I was in the middle of Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), by Thomas Hardy, when I received word from the Halifax Central Library that the hold I placed on James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life (2015) was ready for pickup. This was a nice bit of symmetry, as the hero of Hardy’s novel is Gabriel Oak, stout-hearted and reliable shepherd of Hardy’s ‘Wessex’ (south-west England). Rebanks (@herdyshepherd1) is a modern shepherd who runs a family ‘fell farm’ of Herdwick sheep in the Lake District, as well as an Oxford graduate who advises UNESCO on ensuring tourism benefits local communities in cultural landscapes. The ‘fell’ is an area of marginal commons pasture shared by local farmers for extensive grazing.
James Rebanks worked up to this book on shepherding in the UK Lake District from Twitter, and a column in Cumbria Life magazine.
It was fascinating reading these books in parallel, seeing the same farming practices described, despite differences in vocabulary. They were also both deeply landscape-driven and embedded in place. Rebanks is eloquent and pithy, and mounts a passionate defense for this way of life, in part rejecting calls by folks like George Monbiot to destock grazed landscapes to rewild and revegetate them. Many analogies suggest the sense that the land is itself part of the family in shepherd life. About his grandfather’s connection to the land, Rebanks shared (p. 72):
My grandfather had an eye for things that were ‘beautiful’ like a sunset, but he would explain it in mostly functional terms, not abstract aesthetic ones. He seemed to love the landscape around him like a passion, but his relationship with it was more like a long tough marriage than a fleeting holiday love affair. His work bound him to the land, regardless of weather or the seasons. When he observed something like a spring sunset, it carried hte full meaning of someone who had earned the right to comment, having suffered six months of wind, snow and rain to get to that point. He clearly thought such things beautiful, but that beauty was full of real functional implications – namely the end of winter or better weather to come.
Above the love of the land, perhaps, is his love of the sheep themselves. The book also presents a new vocabulary for scholars of place: hefted, from Old Norse for ‘tradition’. Hefted sheep have “become accustomed and attached to an area of upland pasture”. It seems clear from this book that humans can be hefted, too.
All day today and tomorrow I will be enjoying final-term MREM student project presentations, including by HM project RA Carlisle Kent. After a summer spent on bibliometric analysis of holistic management, which we’re currently preparing for publication, she tackled a discourse analysis over the fall term. Specifically, we have been interested in the differences between the adaptive nature of the principles of holistic management (HM) and permaculture, and the sometimes proselytizing, ‘chapter and verse’ nature of proponent language. We wondered if this was in part responsible for the divide between practitioner and scientist perspectives of the practices. She looked at the rhetoric evident in websites and Twitter, and mapped those two social movements online. It was clear that rhetorical tools such as emotion, and building common ground through antipathy with non-members, were more evident than evidence. Additionally the adaptive and problem-solving nature of the movements were not at all evident in the discourse. Credibility suffers as a result. Great work and excellent presentation, Carlisle!
Volunteer eucalypt seedlings under holistic management on Allendale, in Southeastern Australia. Photo: David Marsh.
Lovely to get an email this week from David Marsh, one of the collaborators in my post-doctoral research on scattered trees under grazing in Australia, from a 40 degree day in NSW, to share news of spontaneous seedling recruitment under his rotational livestock grazing regime:
I thought you may be interested in this pic of regenerating volunteer eucalypts, e. Blakelyii and e. Melliodora. This never happened with constant grazing. We have about three hundred volunteers like this dotted around the place and have managed to protect them from cattle with temporary electric tape when we are grazing those paddocks. Note the paddock in the background full of thistles compared to foreground with not many. Dominance in the community can be influenced by grazing and appropriate recovery. However, we also have some big thistle paddocks this year and my observation is that where they are worst is in our old cropping paddocks. Lots of introduced inorganic fertilisers, chemicals and disturbance. It takes land a long time to get over that.
Graphical abstract for a new paper in Land Use Policy on dykeland futures in Nova Scotia.
Pleased to have a new paper out in Land Use Policy with former MREM intern Logan Loik on how Nova Scotians perceive agricultural dykelands in the face of climate change. Bay of Fundy dykelands are Canada’s only UNESCO-listed agricultural landscapes because of their origins in the 1600s with French settlers. These structures protect little active farmland today, but governance is still in the hands of the farming sector. They are more often used for recreation, or to protect residential, commercial or transportation infrastructure. Climate projections suggest considerable effort and expense will be required to raise all dykes to the levels necessary to withstand sea level rise and storm surges, but it may be that decommissioning some dykes and restoring coastal wetlands may be more resilient. We asked 183 Nova Scotians to sort statements about dykelands, wetlands and coastal governance. The dominant discourse from this Q-method study was supportive of maintaining dykelands for recreational, cultural and flood protection reasons; the next most prevalent was pragmatically supportive of wetland restoration for efficiency purposes. Results suggest challenges for the process of managed realignment, as well as climate adaptation in cultural landscapes more generally, but also some new analytical opportunities for large-n Q-method research.