Human activities in upland glaciated areas

Difficulties. Possibilities for settlement and use. Farming and forestry. Tourism.

  • Created by: Thea
  • Created on: 13-06-10 11:04


Many upland areas are naturally unattractive for people to settle in, even without considering the effects of ice on the landscape.

Climate deteriorates with height. It becomes colder, which reduces the length of the growing season and narrows the possibilities for farming.

There is more precipitation, which also means more cloud and less sunshine, and there is more chance of the precipitation falling as snow, which makes farming more difficult.

Many of the changes made by glaciers do not help. Glaciers are such powerful agents of erosion that the land can be scraped bare of all its soil.

Valley glaciers increase the steepness of the land and the height of the valley sides, making access more difficult, if not impossible.

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Possibilities for settlement and use

Much of the electricity used in Alpine countries such as Switzerland and Austria is supplied from hydro-electric (HEP).

Glacial erosion improves the opportunities to take advantage of the high totals of precipitation in mountainous areas.

After glaciation, there are more high waterfalls, and large ribbon lakes provide areas of natural water storage.

In the UK, mountains are less high and not as rugged.

The best HEP opportunities are in the Highlands of Scotland. In other glaciated upland areas, the dominant human activities are farming, forestry and tourism.

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Farming and forestry

In upland areas, land on the valley floor is precious. Valley glaciers widened valley floors and made them flatter; also it was on the valley floor that the melting glacier left most of its load, giving a greater thickness of soil. Soils formed of boulder clay vary greatly, but some are quite fertile and their high clay content favours grass growth. Land around the farm on the valley floor is used intensively for growing crops and making hay and silage, particularly if the aspect (the way the slope faces) is south-facing for greater warmth from the sun.

Further away from the farm, the land is only suitable for pastoral farming (keeping livestock). Cattle farming (dairy if possible, beef otherwise) is more likely to be carried out in the lower parts of the valley, while sheep rearing dominates on the steeper slopes and moorlands, where the physical conditions are suitable only for rough grazing. Farming in upland areas is often described as marginal, which means that it is difficult for the farmer to make a profit or a good living from farming there. Rocky land around and below the peaks may be useless.

In some areas, especially on north-facing slopes and on lower slopes too steep for farming, confierous trees have been planted. Some of the forests are now mature and on the steep slopes of a glaciated valley is one example of diversification; diversification means that farmers are creating new and additional sources of income.

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Without the effects of glaciation, the landscape in the Lake District would be much less attractive to visitors. Glaciation sharpened up the landscape; rounded tops were changed into knife-edged peaks, and valleys were deepened, making the scenery more spectacular for visitors and fell walkers. Glaciation steepened and increased the size of many rock faces, increasing the area's attractiveness to mountaineers and rock climbers. Glaciers formed the large ribbon lakes, without which it would not be 'The Lake District'. Water aways attracts tourists. Some come for the easy walks or rambles around the edges of the lakes, or for picnics or boat trips. Others, who are more active or more sporting, principally come to participate in water based activites such as water-skiing and sailing. Without the effects of glaciation on its landscape, the Lake District would not be the great magnet for visitors that it is today.

Catering for and making money out of tourist visitors is another way many farmers in glaciated upland areas have diversified. Although some money has to be invested in building toilet and shower blocks, much more money can be made in areas with lots of visitors from charging people for camping or for parking a caravan in a field than from using it for grass Some room sin the farmhouse may be used for bed and breakfast; boards advertising this are frequently seen in areas such as the Lake District and Snowdonia. The farm may be some distance from the nearest shop, giving the farmer a captive market for farm produce such as milk and eggs.

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