A growing desire for both high-nature value farming and rewilding as conservation strategies has highlighted a pressing need to understand long-term dynamic change in natural and semi-natural vegetation systems. Palaeoecology can, and does, contribute much to our understanding of ecological dynamics in these systems. Modern palaeoecology is increasingly focussed on linking with ecosystem models at regional and global scales, and scaling up collated datasets from lake and bog archives. However much information of application to nature conservation requires scaling down. There are still surprising gaps in our knowledge-base: areas where paleoecology is either missing, or at too coarse a temporal or spatial resolution to provide useful data for modern application. In order to develop understandings of local-scale ecological dynamics and their drivers new local-scale palaeoecological histories, from mosaics of small sites, in landscapes of interest are required. Scaling down and collecting new data can also assist in filling in the considerable spatial gaps in the current set of regional-scale palaeoecological models.
Whereas large areas of peat, or lake systems, are increasingly recognised, as carbon stores and for biodiversity value, with ecosystem service valuation driving protection, preservation and conservation of the geoheritage archive within them; in contrast, local-scale palaeoecological archives are seldom considered and are potentially being lost. Much ecologically relevant palaeoecology relies on samples from small peat hollows, ponds etc. within cultural and woodland landscapes. These deposits are often disturbed or drained with little thought for the historical and palaeoenvironmental records that they contain.
This paper will present and explore examples of local-scale palaeoecological research especially in the context of social-ecological systems in traditional agricultural and wooded landscapes. Examples from personal research in Ribblesdale, north Yorkshire, Scotland and the English Lake district will be presented, as well as some review of other studies. Via these examples, the paper aims to highlight the value of a range of non-standard palaeoecological sites within the landscape, and to urge consideration of a wider range of sites as contributing to a valuable palaeoecological geoheritage.