Natural landscape

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For a broader coverage related to this topic, see Natural environment.

A natural landscape is the original landscape that exists before it is acted upon by human culture.[note 1] The natural landscape and the cultural landscape are separate parts of the landscape.[1] [2] [3] Today, most people can easily recognize a natural landscape when they see it.[4]

The phrase natural landscape was first used in connection with landscape painting, and landscape gardening, to contrast a formal style with a more natural one, closer to nature. Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was to further conceptualize this into the idea of a natural landscape separate from the cultural landscape. Then in 1908 geographer Otto Schlüter developed the terms original landscape (Urlandschaft) and its opposite cultural landscape (Kulturlandschaft) in an attempt to give the science of geography a subject matter that was different from the other sciences. This dualism, however, has its roots is an "ancient concept", because early people viewed "nature, or the nonhuman world […] as a divine Other, godlike in its separation from humans".[5]

The term natural landscape is sometimes used as a synonym for wilderness, but for geographers natural landscape is a scientific term which refers to the biological, geological, climatological and other aspects of a landscape, not the cultural values that are implied by the word wilderness.[6]

Origins of the term[edit]

The concept of a natural landscape was first developed in connection with landscape painting, though the actual term itself was first used in relation to landscape gardening. In both cases it was used to contrast a formal style with a more natural one, that is closer to nature. Chunglin Kwa suggests, "that a seventeenth-century or early-eighteenth-century person could experience natural scenery ‘just like on a painting,’ and so, with or without the use of the word itself, designate it as a landscape.[7] With regard to landscape gardening John Aikin, commented in 1794: "Whatever, therefore, there be of novelty in the singular scenery of an artificial garden, it is soon exhausted, whereas the infinite diversity of a natural landscape presents an inexhaustible flore of new forms".[8] Writing in 1844 the prominent American landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing comments: "straight canals, round or oblong pieces of water, and all the regular forms of the geometric mode would evidently be in violent opposition to the whole character and expression of natural landscape".[9]

In his extensive travels in South America, Alexander von Humboldt became the first to conceptualize a natural landscape separate from the cultural landscape, though he does not actually use these terms.[10][11][note 2] Andrew Jackson Downing was aware of, and sympathetic to, Humboldt's ideas, which therefore influenced American landscape gardening.[12]

Subsequently the geographer Otto Schlüter, in 1908, argued that by defining geography as a Landschaftskunde (landscape science) would give geography a logical subject matter shared by no other discipline.[13][14] He defined two forms of landscape: the Urlandschaft (original landscape) or landscape that existed before major human induced changes and the Kulturlandschaft (cultural landscape) a landscape created by human culture. Schlüter argued that the major task of geography was to trace the changes in these two landscapes.

The natural and conservation[edit]


The basic meaning of natural is: “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind”.[15] However, what is meant by natural, within the American conservation movement, has been changing over the last century and a half.

In the mid-nineteenth century American began to realize that the land was becoming more and more domesticated and wildlife was disappearing. This led to the creation of American National Parks and other conservation sites.[16] Initially it was believed that all that was needed to do was to separate what was seen as natural landscape and "avoid disturbances such as logging, grazing, fire and insect outbreaks".[17] This, and subsequent environmental policy, until recently, was influenced by ideas of the wilderness.[18] However, this policy was not consistently applied, and in in Yellowstone Park, to take one example, the existing ecology was altered, firstly by the exclusion of Native Americans and later with the virtual extermination of the wolf population.[19]

A century later, in the mid-twentieth century, it began to be believed that the earlier policy of “protection from disturbance was inadequate to preserve park values”, and that is that direct human intervention was necessary to restore the landscape of National Parks to its ‘’natural’’ condition.[17] In 1963 the Leopold Report argued that “A national park should represent a vignette of primitive America”.[20] This policy change eventually led to the restoration of wolves in Yellowstone Park in the1990s.

How ever, recent research in various disciplines indicates that a pristine natural or “primitive” landscape is a myth, and it now realised that people have been changing the natural into a cultural landscape for a long while, and that there are few places untouched in some way from human influence.[21] The earlier conservation policies were now seen as cultural interventions. The idea of what is natural and what artificial or cultural, and how to maintain the natural elements in a landscape, has been further complicated by the discovery of global warming and how it is changing natural landscapes.[22]

Also important is a reaction recently amongst scholars against dualistic thinking about nature and culture. Maria Kaika comments: "Nowadays, we are beginning to see nature and culture as intertwined once again – not ontologically separated anymore […].What I used to perceive as a compartmentalized world, consisting of neatly and tightly sealed, autonomous ‘space envelopes’ (the home, the city, and nature) was, in fact, a messy socio-spatial continuum”.[23] And William Conron argues against the idea of wilderness because it "involves a dualistic vision in which the human is entirely outside the natural"[24] and affirms that "wildness (as opposed to wilderness) can be found anywhere" even "in the cracks of a Manhattan sidewalk".[25] According to Conron we have to "abandon the dualism that sees the tree in the garden as artificial […] and the tree in the wilderness as natural […] Both in some ultimate sense are wild."[25] Here he bends somewhat the regular dictionary meaning of wild, to emphasise that nothing natural, even in a garden, is fully under human control.

History of natural landscape[edit]

No place on the Earth is unaffected by people and their culture. People are part of biodiversity, but human activity affects biodiversity, and this destroys the natural landscape.[26] Mankind have altered landscape to such an extent that few places on earth remain pristine, but once free of human influences, the landscape can return to a natural or near natural state.[27]

According to Scottish National Heritage:

In Scotland, some landscapes, such as the high summits of the Cairngorm Mountains, consist entirely of natural elements. These can be called 'natural landscapes'. Other landscapes can be largely the result of human activity, such as arable farmland or urban areas. These can be referred to as 'cultural landscapes'.[28]

The high summits are of course only a tiny fraction of the Cairngorms, and there are no longer wolves, bears, wild boar or lynx in Scotland's wilderness.[29][30][31] The Scots pine in the form of the Caledonian forest also covered much more of the Scottish landscape than today.[32]

Glacier on the border between Alaska, US, and Canada: Kluane-Wrangell-St. Elias-Glacier Bay-Tatshenshini-Alsek park system

Even the remote Yukon and Alaskan wilderness, the bi-national Kluane-Wrangell-St. Elias-Glacier Bay-Tatshenshini-Alsek park system comprising Kluane, Wrangell-St Elias, Glacier Bay and Tatshenshini-Alsek parks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not free from human influence, because the Kluane National Park lies within the traditional territories of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Kluane First Nation who have a long history of living in this region. Through their respective Final Agreements with the Canadian Government, they have made into law their rights to harvest in this region.

Examples of cultural forces[edit]

Cultural forces are those that, intentionally or unintentionally, influence the landscape.[note 3] Cultural landscapes are places or artifacts maintained by people whether directly or indirectly. Examples of cultural disruptions are: fences, roads, sand pits, hiking trails, management of plants and animals, including invasive species, extraction or removal of plants, animals, minerals, etc., hunting, natural landscaping, buildings, farming and forestry, pollution, roads and parking lots. Areas that might be confused with a natural landscape include public parks, farms, orchards, artificial lakes and reservoirs, managed forests, golf courses, nature center trails, gardens.

A Welsh mountain pony in the Brecon Beacons National park, Wales. Sheep and cattle also graze on this upland

Conflict between cultural forces and the natural landscape[edit]

For a landscape to return to its original natural state, all cultural artifacts, that attract people, would have to be removed. Natural landscape can be defined as the equilibrium that existed prior to significant human impact. The time necessary for a natural landscape to return depends upon the environment, and it may be termed the period of neglect, which in this context means the absence of any plant or animal management. Human impact on the natural landscape may result in the extinction of native species, a stalled equilibrium, and the contamination of soil and water. There can be conflict between those wishing to restore a natural landscape and those who want to exploit its commercial value.


Collared wolf from the Druid pack, Yellowstone National Park

Rewilding is large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and keystone species. Rewilding projects may require ecological restoration or wilderness engineering, particularly to restore connectivity between fragmented protected areas, and the reintroduction of predators. The word "rewilding" was coined by conservationist and activist Dave Foreman, one of the founders of the group Earth First! who went on to help establish both the Wildlands Project (now the Wildlands Network) and the Rewilding Institute.[33]

Though Yellowstone National Park in the US was established in 1872 hunting continued in there of wolves and some other animals, so that by 1933 there were no resident wolves (see History of wolves in Yellowstone). This led to a large increase in the elk population, which caused serious damage to park vegetation. In January 1995, U.S. and Canadian wildlife officials captured 14 wolves from multiple packs east of Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada that were released into Yellowstone that March.[34] Seventeen additional wolves captured in Canada arrived in Yellowstone in January 1996 and were released into the park in April 1996. These were the last wolves released into the park as officials believed that the natural reproduction and survival were sufficient to preclude additional releases.[34][35]

Estonian beaver

In Europe in recent years there has been extensive efforts to both increase the numbers of beaver and to re-introduce them into countries where they had died out. For example, In France, the Eurasian beaver was almost wiped out, but a small population survived on the Rhône, near Lyon, from where it has been reintroduced to other parts of the country. The French population of beavers is estimated to be 10,000-12,000 individuals in 2009.[36] In Germany, beavers had become close to extinct in the 19th century. Smaller populations survived along the Elbe and spread into Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony after being protected. It is estimated that today beavers in Germany number up to 25,000 all across the country, even appearing in many urban areas.[37][38]

Beavers were reintroduced in the Netherlands in 1988 after being completely exterminated in the 19th century. After its reintroduction in the Biesbosch, the Dutch population has spread considerably (supported by additional reintroductions). In 2012 the population was estimated at about 600 animals and could easily grow to 7000 in twenty years time.[39] According to the Mammal Society and the Dutch Water board, this will cause a threat to the river dikes. The main problem is that beavers excavate corridors and caves in dikes, thereby undermining the stability of the dike, just as the muskrat and the coypu do.[39] If problems become unmanageable, as local administrators in Limburg fear, the beaver will be captured again.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape the result.", Sauer, Carl O, "Morphology of Landscape" In Oakes, T. and Price, P. (eds) 2008; The Cultural Geography Reader, p. 103. Routledge.
  2. ^ [1] "The description of nature in its manifold richness of form, as a distinct branch of poetic literature, was wholly unknown to the Greeks. The landscape appears among them merely as the basil-ground of the picture of which human figures constitute the main subject. Passions, breaking forth into action, riveted their attention almost exclusively." Alexander von Humboldt Cosmos: a sketch of a physical description of the universe (translation 1804), Volume 2, Part I, Paragraph 5, Chapter I.
  3. ^ "It is true that certain human technological actions do have unintended consequences that spread everywhere; there are contagious effects that seep into the nooks and crannies of all nature." Holmes Rolston III, Technology versus nature, What is natural, Journal of Philosophy and Technology, Ends and Means, Vol 2 No.2 Spring 1998, University of Aberdeen, Edinburgh University Press


  1. ^ “Over the last century, our population grew from about 90 million to 300 million people, and as it did, we lost more and more of our natural landscape to development.” , President Barack Obama President of the United States, “Remarks by The President at America's Great Outdoors Conference”, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, D.C., April 16, 2010
  2. ^ “We’ll meet with everybody -- from tribal leaders to farmers, from young people to businesspeople, from elected officials to recreation and conservation groups.  And their ideas will help us form a 21st century strategy for America’s great outdoors to better protect our natural landscape and our history for generations to come.” , President Barack Obama President of the United States, “Remarks by The President at America's Great Outdoors Conference”, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, D.C., April 16, 2010
  3. ^ “First, we’re going to build on successful conservation efforts being spearheaded outside of Washington -– by local and state governments, by tribes, and by private groups -– so we can write a new chapter in the protection of rivers, wildlife habitats, historic sites, and the great landscapes of our country.” , President Barack Obama President of the United States, “Remarks by The President at America's Great Outdoors Conference”, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, D.C., April 16, 2010
  4. ^ "For here the natural landscape is eloquent of the interplay of forces that have created it. It is spread before us like the pages of an open book...Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962.", [2], "Rachel Carson's Environmental Ethics" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/6/2006 National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Tuesday, March 03, 2015
  5. ^ Gregory H. Aplett and David N. Cole, "The Trouble with Naturalness: Rethinking Park and Wilderness Goals" in Beyond Naturalness: Rethinking Park and Wilderness Stewardshio in an Era of Rapid Change (Washington, DC.: Island Press, 2010), p. 14. They cite William Conron's 1995 essay "The Trouble with Wilderness: or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature".
  6. ^ "The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature". William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995), pp. 69–90.
  7. ^ Chunglin Kwa, "Alexander von Humboldt's invention of the natural landscape", The European Legacy, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 149-162, 2005
  8. ^ J. Aikin, M.D., Letters from a Father to His Son, on Various Topics, Relative to Literature and the Conduct of Life. Written in the Years 1792 and 1793, (Philadelphia: Samuel Harrison Smith), p. 148.
  9. ^ A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening Adapted to North America.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Chunglin Kwa, Alexander von Humboldt's invention of the natural landscape, The European Legacy, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 149-162, 2005
  12. ^ See Horticulturist, vol.4, no.2, August 1849, which Downing edited.
  13. ^ James, P.E & Martin, G (1981) All Possible Worlds: A History of Geographical Ideas. John Wiley & Sons. New York, p.177.
  14. ^ Elkins, T.H (1989) Human and Regional Geography in the German-speaking lands in the first forty years of the Twentieth Century. Entriken, J. Nicholas & Brunn, Stanley D (Eds) Reflections on Richard Hartshorne's The nature of geography. Occasional publications of the Association of the American Geographers, Washington DC., p. 27.
  15. ^ ’’New Oxford American Dictionary’’
  16. ^ Gregory H. Aplett and David N. Cole, "The Trouble with Naturalness: Rethinking Park and Wilderness Goals" in Beyond Naturalness: Rethinking Park and Wilderness Stewardshio in an Era of Rapid Change (Washington, DC.: Island Press, 2010), pp. 14-15.
  17. ^ a b Aplett and Cole, p. 15.
  18. ^ William Conron, pp. 72-77
  19. ^ "Defenders of Wildlife". A Yellowstone Chronology. Archived from the original on June 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-19. </refMerchant, Carolyn (2002). The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History. Columbia University Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-231-11232-1. 
  20. ^ Aplett and Cole, p. 16.
  21. ^ Aplett and Cole, p. 18
  22. ^ Aplett and Cole, p. 24
  23. ^ City of Flows: Modernity, Nature, and the City. (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 4.
  24. ^ Conron, p. 78.
  25. ^ a b Conron, p. 85.
  26. ^ National Survey Reveals Biodiversity Crisis American Museum of Natural History
  27. ^ YouTube, Professor James Lovelock, We can't save the planet, BBC NEWS, 2010/03/30
  28. ^ Scottish Natural Heritage,
  29. ^ Murray (1973)
  30. ^ "Extinct Island Pig Spotted Again". BBC News. 17 November 2006. Retrieved 1 January 2007. 
  31. ^ Fraser Darling and Boyd (1969) p. 64
  32. ^ Steven, H. M. & Carlisle, A. (1959). The Native Pinewoods of Scotland. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh
  33. ^ Caroline Fraser, Rewilding the World, p. 356.
  34. ^ a b Phillips, Michael K & Smith Douglas W. (1997). Yellowstone Wolf Project-Biennial Report 1995–96 (Report). National Park Service. 
  35. ^ Smith, Douglas W. (1998). Yellowstone Wolf Project—Annual Report 1997 (Report). National Park Service. 
  36. ^ "Oncfs - Le Castor d'Europe". 
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b
  40. ^

External links[edit]

  • Developing a forest naturalness indicator for Europe [3]
  • Scottish heritage: Natural Spaces [4]