Mountains of Northern Europe: Conservation, Management, People and Nature, edited by D. B. A. Thompson, M. F. Price and C. A. Galbraith. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Stationery Office, 2005. xx + 396 pp. £30.00. ISBN 0-11-497319-9.
To celebrate the UN-declared International Year of Mountains in 2002, countries with mountains around the world carried out a myriad of governmental and non-governmental sponsored activities. These ranged from mountain food, music, and film festivals to bicycle tours and mountaineering climbs, to conferences, symposia, and workshops. There were also several major international events, mainly of the latter sort, including the Global Mountain Summit at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, which produced the Bishkek MountainPlatform. My favorite event was held in Italy: “The Olympic Games of Mountain Cheeses,” a world-scale exhibition and competition.
In the United Kingdom, one of the events was a conference held at Pitlochry, Scotland, in early Novem-ber 2002, entitled “Nature and People: Conservation and management in the mountains of Northern Europe.” The event was attended by almost 300 persons from 15 countries. This book is the product of the conference, which was organized and implemented by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Centre for Mountain Studies, Perth College, UHI Millennium Institute, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The book has been edited by the organizers of the conference—Thompson, Price, and Galbraith. They have done the creditable task of pulling together these mostly disparate presentations into a structural whole.
It is extremely difficult to adequately review the product of a conference that attempted to obtain geographical representation of the mountains of Northern Europe and of the wide-ranging subjects dealing with the numerous aspects of these special landforms. The book contains 38 chapters, grouped in 5 “Parts” with general headings. Within these parts there is great and sometimes distracting heterogeneity. Few specific themes are analyzed in detail from different geographic or experiential perspectives. But, how does one organize the research, experience, and perspectives for an earth feature of such scale (both physical and spiritual) and differing geographic locations? The editors have done remarkably well, but it does seem strange to find a chapter on “Outdoor education and outdoor recreation in Scotland” sandwiched between one on “SCANNET: A Scandinavian–North European network of terrestrial field bases” and one on “Frozen opportunities? Local communities and the establishment of Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland.”
There are few common threads which would permit a normal book review of one or several thematic issues. There are many excellent subject treatments, well worth the price of admission, but I found the organization of the material a bit of a bother. There is one clear grouping of 5 chapters (Chapters 6–10) that deal with climate change and pollutants, and all focused on Scottish (or Welsh) mountains. Good! But these are bracketed in the same section by a chapter on “People, recreation and the mountains with reference to the Scottish Highlands” (Chapter 11) and one on “Links between geodiversity and biodiversity in European mountains: Case studies from Sweden, Scotland and the Czech Republic” (Chapter 5). The former is, incidentally, an excellent analysis of Scottish mountain recreation, and the author does pull out some of the common factors shared throughout the mountains of Northern Europe. The latter is a compelling exposition on geomorphological processes and landform patterns. In my opinion, the book would have been improved by allocating Chapters 6–10 to an individual section; by grouping the contribution on recreation (Chapter 11) with Chapter 19 on “Mountain tourism in Northern Europe: Current patterns and recent trends” and perhaps with Chapter 29 on “Tourists, nature and indigenous peoples—conservation and management in the Swedish mountains.” This would have left Part 2, “Mountain Environments: Perspectives” more unified in its role of more general treatment, especially if the excellent Chapter 12 on “The mountains of Northern Europe: Towards an environmental history for the last ten thousand years” had been brought forward into the grouping.
The chapter headings mentioned above have given a small indication of the wealth of topics covered. It would be imprudent to list all 38 of them. As previously stated, there are many gems to be found by the alert “miner” in this mine of information. Only a few can be mentioned. The foreword by the Icelandic Minister for the Environment must qualify as one of the few forewords ever written by a politician that had some “meat” in it, for she packed real information into a short presentation. I particularly learned much from the already mentioned Chapter 5 on links between geodiversity and biodiversity in European Mountains. The thoughtful analysis in “Multipurpose management in the mountains of Northern Europe” leads to a better design of policies for sustainable development. One of the most interesting contributions for me was a Finnish/United Kingdom coauthored paper on “Natural heritage trends: An upland saga.” To me, as a long-time worker in the mountain protected areas arena, perhaps the most valuable was the case study entitled “Frozen opportunities? Local communities and the establishment of Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland,” which provides several lessons to be learned. For those who wish to probe the history and results of the International Year of Mountains, the second chapter by Price and Hofer is an excellent encapsulation.
Nevertheless, my favorite read is the opening chapter by Magnus Magnusson, a rambling, personal presentation of thoughts on nature and people. While he was the conference opener, he was really prescient in summarizing the lessons of the many facets of this diverse collection. He stated that in terms of mountain conservation:
We must make sure that we are sharing aspirations about longer-term goals. If there is lack of awareness of what different people seek, we can hardly be surprised if misunderstanding arises;
We should be clear about the facts, because rational debate and the creation of an informed consensus need clear and balanced information; and
We need to explore what values are important to different people. Sharing values is not an easily-attained goal, but if we can achieve it, the way forward becomes clearer. Sharing values is not so much a matter of conversion on some hilly Damascene road as a widening of our perspectives to acknowledge the validity of the values held by others.
The sub-title of the book is “Conservation, Management, People and Nature,” and it does indeed provide an umbrella under which these many diverse presentations (chapters) can congregate.