Shifting Baseline Syndrome


(After describing how the topsoil of North Africa was ruined)

For the last thirteen centuries, most of North Africa has been among the backward areas of civilization. A great part of the land has supported only a nomad or seminomad culture these thirteen centuries because most of the land was incapable of supporting any other type of culture. Overgrazing by the nomads slowly but surely completed the job of turning vast areas into semidesert.

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Heaths as human-impacted landscapes

This record, and similar evidence from the rest of the country, shows us several things. It shows that the open landscapes of upland Britain, the heaths and moors and blanket bogs, the rough grassland and bare rock which many people see as the natural state of the hills, which feature in a thousand romantic films and a thousand advertisements for clothes and cars and mineral water, are the result of human activity, mostly the grazing of sheep and cattle. It shows that grazing and cultivation have depleted the soil. It shows that when grazing pressure eases, trees can return.

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feral Monbiot, George. Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life. ↩︎ 1

topsoil-civilization Dale, Tom, and Vernon Gill Carter. 1955. Topsoil and Civilization. ↩︎ 1