Economic determinants of biodiversity change over a 400 year period in the Scottish Uplands
Hanley, N and Davies, A and Angelopoulos, A and Hamilton, A and Ross, A and Tinch, DR and Watson, F, Economic determinants of biodiversity change over a 400 year period in the Scottish Uplands, Journal of Applied Ecology, 45, (6) pp. 1557-1565. ISSN 0021-8901 (2008) [Refereed Article]
Economic forces are recognized as an important driving factor behind current biodiversity
losses. This study investigates whether such factors have been important in determining one measure
of biodiversity change over the ‘long run’ – in our case, 400 years – for upland sites in Scotland.
A combination of palaeoecological, historical and economic methods is used to construct and then
analyse a database of factors contributing to changes in plant diversity over time for 11 upland sites.
Using an instrumental variables panel model, we find livestock prices, our proxy for grazing
pressure, to be a statistically significant determinant of diversity change, with higher grazing
pressures resulting in lower diversity values on average, although site abandonment is also found to
result in a fall in plant diversity. Technological change, such as the introduction of new animal
breeds, was not found to be a statistically significant determinant.
Using later period data (post 1860) on livestock numbers at the parish (local) level, we were able
to confirm the main result noted above (3) in terms of the effects of higher grazing pressures on plant
Synthesis and applications
. This study shows how data from very different disciplines can be
combined to address questions relevant to contemporary conservation and understanding. This
novel, interdisciplinary approach provides new insights into the role of economic factors as a driver
of biodiversity loss in the uplands. Biodiversity levels have varied considerably over 400 years, partly
as a function of land management, suggesting that establishing baselines or ‘natural’ target levels
for biodiversity is likely to be problematic. Changes in livestock grazing pressures brought about by
changes in prices had statistically significant effects on estimated plant diversity, as did land
abandonment. This suggests that long-term management of upland areas for the conservation of
diversity should focus on grazing pressures as a key policy attribute. Another policy implication
is that drastic cuts in grazing pressures – such as might occur under current reforms of the Common
Agricultural Policy – can have adverse biodiversity consequences.