The Firth of Forth is perhaps one of the most well known and major firths in Scotland.
The shores on both sides of the river are rich in wildlife and the long history of human occupation is fascinating.
The shores on both sides of the river is rich in wildlife and the long history of human occupation is fascinating. It is very hard to summarise the Firth of Forth as it has so many facets and it’s history stretches back many thousands of years.
The Firth of Forth – An Environmental History
Authors T.C. Smout and Mairi Stewart partnered up to produce a book that attempts to bring together what is known about the Firth of Forth and shine some light on some aspects that many may be unaware of when looking at the effect that humans have had on the environment.
The book is split up into chapters that take the reader through time starting with “Hunting and Gathering”. This chapter looks at the firths prehistoric environment and reveals the activities and diet of our ancient ancestors with evidence coming from discoveries made by archaeologists over the past decades. I was genuinely surprised by the shear amount of discoveries made across the regions and I was certainly enlightened to the history that dwells below our feet.
Fishing the Forth
The book then moves on to the history of fishing in the region. Fishing as a commercial concern is a pale reflection of bygone years and this becomes evident when you read about the impressive size of the Fife fishing fleet in the 1700’s alone.
The book moves on the once thriving oyster industry. Like many others, I was unaware of the Firth of Forth being split into several oyster beds owned by numerous squabbling parties. The politics behind these often long lasting arguments highlights the importance and popularity of oysters over many hundreds of years and resulted in the eventual decline of the industry in the 1890’s thanks to overfishing and manmade environmental change.
The Firth of Forth was perhaps best known for the massive herring industry from the 1820’s through to the 1950’s. Herring was being fished in record numbers and the firth was a hive of activity both on the water and on the shore.
Many different techniques were employed by fishermen and the fishing fleet developed quickly over this period with different areas of the firth adopting different methods to maximise their catch and this is covered well by the authors.
Pollution has long been a problem in the Firth of Forth thanks to many different manmade factors such as sewage and industrial activity (the mining industry), the distilleries and the numerous linen and paper mills which operated in the region. The book covers the history of how pollution has affected the firth and it’s animal life over the centuries and how it has been addressed over the years. As someone who regularly walks the Fife coastal Path, this chapter was perhaps was the most interesting part of the book for me especially when you walk past the remnants of Fife’s industrial past.
The islands of the Firth of Forth
The Fifth of Forth has many islands along it’s length with some being more well known than others. The book covers the bird life of some of these islands in a fair amount of detail and includes some historical background on each. The chapter on the Isle of May makes for some fascinating reading in particular. When you speak about the islands you can’t miss out the seals and there is a whole chapter talking about their relationship with the other residents of the Firth of Forth and what is being done to protect them.
The Firth of Forth – An Environmental History could be seen as being more of a educational reference book rather than a easy to read guide and as such some sections could be fairly difficult to follow for those without an interest in the environmental history the region. However putting that aside, it is filled with interesting facts about the river and it’s wild life and the huge impact that humans have had upon both over the centuries. The book also has a nice selection of illustrations and photographs throughout which are clearly reproduced and captioned.
A well written, well researched and informative read.