"Landscape Change in the Scottish Highlands: Imagination and Reality" by James Fenton is a deeply thought-provoking and extremely important book. It should be read by anyone who cares about the landscape of the Scottish Highlands, whether from the perspective of a walker, a climber or simply a layby parker and picnicker. Though the subjects it tackles are serious and at times profound, this is an approachable and readable book that is profusely illustrated with colour photographs that are well chosen to help the author convey his points.
When approaching a book on a subject as significant as this, it helps to know you are in good hands. The author, Dr. James Fenton, is a former professional ecologist who has worked for organisations including the British Antarctic Survey, The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot) and, in a voluntary capacity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Scottish Wild Land Group. He is currently editor of Wild Land News and an elected Board Member of the National Trust for Scotland. It's hard to imagine someone better qualified to write a book on this subject.
In his preface the author talks of the impact of the writings of Sir Walter Scott on the public imagination and, in particular, on the perception of Scotland as "a land of mountains, glens and lochs, of golden eagles and red deer; a land with a rich cultural history of clans and clanship, of wars and resistance to authority, of kilts and castles, of crofts and crofting... A land still wild and where the trappings of modern civilisation can be shaken off." He goes on to ask: "But how does this imagined landscape relate to the actuality on the ground? Is it a wild landscape that has escaped the pressures of the modern world, or is such untrammelled wildness only in the mind?" He then says: "The aim of this book is to answer that last question by taking an objective book at the history of the Highland landscape, how it has changed over the centuries and how it is still changing."
The book is divided into chapters looking at different aspects of the subject, whether they be alternative types of landscape; the concept of an unspoiled landscape; discussion of approaches to landscape restoration; and understanding changes in the Highland landscape since the Battle of Culloden. By far the largest chapter, this looks at a range of different topics and includes a series of eight superb photographic case studies. Covering subjects as diverse as the spread of gorse, the impact of tracks and roads, issues associated with new woods of native trees and the impact of a specific hydro-electric scheme these are worth buying the book for on their own.