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What are we trying to conserve: traditional landscapes, new wildernesses or what?

26 March 2014, 11am: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen AB15 8QH
for scientists, students and other interested parties
Keith Kirby

Retired woodland ecologist Dr Keith Kirby will deliver this seminar entitled "What are we trying to conserve: traditional landscapes, new wildernesses or what?at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. The seminar will be broadcast live to the Dundee site.


Globally conservation seeks to preserve ‘natural’ ecosystems, albeit many of these are much more modified than we once thought. However, in Britain humans have been modifying the landscape in significant ways for at least 6,000 years. The whole country is a cultural landscape. For the last 50 years the emphasis has been on the habitats and species present in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries which survived under/were maintained by past farming and forestry practices.

These are now difficult to sustain. Trying to allow more natural processes to operate will involve major and unpredictable changes to our countryside and could conflict with the bureaucracy of conservation legislation. How do we define a new template for conservation in the changing environment of the 21st century?


Keith was brought up in Essex and read Agricultural and Forest Sciences at Oxford University, before doing a DPhil on the growth of brambles. In 1977 he moved to the Lake District, working for the National Park Authority and then the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) as a habitat surveyor. A permanent job with NCC as a woodland ecologist, apprentice to George Peterken, came up in 1979, and he remained as a woodland specialist from then until 2012 when he retired (NCC having become English Nature and then Natural England in the meantime). The work was an interesting mixture of survey, research, woodland-management advice and policy discussions.

Keith maintained a personal research interest in woodland ground flora dynamics, focussed on long term plots in Wytham Woods, near Oxford, and since 2012 has been a visiting researcher in the Plant Sciences Department in Oxford.

The seminar is being hosted by Dr Glenn Iason.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.