowledge among Barra fishermen which concludes that:

  • 16 MacKinnon, Iain and Brennan, Ruth. (2012). Belonging to the Sea. ebook published by Scottish Crofti (...)

The existence on these Gaelic speaking islands of a strong body of traditional knowledge that has emerged from the island people’s long and close relationship with nature, alongside the existence in international law of a framework that gives value to this knowledge, has the potential to connect different ways of knowing about the marine environment.16

  • 17 UNESCO, Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) http://www.unesco.or (...)

12It is significant that this paper’s joint authors are from respectively a body representing the interests of crofters in the Scottish Crofting Federation and an academic institution, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, representing the scientific establishment. In this paper the authors discuss the significance of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) which provides for the protection of “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge [and] skills [of indigenous peoples]” (Article 2 (1) of the ICH Convention).17 They do however note that this convention which came into force in 2006 has not yet been ratified by the UK Government (ibid., 41-42).

  • 18 MacKinnon, Iain, “Crofters: indigenous people of the Scottish Highlands and Islands”. Scottish Crof (...)

13In another paper for the Scottish Crofting Federation Iain MacKinnon makes the case for crofters to be considered as indigenous peoples by drawing on similarities between their way of life and those of Sami reindeer herders.18 The argument that crofters are indigenous peoples, like the Sami herdsmen, would bring them within the scope of the UNESCO convention. It can be seen in the same context as the association of crofters with transhumant pastoralists whose non-intensive working practices produce HNV farmland.

  • 19 Evely, Anna C.; Fazey, Ioan; Pinard, Michelle and Lambin, Xavier. (2008). “The influence of philoso (...)
  • 20 Potts, Tavis; O’Higgins, Tim; Brennan, Ruth; Cinnerella, Sergio; Steiner Brandt, Urs; Suárez de Viv (...)

14 Only four Scottish papers have been published at the time of writing in the online journal Ecology and Society. Two are on water management which is not considered in this paper. A paper by Evely and others explored different models of social enquiry in terms of their underlying philosophy.19 The case study in that paper is about a species recovery plan for water voles based on the eradication of the non-native American mink. Although the methodology is relevant, the people studied here were an assortment of volunteers and contract workers rather than traditional farmers. The fourth paper by Potts and others explores conflicts between the traditional ecological knowledge of Barra fishermen, documented by MacKinnon and Brennan and discussed above, and the science based processes leading to the proposed designation as a marine Special Area of Conservation (mSAC) of “the cold water coral reef complex (Lophelia pertusa) to the west of Mingulay, an uninhabited island south of Barra.”20

15Potts and his co-authors used soft-systems methodology to identify critical choke points for achieving “Good Environmental Status” in European seas based on case studies in the Hebrides, the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Borrowing the term from maritime transport they “identify choke points as properties of a social-ecological system that constrain progress toward an environmental objective”. For Barra, they identified the choke point as the SAC designation process itself and the political rules under which it operates. For example, SNH was not entitled to release to the community its advice to the Minister before the decision to designate had been made. They contrast this approach that privileges science over cultural concerns with at another mSAC around Barra where a community-led management team is integrating social, economic and ecological parts of the ecosystem. Getting these knowledge systems to work together requires “leaders […] to emerge who are willing to engage with policy without being undermined by perceptions of betrayal from within the community”. This case study illustrates the complexities raised when science meets TEK.

  • 21 Devine, T. M., Clearance and Improvement: land, power and people in Scotland 1700–1900. Edinburgh: (...)
  • 22 Dodgshon, Robert A., “Strategies of farming in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland prior (...)

16Overemphasis of the traditional knowledge and culture that produces HNV landscapes may obscure the flexibility that is referred to in the second part of the quotation from the Tiree interpretation board. Devine has shown that far from being resistant to change, the Gaels were just as radical as their lowland compatriots. In evidence he stresses the revolutionary nature of the development of crofting in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The communal farming townships, with land organised as runrig and pasture held in common, were divided into individual tenanted crofts with shared common grazing.21 Dodgshon has explored the farming practices prior to crofting. He stresses that while landlords favoured cattle as the primary object, because they were the most marketable item, the local townships were forced by growing populations to give precedence to arable for which a greater subsistence could be squeezed out of each acre.22 Livestock would include a mixture of horses, cattle, sheep and goats (ibid., 692) with sheep flocks accounting for no more than 20 percent of grazing needs. Most townships had regulations about when stock had to be removed beyond the head dyke (ibid., 694). For Devine the change to crofting was as radical a departure as the consolidated farms and new rotations in the lowlands with which it shared the same improving ideology (Devine 171).

  • 23 Smout, T. C., Nature Contested: environmental history in Scotland and northern England since 1600. (...)

17Smout also remarks how “a supposedly conservative peasantry switched with alacrity to a hitherto unknown crop [potatoes] that would yield far more nutrition per well manured acre than the old cereals”.23 For Devine the adoption of the potato as a means of maximising the return from the limited acreage available was one possible response to the policy of estate surveyors of making crofts too small to yield subsistence. Another was to work outside farming in kelp gathering, fishing and temporary employment in the lowlands. (ibid., 172). The expansion of the droving trade in eighteenth century allowed the Gaels to specialise in pastoralism and import rather than growing the grain they needed. Thus far from being insulated from the market they were “probably the only part of the Scottish economy that responded in the short term to the market opportunities derived from the Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707” (ibid., 166–67).

  • 24 Carlyle, W. J., “Distribution of breeds of sheep in Scotland, 1795-1965”, in The Agricultural Histo (...)

18Despite that early success the crofters and small scale farmers of the highlands and islands were slow to respond when the Napoleonic Wars created a new demand for lamb, mutton and wool at the same time as supplies from the Continent were no longer available. The market favoured the new Blackface and Cheviot breeds rather than the small traditional sheep with short fleeces. The native breeds were not hardy enough to survive on the hills during winter and were housed at night even in the summer.24 It seems that where these new breeds replaced traditional flocks, there had been no concerted effort of the farmers to improve the size, hardiness or fleece of these small sheep (ibid., 29). However, there was some logic to housing stock overnight, for as Dodgshon has shown many townships were critically dependent on byre manure that could be added to arable in the spring (Dodgson 696). It was these arable fields that had to be surrendered to the new sheep farmers so that their flocks could be brought off the hill in winter.

  • 25 Ryder, M. L., “Sheep and clearances in the Scottish Highlands: a biologist’s view”, in The Agricult (...)
  • 26 Bangor-Jones, Malcolm, “Sheep farming in Sutherland in the eighteenth century”, in The Agricultural (...)

19The introduction of new methods associated with lowland farmers proved that sheep could winter outdoors if they were brought to low ground, but that could only be achieved if the crofters were moved from the valley land where they had grown their crops.25 The sudden increase in demand meant that landlords could not wait for a flock to build up to what was then considered to be an economic size of 2,000 through selective breeding (ibid., 157). For farmers who could have moved from cattle to sheep, there was a large risk as they knew nothing of sheep management.26 The initiative was with improvers such as James Sutherland who started experimenting with sheep as a tenant of a farm at Killin in the west of Sutherland. He does seem to have crossed some native sheep with English stock that he brought north in 1761 (ibid., 187). Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster experimented with new breeds of sheep from about 1785 and later introduced a flock of 500 Cheviot ewes. In 1791 he founded the Society for the Improvement of British Wool (ibid., 189).

20The narrative of the Clearances is very powerful and the dominant view is of ‘white tide’ of sheep sweeping over the hills. However, it seems that “there is a striking vagueness about the chronology of the change in the system, even amongst near contemporaries. In depth archival research into the history of sheep farming in the Highlands is in its infancy” (ibid., 181). This area of expertise does seem to be one where TEK did not adapt fast enough through a combination of economic, risk, market and other factors. It would merit further investigation as to why it was more advantageous to bring shepherds from the south rather than build on the crofters’ adaptability and the flexibility to change claimed in the second quotation at the head of this paper.

  • 27 Withers, Charles W. J., “William Cullen’s Agricultural Letters and Writings and the Development of (...)

21The Scottish Enlightenment saw the rapid expansion of interest in the science of agriculture as part of the wider enquiry into economics, science and geology. The Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland, which formed in 1723, provided a fertile ground for the discussion of new ideas. The importance of William Cullen’s agricultural lectures in the 1740s and 1750s is reviewed by Withers (1989).27 Cullen carried out practical research on his own and his brother’s estates and had a close association with Lord Kames (ibid., 149- 51). His lectures included discourses on soil structure and composition and on manures (ibid., 151). Lecturing in both Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities he was anxious to set practical research within his teaching, for example, by including ‘agricultural topics’ in his chemistry lectures (ibid., 154).

  • 28 Withers, Charles W. J., “James Hutton’s ‘Elements of Agriculture’ and Agricultural Science in the E (...)

22James Hutton who is justly famous for his research into geology was also interested in applying his scientific research to his individual farming interests.28 In Hutton’s unpublished manuscript Principles and Practices of Agriculture he set down the aim as:

To examine agriculture in general and to treat it scientifically, in order to enable husbandmen to judge how far any particular practice is conformed to general principles. It is this that constitutes the science of the art (cited by Withers, 1994, 42).

23Hutton did not distinguish between practising farmers and theorising philosophers, but he did give much greater weight to contemporary theoretical discourse than to the knowledge of husbandmen (ibid., 43). As is fitting for the author of Theory of the Earth, Hutton paid special attention to the relationship between soil, climate, seed and labour (ibid., 48).

  • 29 Richards, Stewart, “Agricultural Science in Higher Education: Problems of Identity in Britain’s Fir (...)

24In 1790 Andrew Coventry of Shadwell who already had a reputation as “the first authority on Agriculture in Scotland”, was appointed as the first professor of agriculture at Edinburgh. Richards discusses how that appointment was not universally welcomed by his colleagues who saw their own freedom to lecture on this subject being circumscribed. Professor John Walker who held the chair of natural history claimed the right to teach any branch of Natural Science, to which the Professor of Botany made the counterclaim that he did not have the right to teach botany.29 Despite this opposition, Coventry held the chair for over 40 years. Either as lectures within the wider curriculum or in specialised lectures, the academic teaching of agriculture flourished in the academy and through the practical work of the improving societies.

  • 30 Gailey, R. A., “Agrarian Improvement and the Development of Enclosure in the South-West Highlands o (...)
  • 31 Dalglish, Chris, Rural Society in the Age of Reason: an archaeology of the emergence of modern life (...)

25The improvements discussed above came to the western Highlands and Islands in stages. The practice of summer transhumance to a shieling about 1.5 to 3 km from the township has been dated to between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. But “in Argyll in general and perhaps most notably in Kintyre, shieling settlements were probably falling into disuse in the eighteenth century”.30 Improvement brought with it enclosure that disrupted the old patterns of agriculture. The Mull of Kintyre was converted to sheep walk by about 1818 while other farms were converted to dairy farming.31 In these improved landscapes there was increasing emphasis in routine practice on the autonomous individual rather than as a communal and familial activity (ibid., 123-24).

  • 32 Argyll, The Duke of, Crofts and Farms in the Hebrides being an Account of the Management of an Isla (...)
  • 33 Mulhern, Kirsteen Mairi. (2006). “The Intellectual Duke: George Douglas Campbell 8th Duke of Argyll (...)

26In addition to these changes in routine practice, the improving landlords, also adopted the commercial models based on market economics in areas such as setting rents. On Tiree in the nineteenth century the eighth Duke of Argyll (1847-1900) was similarly influenced by the writings from that period. In a paper he submitted as evidence to the Napier Commission, he drew on 100 years of Argyll estate records to demonstrate how his ancestors had improved the estate and to justify his views on land reform.32 A main concern was to ensure that the population was reduced to a more sustainable level and to that end he introduced a programme for consolidating small crofts thereby raising rental income to the point where he was able to buy more land.33

27Crofters and farmers would thus have faced the impact of these improving sentiments not least because, up until the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1886 gave them security of tenure, they could evicted for not farming in accordance with accepted good practice. For example ‘Factor Mòr’, John Campbell promulgated rules for removing a crofter on the Ross of Mull that included:

Indolent crofters who cultivate their lands in a careless, slovenly manner and do not adhere to the given rules for cultivation (ibid., 60).

28Because crofting had to be supplemented by other work, it is likely that crofters would have been engaged by the estate to carry out improvements and to see at first hand the effect that these had on yield. The degree to which learning was a two-way process between the traditional knowledge of the crofters and the new agricultural science is not clear, not least because the dominant narrative about the clearances is that these were imposed on a conservative peasantry. What is certain is that crofters have been under constant pressure from markets and improving landlords to adapt their traditional practices. The advance of agricultural science from the end of the eighteenth century was particularly important.

  • 34 Finnegan, Diarmid A., Natural History Societies and Civic Culture in Victorian Scotland. London: Pi (...)

29If the appointment of the first professor of agriculture in 1790 represented a split between natural history and land management, there was a further development in the early nineteenth century with the growth of interest within civic culture in field natural history. While it was almost a century before crofters would feel the impact of this way of thinking, it is important to recognise the genealogy of the ethics and values that would in time become associated with scientific nature conservation. Finnegan has charted the rise of what he calls subscriber science to describe a “collective and voluntary interest in science as a social and intellectual pursuit suitable for citizens in an age of reform”.34 The earliest natural history society in Scotland was Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club founded in 1831 and the concept of societies often linked to museums spread across the country over the next sixty years (ibid., 29). There was a particularly rapid growth after the Education Act (1872) promoted the teaching of science in schools (ibid., 26). While the commitment to field work and collection for museums represented a departure from a purely philosophical discussion of science, it was opposed by some professional scientists who questioned the value of much of the work done by amateur natural historians. Frederick Orphen Bower who as Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow (1885–1925) felt that botany had been:

Marred by the dominance of floristic work and its associated field practices of collecting, recording and classifying […] Bower made no room in his account of progressive botanical science for anyone other than the laboratory scientist with the exception of those of ‘extreme’ brilliance, like Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker (ibid., 24).

30Despite these reservations, Bowers was himself the president of the Natural History Society of Glasgow from 1890– 1893 (ibid., 25). In promoting field work, often as organised group excursions, the amateur societies were building on traditions established in the academy. The development of voluntary natural history societies was preceded by developments in pedagogy where “field excursions were practiced from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century at the University of Edinburgh and later at other British universities” (ibid., p. 45).

  • 35 Ellis, Rebecca, “Jizz and the joy of pattern recognition: Virtuosity, discipline and the agency of (...)
  • 36 Fazey, Ioan; Fazey, John A.; Salisbury, Janet G.; Lindenmayer, David B. and Dovers, Steve, “The nat (...)

31This division between science and natural history has continued to this day, and is relevant to the present discussion because the field skills of the amateur naturalist are the foundation for a career in nature conservation, where laboratory training in ecology now has to be supplemented by training in field identification skills, often from experts who have no formal academic position. The skills developed by amateur naturalists through experience in the field, often with an experienced mentor, bear some resemblance to the traditional ecological knowledge of crofters.35 Fazey and others explore the “nature of experiential and expert knowledge” and the way that such knowledge acts as “a complement to scientific knowledge” in the formation of conservation practitioners who “rarely apply primary research data and rely heavily on experience to make decisions”.36 These authors note that experienced on-ground site managers “have developed their expertise by being adaptable and by recognising and working with the uncertainty in the system”. This knowledge system differs from TEK in that it is recently evolved rather than being an attribute of societies with historical continuity in resource management.

32The Highlands were a favourite destination for field excursions, with escape to wild nature being part of many clubs’ rhetoric but also inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott.

33The formulation of fieldwork as a healthy, moral and convivial activity was seasoned with the judicious use of Romantic tropes about nature and beauty (Finnegan, 64).

34This promotion of wilderness for physical and spiritual recreation tended to erase the idea of the Highlands as populated apart from the romantic image of the “ancient highlander” (Finnegan, 64). The idea that the Highlands can be seen as an unpopulated wilderness is at odds with the claim, made in the first quotation at the head of this paper, that the landscape that we see now has been produced by the past and continuing efforts of generations of crofters and farmers. One of the persistent complaints from crofters and farmers is that nature conservation sees their cultural landscape as terra nullius that can be claimed solely in the name of wild nature.

  • 37 Smout, Chris. (1990). “The Highlands and the Roots of Green Consciousness 1750 – 1990”. SNH Occasio (...)

35Smout in a paper read at the University of Glasgow in 1990 traced the roots of green consciousness with respect to the Highlands from 1750 to 1990. He stresses that while the Victorians adored the Highlands they did little or nothing to protect them.37

36There was no Scottish nature writer working to raise a green consciousness analogous to Richard Jefferies and W.H. Hudson in England, or, perhaps more remarkably to the great John Muir, born a Scot, in western America (ibid., 13).

37While he confirms that there was a significant recreational use of the Highlands by middle-class town dwellers, the other significant development was the birth in Scotland of ecology as a discipline. Building on developments in Europe and in particular the development of vegetation mapping in Montpelier by Charles Flahault, it was associated particularly with “the teaching of zoology and botany as Vitalised science at the University College, Dundee” under Patrick Geddes, Professor of Botany from 1888– 1918, and D’Arcy Thompson, Professor of Biology, later Natural History, from 1884– 1912. There were also the contributions from talented amateur natural historians including J. A. Harvie-Brown (ibid., 14). For Smout the characteristic of early Scottish ecology was that “it was remarkable for seeing man as a prime actor among other animals, instead of searching for a ‘natural’ world uninvaded by man”. This viewpoint was in contrast to the predominant search in England under A. G. Tansley where the aim was to “find an object of study uninterfered with by man and thus more ‘natural’ and to pursue it with hard, quantifiable biology” (ibid., 15-16). When the UK Nature Conservancy was established in 1949 it was the English viewpoint that was given precedence leading to arrangements for the statutory protection of areas in a way that was not appropriate to the Scottish situation.

  • 38 Morton Boyd, J. (1999). The Song of the Sandpiper: Memoir of a Scottish Naturalist. Granton-on-Spey (...)
  • 39 See for example Scottish Natural Heritage. (2002). Natural Heritage Futures: Coll, Tiree and the We (...)

38For traditional farmers and crofters the development of ecological science had largely passed them by. However when they found that land they had been farming for generations had been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) there was considerable resistance.38 For Smout this resistance is in part justified because the SSSI system was designed to accommodate an English model of wild nature rather than the cultural landscapes typical of the crofting regions (Smout, 1990, 16). SNH has had to work hard to overcome the animosity stirred by what was seen as the ‘excessive external influence’ cited in the second quote that introduced this paper.39

39There is agreement that the HNV landscapes are critically dependent on TEK, but establishing the explicit means by which that dependency works is very problematic. While there is consensus between traditional farmers, crofters and scientific nature conservation professionals that these landscapes have HNV, it should be recognised that this conclusion is arrived at from different views of what constitutes nature and how its value should be measured. Likewise exactly what makes up TEK is far from clear apart from agreement that it tends towards non-intensive methods and has certain practices, such as moving stock from some pastures for summer grazing on the hill or sliabh.

  • 40 Roux, Dirk J.; Rogers, Kevin H.; Biggs, Harry C.; Ashton, Peter J. and Sergeant, Anne. (2006). “Bri (...)

40The degree to which TEK has advanced through crofters’ contact with improving landlords in the nineteenth century and scientific nature conservation from the second half of the twentieth century up until the present is difficult to determine. One reason for that may be that we are looking at two completely different knowledge systems. Roux and others have applied a knowledge management model to ecosystem management. In this model they distinguish between knowledge which is tacit, that is highly personal and difficult to formalise, often making it problematic to share with others, and explicit information where what is known has been documented, for example in a scientific research paper.40

  • 41 Cregeen, E. R., “Oral Tradition and Agrarian History in the West Highlands”, in Oral History 2: 1, (...)

41Gaining access to traditional ecological knowledge where this has been handed down orally in Gaelic adds a level of complexity. Until the twentieth century, Gaelic was not a literate language and as a result researchers have attempted to piece together a picture of what life was like in these societies by listening to accounts from those who still have memory of this oral tradition.41 While the broad outlines of agricultural life can be discerned by this method, it is less easy to gain access to the cultural basis of this tradition (ibid., 17). What is clear is that some crofts have been in continuous occupation by the same families for 200 – 300 years (ibid., 19). Such stable social structures provide the ideal conditions for socialisation to transmit the values, knowledge and experience that make up tacit knowledge. Berger and Luckmann explore the mechanisms by which tacit knowledge is maintained through “secondary socialisation [which] requires the internalisation of role-specific vocabularies” and the acquisition of “‘tacit understandings’, evaluations and affective colorations of semantic fields” (ibid., 158). This subjective reality is constantly reaffirmed in the individual’s interaction with others and maintained in consciousness by social processes.

  • 42 Pakeman, Robin B., Huband, Sally; Kriel, Antionette and Lewis, Rob, “Changes in the management of S (...)

42Pakeman and others, by interviewing mainly the chairman of local grazing committees, have reviewed changes in the management of Scottish machair communities since the 1970s.42 Their findings show how crofters have changed their practices over four decades to cope with the economic and environmental pressures that could threaten their traditional way of life. They report a big shift away from rotational grazing, a move from hay to silage for grass conservation, more inorganic fertilisers being used, a reduction in hill grazing, a move from cattle to sheep and a reduction in the number of active crofters. All of these aspects have a potentially adverse effect on biodiversity, but as the numbers of crofters is reduced so does the power of crofting societies to transmit traditional ecological knowledge. Not reported in that paper is the rise in the influence of outside experts with the power to grant or withhold agri-environment payments.

  • 43 Davis, Anthony and Ruddle, Kenneth, “Constructing confidence: rational skepticism and systematic en (...)

43TEK is difficult to pin down, not least because tacit knowledge is not easily captured in a form where it can be coded. There is even a concern that this form of knowledge may be less significant than has been claimed. Davis and Ruddle have examined the claims made for TEK in 15 journal articles and three books.43 While they found that all attempted a definition of what they meant by TEK only a minority of authors attempted any deep sociological investigation of the concept. These authors propose an approach based on rational scepticism, but at the same time caution that investigating indigenous peoples’ claim to special ecological knowledge runs the risk of disempowering an already marginalised community. In these authors’ view “skeptical study is so uncommon that much presented as ‘knowledge’ amounts to little more than statements of either belief, faith or preference” (ibid., 892). It would seem that TEK is a prime example of a ‘taken for granted’ statement that would merit further sociological study. Such a study should take into account the degree to which the different knowledge systems are able to learn from one another.

  • 44 Moller, H.; Berkes, Fikret; Lyver, Philip O’Brian and Kislalioglu, Mina, ‘Combining science and tra (...)
  • 45 Walton, Paul and MacKenzie, Iain, “The conservation of Scottish machair: a new approach addressing (...)

44Among the papers in Ecology and Society, Moller and others explored the potential to combine science and traditional ecological knowledge particularly in monitoring populations and the co-management of natural resources. Co-management and partnership working are seen as a way to repair the damage done by the privileging of ‘objective’ science over tacit knowledge.44 Walton and MacKenzie offer one approach to partnership that involves the development of ‘best practice’ or ‘demonstration’ elements.45 In effect these develop new areas of local ecological knowledge but rely on informal contacts to change ‘tacit’ knowledge and values. Experiences shared between crofters and conservationists through joint working in the field might have the potential to promote new understandings. However the pedagogical approach, where ‘expert’ conservationists teach best practice to crofters, runs the risk of falling into the category of ‘excessive outside influence’.

  • 46 Brunet, Nicholas D.; Hickey, Gordon M. and Humphries, Murray M., ‘The evolution of local participat (...)

45A more radical approach to participatory research is reported by Brunet, Hickey and Humphries where researchers have developed new ways of working closely with Inuit and Nunavut peoples in the Arctic. They contrast ‘Mode 1’ research, in which knowledge is generated independently of context, with ‘Mode 2’ research in which knowledge is generated in the context of the application. They then explore two further research approaches. The first ‘Participatory Research’ assumes that knowledge is cultural and situated within a certain historical and social context. Research therefore needs to be negotiated between the parties. The most radical approach described by Brunet, Hickey and Humphries is the ‘New Arctic Research Paradigm’.46 Under this approach knowledge is developed through meaningful relationships between researchers and communities. It strives to build capacity within the northern communities so that they can conduct their own research and requires researchers actively to engage local knowledge holders and experts. It would seem that this model has the potential to conserve and enhance traditional ecological knowledge. Even within this model the authors acknowledge that polar science has a global reach that may be removed from the priorities of the indigenous peoples. Crofters experience this ‘global reach’ of Arctic ecosystems each winter with the arrival from Greenland of migratory geese that compete with their livestock for the valuable grazing resource.

46Traditional ecological knowledge is a slippery subject. It is critically dependent on viable communities to transmit it through the processes of socialisation. While environmentalists have to consider global as well as local concerns, they should understand how the social organisation that produces traditional ecological knowledge and values the biodiversity of the resulting landscape, contributes to the distinctive character of remote and island communities. The social dimension of high nature value farming is vital to the sustainability of this way of life and way of knowing the natural world. Collaborative research is perhaps the only way that such a sensitive line of enquiry can be approached without threatening the very social structures that are to be the subject of enquiry.

47One of the barriers to this partnership working is that nature conservationists also have tacit knowledge that enables them to use visual cues to ‘read’ the nature value of a landscape. The socialisation of field ecologists and conservation managers through experiential learning in the field allows this knowledge base to complement their scientific training. Enquiries that pose the problem as being a disconnect between reductionist science and traditional ecological knowledge risk oversimplifying what is a very complex social system where affective and tacit knowledge is a key influence in determining the behaviour and decision making of all the actors with a part to play in sustaining the nature value of farming landscapes.

Notes

1 Berger, Peter and Luckmann, Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Penguin, 1966.

2 McClintock, D., “Considering Metaphors of Countrysides in the United Kingdom” in M. Cerf, D. Gibbon, B. Hubert, R. Ison, J. Jiggins, M. Paine, J. Proost and N. Rölling (eds), Cow up a Tree: Knowing and Learning for Change in Agriculture – Case Studies from Industrialised Countries. Paris: Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), 2000, pp. 241-52.

3 European Union, Council directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, 1992.

4 Firbank, Les G.; Petit, Sandrine; Smart, Simon; Blain, Alasdair and Fuller, Robert J., “Assessing the impacts of agricultural intensification on biodiversity: a British perspective”, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 363, 2008, pp. 777-87.

5 Beaufoy, Guy; Jones, Gwyn and Oppermann, Rainer (eds), High Nature Value Farming in Europe: 35 European countries – experiences and perspectives. Ubstadt-Weiher: verlag regionalkultur, 2012.

6 European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism – About us. http://www.efncp.org/forum/about accessed 4 August 2014. European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism – About us. http://www.efncp.org/forum/about accessed 4 August 2014.

7 Long, Deborah. (2009). “Machair and coastal pasture: managing priority habitats for native plants and the significance of grazing practices”, in The Glasgow Naturalist 25 Supplement, pp. 17-23.

8 McCracken, David I. M., “Machair invertebrates: the importance of ‘mosaicness’”, in The Glasgow Naturalist 25 Supplement, 2009, pp. 29-30.

9 Mackey, E.; Blake, D. and McSorley, C., Mapping High Nature Value Farming in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Natural Heritage, 2011.

10 Bignal, Eric M. and McCracken, David I., “Low-intensity Farming Systems in the Conservation of the Countryside” in Journal of Applied Ecology, 33: 3, June 1996, pp. 413-24.

11 Branson, Andrew (ed.), British Wildlife 20: 5, Special Supplement: Naturalistic Grazing and Re-wilding in Britain: Perspectives from the Past and Future Directions, June 2009.

12 Bignal, Eric and McCracken, Davy, “Herbivores in space: extensive grazing systems in Europe” in British Wildlife 20: 5 (special supplement), June 2009, pp. 44-49.

13 Deveney, Deborah, The Manifesto for High Nature Value (HNV) Farming in the UK: raising a voice for High Nature Value Farmers, (2013) p. 4. Available on www.highnaturevaluefarming.org.uk accessed on 5 August 2014.

14 Oteros-Rozas, Elisa; Ontillera-Sánchez, Ricardo; Sanosa, Pau; Gómez-Baggethun, Eric; Reves-Garcia, Victoria and González, José A. (2013). “Traditional ecological knowledge among transhumant pastoralists in Mediterranean Spain”, in Ecology and Society 18: 3 available online http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05597-180333 accessed on 8 August 2014.

15 Holliday, John. (2015). An Island in 180 Names: The Norse Place-names of Tiree. Published online http://www.tireeplacenames.org/norse-and-oldernames accessed 9 March 2015.

16 MacKinnon, Iain and Brennan, Ruth. (2012). Belonging to the Sea. ebook published by Scottish Crofting Federation and Scottish Association for Marine Science available on http://www.sams.ac.uk/ruth-brennan/belonging-to-thesea accessed 8 August 2014, p. 45.

17 UNESCO, Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/convention/ accessed 15 March 2015.

18 MacKinnon, Iain, “Crofters: indigenous people of the Scottish Highlands and Islands”. Scottish Crofting Federation, 2008. Available online http://www.crofting.org/uploads/newws/crofters-indigenous-peoples.pdf accessed 10 August 2014, p. 2.

19 Evely, Anna C.; Fazey, Ioan; Pinard, Michelle and Lambin, Xavier. (2008). “The influence of philosophical perspectives in integrative research: a case study in the Cairngorms National Park”, in Ecology and Society 13: 2, available online http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol13/iss2/art52/ accessed 10 August 2014.

20 Potts, Tavis; O’Higgins, Tim; Brennan, Ruth; Cinnerella, Sergio; Steiner Brandt, Urs; Suárez de Vivero, Juan Luis; van Beusekom, Justus; Troost, Tineke A.; Paltrigeura, Lucille and Hosgor, Ayse Gunduz; ‘Detecting critical choke points for achieving Good Environmental Status in European Seas’, Ecology and Society 20 (1): 29 http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-07280-200129 accessed 14 August 2014.

21 Devine, T. M., Clearance and Improvement: land, power and people in Scotland 1700–1900. Edinburgh: John Donald, 2006.

22 Dodgshon, Robert A., “Strategies of farming in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland prior to crofting and the clearances”, in The Economic History Society Review, New Series 46: 4, 1993, pp. 679- 701.

23 Smout, T. C., Nature Contested: environmental history in Scotland and northern England since 1600. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000, p. 76.

24 Carlyle, W. J., “Distribution of breeds of sheep in Scotland, 1795-1965”, in The Agricultural History Review 27: 1, 1979, p. 20.

25 Ryder, M. L., “Sheep and clearances in the Scottish Highlands: a biologist’s view”, in The Agricultural History Review 16: 2, 1968, pp. 155-58.

26 Bangor-Jones, Malcolm, “Sheep farming in Sutherland in the eighteenth century”, in The Agricultural History Review 50: 2, 2002, p. 187.

27 Withers, Charles W. J., “William Cullen’s Agricultural Letters and Writings and the Development of Agricultural Science in Eighteenth Century Scotland”, Agricultural History Review 37, 1989, pp. 144-56.

28 Withers, Charles W. J., “James Hutton’s ‘Elements of Agriculture’ and Agricultural Science in the Eighteenth Century Scotland’, in Agricultural History Review 42, 1994, pp. 38-48.

29 Richards, Stewart, “Agricultural Science in Higher Education: Problems of Identity in Britain’s First Chair of Agriculture, Edinburgh 1790 – c.1831”, in The Agricultural History Review 33: 1, 1985, p. 62.

30 Gailey, R. A., “Agrarian Improvement and the Development of Enclosure in the South-West Highlands of Scotland”, in Scottish Historical Review 42, 1963, p. 107.

31 Dalglish, Chris, Rural Society in the Age of Reason: an archaeology of the emergence of modern life in the Southern Scottish Highlands. New York: Klewer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2003, p. 95.

32 Argyll, The Duke of, Crofts and Farms in the Hebrides being an Account of the Management of an Island Estate for 130 years. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1883.

33 Mulhern, Kirsteen Mairi. (2006). “The Intellectual Duke: George Douglas Campbell 8th Duke of Argyll 1823-1900”. University of Edinburgh: unpublished PhD thesis p. 59.

34 Finnegan, Diarmid A., Natural History Societies and Civic Culture in Victorian Scotland. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2009, p. 3.

35 Ellis, Rebecca, “Jizz and the joy of pattern recognition: Virtuosity, discipline and the agency of insight in the UK Naturalists’ art of seeing”, in Social Studies of Science 41: 6, 2011, pp. 769-90.

36 Fazey, Ioan; Fazey, John A.; Salisbury, Janet G.; Lindenmayer, David B. and Dovers, Steve, “The nature and role of experiential knowledge for environmental conservation”, in Environmental Conservation 33: 1, 2006, pp. 1- 10.

37 Smout, Chris. (1990). “The Highlands and the Roots of Green Consciousness 1750 – 1990”. SNH Occasional Paper 1 available online athttp://www.snh.gov.uk/publications-data-research/publications/search-thecatalogue/publication-detail/?id=1808 accessed 12 August 2014, p. 9.

38 Morton Boyd, J. (1999). The Song of the Sandpiper: Memoir of a Scottish Naturalist. Granton-on-Spey: Colin Baxter pp. 188-90.

39 See for example Scottish Natural Heritage. (2002). Natural Heritage Futures: Coll, Tiree and the Western Isles, Edinburgh: SNH, p. 17.

40 Roux, Dirk J.; Rogers, Kevin H.; Biggs, Harry C.; Ashton, Peter J. and Sergeant, Anne. (2006). “Bridging the Science-Management Divide: Moving from Unidirectional Knowledge Transfer to Knowledge Interfacing and Sharing”, in Ecology and Society, 11: 1, available online at http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art4/ accessed on 22 August 2014.

41 Cregeen, E. R., “Oral Tradition and Agrarian History in the West Highlands”, in Oral History 2: 1, 1974, p. 15.

42 Pakeman, Robin B., Huband, Sally; Kriel, Antionette and Lewis, Rob, “Changes in the management of Scottish machair communities and associated habitats from the 1970s to the present”, in Scottish Geographical Journal 127: 4, 2012, pp. 267-87.

43 Davis, Anthony and Ruddle, Kenneth, “Constructing confidence: rational skepticism and systematic enquiry in local ecological knowledge research” in Ecological Applications 20: 3, 2010, pp. 880 – 894.

44 Moller, H.; Berkes, Fikret; Lyver, Philip O’Brian and Kislalioglu, Mina, ‘Combining science and traditional knowledge: monitoring populations for co-management’, Ecology and Society 9 (3): 2. Online http://ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art2/ accessed 14 August 2014

45 Walton, Paul and MacKenzie, Iain, “The conservation of Scottish machair: a new approach addressing multiple threats simultaneously in partnership with crofters”, in The Glasgow Naturalist 25 Supplement, 2009, p. 26.

46 Brunet, Nicholas D.; Hickey, Gordon M. and Humphries, Murray M., ‘The evolution of local participation and mode of knowledge production in Arctic research’, Ecology & Society 19 (2): 69http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06641-190269 accessed 14 August 2014.

Auteur

Graduated originally in metallurgy and over the course of his career has worked as a steelworks metallurgist, teacher and management consultant. In 2004 he took on a hill farm in North Wales, where he lived and worked while at the same time completing a PhD at Aberystwyth University. Bill now lives on the Hebridean Isle of Tiree where he continues to follow his research interests in the interlocking narratives of ecology and literature and the place of both in social cohesion and sustainability.

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