Nature conservation is usually history


What can historians contribute to the management practice of nature reserves and why should they? These were the central questions of Professor Chris Smout’s talk on the third day of the first workshop of the Histories of Environmental Change Research Network held at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, 7 November 2010. Chris Smout is one of the founding fathers of environmental history in Britain and former director of the Centre for Environmental History at the University of St. Andrews.

The participants at the workshop explored how the National Trust owned Wicken Fen reserve is managed and to what extent this management is informed by history. What we see at Wicken today is the end product of a long history of changes, both natural and cultural. To preserve this wetland in its present form or to “restore” it to a past state of it is a cultural choice based on perceptions or realities of the past. Chris Smout argues that if historians do not provide good history, others will conceive some form of historical narrative that does not necessarily reflect the historical reality. He concludes that history is not an innocent trade because historian’s stories influences people’s perceptions of the natural world and that places a great responsibility on historians writing about past nature, landscape and the environment.

Music Credits

“Reverie (small theme)” by ghost

“Good Morning” by Pitx

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