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A natural landscape is a landscape that is unaffected by human activity.[1] A natural landscape is intact when all living and nonliving elements are free to move and change.[2] A natural landscape may contain either the living or nonliving or both.[3] In his extensive travels in South America, Alexander von Humboldt[4] became the first to conceptualize a natural landscape [5] separate from the cultural landscape.[6]

Some have described a transition of a pristine landscape state to a humanized landscape state—which includes the human-modified landscape, the primeval landscape, the ancient landscape, the undisturbed wilderness and the managed landscape.[7] The natural landscape is a place under the current control of natural forces and free of the control of people for an extended period of time.

"For here the natural landscape is eloquent of the interplay of forces that have created it. It is spread before us like the pages of an open book...", Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, 1962.

History of natural landscape[edit]

No place on earth is unaffected by people and our culture. However, there is no place on earth that cannot return to natural landscape if abandoned by culture. People are part of biodiversity, but people exert forces on biodiversity, which destroy the natural landscape.[8] Terms such as semi-natural are used to describe landscapes with both cultural and natural features. People have altered landscape to such an extent that few places on earth remain pristine. Being pristine, though, is not a prerequisite for natural landscape designation. Once abandoned by human influences, the landscape is again under the control of natural processes which accommodate interruptions, resulting in a new variant of the natural landscape.[9]

Examples of cultural forces[edit]

Cultural forces are those that, intentionally or unintentionally, influence the landscape.[10] Cultural landscapes are places or artifacts currently maintained by people whether directly or indirectly. Examples of cultural disruptions are: fences, roads, sand pits, trails, species under human management, invasive species introduced by people, extraction or removal of species and objects, vegetation alteration, alterations of animal populations, natural landscaping, buildings, agricultural areas, pollution, paved areas. Areas that may be confused with natural landscape include parks for people, agricultural areas, orchards, maintained views (use of aesthetic judgments), artificial lakes, managed forests, golf courses, nature center trails, back yards, and flower beds.[11]

Conflict between cultural forces and the natural landscape[edit]

For a place to return to the natural landscape, all cultural artifacts attracting people must be removed. Natural landscape is the equilibrium that existed prior to significant human impact. The time necessary for an area to return to the natural landscape depends upon the environment, and it may be termed the period of neglect. Neglect, in this context, means the absence of any plant or animal management whatsoever. Most people can easily recognize a neglected landscape. Human impact on the natural landscape may result in episodes of extinction of native species, episodes of stalled equilibrium, total species destruction and even the putrification of soil and water.

The case for returning land to the natural landscape has been championed by those who recognize the harm resulting from people’s actions on this planet. Popular movies such as Avatar and Life After People focus on potential natural landscape controls or lack thereof. The return of the natural landscape has been opposed by those who wish to groom the natural landscape or simply to demonstrate that the natural landscape has some practical value.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group. Culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium, the cultural landscape the result.", Sauer, Carl O, "Morphology of Landscape" In Oakes, T. and Price, P. (eds) 2008; The Cultural Geography Reader, p. 103. Routledge.
  2. ^ Hugh Irwin, Landscape Connectivity of Unroaded Areas in the Southern Appalachians
  3. ^ "All that determines the character of a landscape—the outline of the mountains, which, in the far-vanishing distance, bound the horizon—the dark shade of the pine forests—the sylvan torrent rushing between overhanging cliffs to its fall—all are in antecedent, mysterious communion with the inner feelings and life of man." Aspects of Nature, Alexander von Humboldt, Translated by Mrs. Sabine, Philadelphia, Lea and Blanchard, 1850, Volume l0, Cataracts of the Orinoco
  4. ^ Chunglin Kwa, Alexander von Humboldt's invention of the natural landscape, The European Legacy, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 149-162, 2005
  5. ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext05/qnct310.txt
  6. ^ [1] "The description of nature in its manifold richness of form, as a distinct branch of poetic literature, was wholly unknown to the Greeks. The landscape appears among them merely as the basil-ground of the picture of which human figures constitute the main subject. Passions, breaking forth into action, riveted their attention almost exclusively." Alexander von Humboldt Cosmos: a sketch of a physical description of the universe translation 1804 Volume 2 Part I Paragraph 5 Chapter I
  7. ^ Fire, Native Peoples, and the Natural Landscape by geographer Thomas R. Vale, Chapter 1, PP. 1 - 8, Island Press, 2002
  8. ^ Top 10 Ways Man Is Destroying the Environment, Matt Schwarzfeld, Discovery Communications, LLC. 2013
  9. ^ YouTube, Professor James Lovelock, We can't save the planet, BBC NEWS, 2010/03/30
  10. ^ "It is true that certain human technological actions do have unintended consequences that spread everywhere; there are contagious effects that seep into the nooks and crannies of all nature." Holmes Rolston III, Technology versus nature, What is natural, Journal of Philosophy and Technology, Ends and Means, Vol 2 No.2 Spring 1998, University of Aberdeen, Edinburgh University Press
  11. ^ "In Scotland, some landscapes, such as the high summits of the Cairngorm Mountains, consist entirely of natural elements. These can be called 'natural landscapes'. Other landscapes can be largely the result of human activity, such as arable farmland or urban areas. These can be referred to as 'cultural landscapes.'" Scottish Natural Heritage, 27 September 2012

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