100 years of change: examining agricultural trends, habitat change and stakeholder perceptions through the 20th century
Dallimer, M and Tinch, DR and Acs, S and Hanley, N and Southall, H and Gaston, KJ and Armsworth, PR, 100 years of change: examining agricultural trends, habitat change and stakeholder perceptions through the 20th century, Journal of Applied Ecology, 46 pp. 334-343. ISSN 0021-8901 (2009) [Refereed Article]
The 20th century has witnessed substantial increases in the intensity of agricultural land
management, much of which has been driven by policies to enhance food security and production.
The knock-on effects in agriculturally dominated landscapes include habitat degradation and
biodiversity loss. We examine long-term patterns of agricultural and habitat change at a regional
scale, using the Peak District of northern England as a case study. As stakeholders are central to the
implementation of successful land-use policy, we also assess their perceptions of historical changes.
In the period 1900 to 2000, there was a fivefold rise in sheep density, along with higher cattle density.
We found a reduction in the number of farms, evidence of a shift in land ownership patterns, and
increased agricultural specialization, including the virtual disappearance of upland arable production.
Despite previous studies showing a substantial loss in heather cover, we found that there had
been no overall change in the proportion of land covered by dwarf shrub moor. Nonetheless,
turnover rates were high, with only 55% of sampled sites maintaining dwarf shrub moor coverage
between 1913 and 2000.
Stakeholders identified many of the changes revealed by the historical data, such as increased
sheep numbers, fewer farms and greater specialization. However, other land-use changes were not
properly described. For instance, although there had been no overall change in the proportion of
dwarf shrub moor and the size of the rural labour force had not fallen, stakeholders reported a
decline in both. Spatial heterogeneity of the changes, shifting baselines and problems with historical
data sources might account for some of these discrepancies.
Synthesis and applications
. A marked increase in sheep numbers, combined with general
agricultural intensification, have been the dominant land-use processes in the Peak District during
the 20th century. Stakeholders only correctly perceived some land-use changes. Policy and management
objectives should therefore be based primarily on actual historical evidence. However, understanding
stakeholder perceptions and how they differ from, or agree with, the available evidence will contribute
to the successful uptake of land management policies and partly determine the costs of policy