ill fares the land, by john lister-kaye

Ill Fares the Land

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade,
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.”

The Deserted Village – Oliver Goldsmith


An earlier version of this paper was first presented for the Smithsonian Institution at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC in March 1982, entitled The Balmorlity Epoch: The rise and fall of the Great Victorian Sporting Tradition in the Highlands of Scotland, and also as part of the Royal Society for The Protection of Birds Centenary celebrations at the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, in September 1989. An extract of the present paper was published in the Field magazine Vol 282 Number 7080 June 1994 under the title Securing a Future for the Highlands. Taking the Long-Term View by HRH The Prince of Wales was also first published in the same edition.

As awareness of degradation of the Highland hills has grown, so the true historical perspective of how man has arrived at the very low levels of productivity now being experienced has assumed increasing importance. In recent years a number of initiatives by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forestry Authority, RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust and others have promoted the concept of natural habitat restoration in the uplands; a process of restoring whole ecosystems which wildlife and game can recolonise to produce a far richer environment for man and wildlife together.

The idea of promoting a sustainable land ethic to be adopted by land managers and owners based upon the principle of habitat restoration and built into the sporting tradition for which the Highlands of Scotland is so famous, has been a hobby-horse of mine for many years. It seems to me that the UK government’s 1994 published commitment to the Sustainability and Biodiversity Action Plans, arising from Agenda 21 of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, provides an excellent opportunity to open up the public debate on upland land use.


John Lister-Kaye
April 1994


        "The type of sustainable land-management ethic advocated by John Lister-Kaye is, I believe, a key part of a more balanced and long-term approach to the management of the fragile Highland ecosystem and the equally fragile human communities that depend on it"

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales

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