I bring this up because I wonder if something similar is happening about the land sparing / land sharing debate. And this is triggered by my recent travels in Africa and Asia. I’ve lived all my life in England, where the countryside is the product of hundreds of years of interaction between people, plants and animals, resulting in a cultural landscape that at its best can include farming, biodiversity, livelihoods and beauty. This is land sharing, where serious wild nature has long gone.
My recent trip to Hong Kong presents a very different view. My son’s flat is at the edge of the city, and fronts on to forest. This has been disturbed, sure (there are no tigers for example), but is probably still close to primary woodland. This is land sparing in the extreme. These forests are used by many people for hiking and leisure, but there is no cultural landscape as I recognise in Yorkshire. In Kenya, the situation was more complex. We travelled by road from the Amboseli national park to central Nairobi. I was expecting quite stark boundaries between nature reserve, farming and urban areas, but no. The park itself is nearly stripped of trees by the elephants, and so the landscape is wide open. At the park boundaries, the scrub appears. This area is grazed by Masai cattle and sheep, but is shared by giraffe, zebra and gazelles. We were told that big cats and elephants didn’t venture here, creating a cultural landscape that seemed to complement the national park really well. But the Masai even grazed their livestock close the city centres, using road central reservations and other patches of grass. Whether this is land sparing depends on which species you are interested in, but to me the landscape could not be described by such terms anyway.
I wonder if the terms land sharing and land sparing are as much cultural as ecological, saying great deal about the backgrounds and expectations of the people using the terms, just as the preferred explanations of species distributions by landscape ecologist were rooted in their own cultures. I also wonder if these terms encourage to mistake the metaphors of land sparing and land sharing for actual descriptions of how the world works.