Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The Sound of 6,000 Years of Deforestation

Six Thousand Years of Forests tells the story of how the UK's forests have been transformed over the last 6,000 years into croplands, pastures and cities. What was once a country covered by primeval forest is now an intensely farmed and populated landscape, with only 13% of the country covered by woodland.  

However Six Thousand Years of Forests doesn't confine itself just to the UK. In fact it also contains a marvelous scrollytelling global map showing how land use has changed around the world over the last 8,000 years.

As you scroll through this map you can see how the history of the human race is also the story of the world's deforestation. In truth the map could be called '2,000 Years of Forests', as the first major change on the map appears around the time of the birth of Christ. Around 0 AD we begin to see dense urban settlements begin to appear in northern India. 

From around 0 AD we see a very slow increase in dense urban settlements in northern India. Elsewhere, in many parts of the world, there is a loss of forests to croplands and pastures. The major intensification of change comes with the industrial revolution. Around 1800 AD we begin to see dense urban settlements grow in many parts of the world, particularly in China and then in Europe. By the year 2,000 huge areas of the world have been deforested, either to be replaced by farmland or by dense human settlements. 

One result of all this deforestation is that most of us now have no understanding of the soundscapes of a primeval forest. Six Thousand Years of Forests includes a series of magical sound recordings, created by ecologist Joseph Monkhouse, which attempt to recreate the sounds of UK woodlands at different points in history. There are four recordings in all, including re-creations of the sound of a Mesolithic Woodland (3,980 B.C.), a Medieval Woodland (1422 A.D.), a 20th Century Woodland (1962 A.D.) and a 21st Century Woodland (2022 A.D.). 

Each of these sound recordings is accompanied by illustrations and a description of some of the birds, animals and other sounds which can be heard in each recording. The 21st Century woodland recording sadly (but probably realistically) includes the sound of cars on a nearby road.

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