About Wales: Cultural Ecology Map 2

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O'Riordan takes the view that In today's complex and specialised politics, full-blooded participatory democracy cannot replace some form of accountable representative democracy. This will enevitably lead to resilience plans which establish a new balance between ecocystem services and economic well-being. This is what has been happening on the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary. The estuary arose as the periglaciated land area that lay between South Wales and the Cornish Peninsular and was flooded by the rising post-glacial seas. A major consequence of sea-level rise, especially over the last 8,000 years, was that wetlands and their deposits formed close to sea level along the margins of the estuary, creating the extensive Severn Estuary Levels, which dominate the coastline from Cardiff to the Severn Bridges. Humans have exploited these wetlands in many different ways. Since Roman times, the marshes have been largely subject to land-claim through the construction of embankments, drains and sluices. Such enclosed marshes, which were cultivated and permanently settled as a hydrolic farming system, are much more economically valuable than their natural predecessors, but continuing sea level rise makes their defence against flooding increasingly costly. Up to 50 or so years ago, as testified by the many ports and minor landing places on the banks and tributaries, the estuary itself was a major route for communication and trade within Britain and with the Continent and the Americas. Since the 1960s the wetlands have been used to house industry and people spilling out of the cities of Newport and Cardiff and provide new transport infrastructures. This has lead to a clash between their commercial and wildlife values, a conflict that has come to a head in the current plans to divert the M4 motorway south of Newport through the northern margins of the levels. The levels now exist as a distinct ecosystem which is the outcome of a hydrolic management plan that aims to maintain a freshwater network of drainage channels below sea level. It is in this context that a cultural ecology map of the levels can provide an educational resource to explore the interactions between social and ecological systems. In particular, new insights into the social-ecological resilience of cultures come from mapping the concepts of 'driving forces', 'thresholds', 'adaptive cycles' and 'adaptive management, on the ground and in the mind. This is a process of social learning. The idea is to promote conditions for achieving long-term environmental occupacy of a locale by building a community's capacity for learning about how the complexity of landscape is the result of the reslience of past generation who changed their behaviour to maintain flows of ecosystem services. The aim of Cultural Ecology maps of Wales is to alert the map-reader to problems which humanity is facing at a tempo of change which is entirely novel. These environmental problems and the human response are encoded in past landscapes where they are revealed as prior solutions to, and outcomes of, environmental challenges that are strikingly similar to their modern counterparts. For millennia, humans have had to cope with deforestation, soil erosion, desertication, loss of biodiversity and climatic change. These same factors are often invoked as causal triggers responsible for the formation and decline of archaic societies around the globe. In many regions of the world, changes in political power, demography, and social organization have been wave-like. Likewise, climate and other environmental phenomena cycle and vary over time. Correlations between climatic and cultural changes are invoked in some regions as causal agents for change (often with careful testing); in other regions, they are routinely dismissed or left unconsidered. It is impossible to assess and evaluate these relationships without a long temporal perspective that takes into account the organizational, economic, and environmental parameters prior to, during, and after climatic and cultural events in a given region. The positive accomplishments of human ingenuity in the past 150 years overshadow all the previous achievements of mankind since the beginning of the Neolithic revolution 15,000 years ago. It is necessary to concentrate on so small a fragment of time because the last two hundred years has been a phase of ecological mutation worthy of comparison with the transition from food gathering and hunting to tillage and pasture. It is also necessary to concentrate this time interval in a small geographical area which illustrates this increased tempo of change and the reslience of people for adaptive management of social adaptation to their ecocystem. An ecosystem can be defined at the most basic level as a natural unit of living things (animals, plants and micro-organisms) and their physical environment. The living and non-living elements function together as an interdependent system - if one part is damaged it can have an impact on the whole system. Ecosystems can be terrestrial or marine, inland or coastal, rural or urban. They can also vary in scale from the global to the local. At the continental level examples include rainforests, deserts and coral reefs. Closer to home we might think more in terms of different types of habitats (e.g. woodlands, grassland, marshes, heathland, rivers, peat bogs) though this can also extend to the urban environment (e.g. parks and gardens, rivers and streams). In many cases, ecosystems overlap and interact. Ecosystem services are defined as services provided by the natural environment that benefit people. Some of these ecosystem services are well known including food, fibre and fuel provision and the cultural services that provide benefits to people through recreation and cultural appreciation of nature. Other services provided by ecosystems are not so well known. These include the regulation of the climate, purification of air and water, flood protection, soil formation and nutrient cycling.
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