European Wilderness Society

Landscape and agriculture 

This post is written by Aurelien Rinaudo.

When we look at a landscape, we can see a forest, a pasture, a village, etc. We observe something static, which we see only evolving due to the seasons and weather conditions. But these observations will be limited to a cyclical evolution, which will return every year. We have more difficulty observing its evolution over time. 

Each territory has a unique landscape, with its morphological (mountains, rivers) and agricultural characteristics. This landscape is the result of a long evolution, which tells us about the history of the region. Through it, we can understand the current and past issues of the region. The landscape is therefore not, as we can think at first, something static. On the contrary, it is constantly evolving. By understanding its current issues, we can consider its future evolution. We will see what factors influence the evolution of agricultural landscapes. 

Agricultural Techniques 

Agricultural techniques are probably one of the major factors in the evolution of territories. The recent evolution of our countryside is a perfect example. In France, we have had significant changes related to mechanization. At the end of World War II, the French population was predominantly rural, with agriculture being very labor-intensive. With the advent of mechanization, labor was replaced by machines. To make agricultural machinery more efficient, the plots were enlarged, and hedges removed. The population in the countryside then significantly decreased. All this led to significant changes. Some difficult-to-access or less productive areas were abandoned because it was no longer profitable to exploit them. This is particularly the case in the mountains, where steep areas that are no longer exploited have become reforested. 


Crops also play a major role in shaping the landscape, and when they change, the entire landscape is reshaped differently. In France, we have seen many landscapes evolve with the reduction of wine production. Wine consumption in France has significantly decreased over the past century. The area of cultivated vineyards has therefore significantly decreased, impacting the landscapes. In France, starting from the 1950s, there was also the planting of forests for timber production, which also constitutes an evolution of the landscape. Climate change is likely to disrupt our crops and production methods. This is therefore an element that must be considered if we want to think about the landscape of tomorrow. 


Policy is also an important factor that can lead to rapid changes in the landscape. Taking the example of hedges in France, we can see that the landscape adapted to the vision people had of them. After World War II, during the Green Revolution, the French government subsidized campaigns to remove hedges. This led to significant territorial changes. However, today, the government seeks to replant hedges because of their high environmental value. The CAP is one of the actors that can most strongly influence agricultural territories by subsidizing, for example, the maintenance of certain types of agriculture. 

The landscape as we know it is something evolving, resulting from past and current practices. To understand its evolution, it is necessary to understand the issues surrounding it and the reasons that led to these changes.

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