There are several reasons that have led to degradation of natural landscapes. Some of them are discussed below.
1. Growing human demands:
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While we only need food, clothing and shelter to survive, man’s desires are growing endlessly. We are cutting trees to make more houses, destroying agricultural lands to expand human settlements and industries and contaminating precious water by dumping wastes into the water bodies.
Landscapes over the years are therefore being spoilt due to human activities. There has been a population explosion over the past century with human and animal population growing fast. But earth’s land is unable to carry so much weight.
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Due to the growing population, there is a need to create more space. Therefore, forests are being cut, which leads to a precious natural resource being depleted. At the same time, valleys are being occupied to undertake agricultural activities to provide for food needs of the human population.
Such misuse of natural landscapes results in decrease in forest areas, tree canopies, loss of biodiversity, increase in wastelands, falling productivity of agricultural lands, soil toxicity, abandoned landholdings, eroded grasslands, drying of natural springs and water bodies.
With the growing demand of human beings, industrial activities are on the rise. Not only does industrialization causes’ air and water pollution, it also causes contamination of land’s surface with the wastes produced. Chemicals effluents released by chemical industries cause contamination of land as well as water. Industrialization also causes soil erosion and exploitation of natural resources.
4. Growing population:
Human population as well as animal population is on the rise. But this rise in human and animal population is not a healthy sign for the natural landscape. The exponential population growth we are experiencing is not in line with the carrying capacity of the land. This is causing contamination of the land, water as well as air.
Vast stretches of grazing lands that could once provide for the economy of the rural masses have turned into wastelands, because of increased animal pressure due to population explosion. The land capacity is not able to meet the grazing needs of cattle any more. This results in overgrazing of lands which eventually leads to the land turning barren and unproductive.
With a fall in the land’s carrying capacities, overgrazing has led to severe effects in landscapes including shifting of tree line, large-scale deforestation, and erosion of mangroves, directly interfering with the local livelihoods. Managed or ‘prescribed’ grazing, that avoids soil erosion and run-offs is required if we want to maintain our forests and grasslands.
6. Modern agricultural practices:
With urbanization and over population, there has been a rise in the food requirement of human beings. Hence, high yield varieties are being grown that require larger amounts of pesticides and insecticides. Only a small amount of these chemicals are used by the crops for their growth.
The remaining chemicals are absorbed by the soil and the water. In this way pesticides and insecticides are not only polluting the food, they are also polluting water and soil. Fertilizers cause eutrophication on water as well as salination of the soil and water.
Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides in the agricultural fields causes eutrophication. Eutrophication is the formation of algae on water. Fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus that help the crops to grow. In water, they enhance the growth of algae. While such growth of algae on water makes it useless for human consumption, it also spoils the water as a natural habitat for all marine species.
Use of chemicals also causes salination of water. Salts that are a result of human activities spoil the soil surface. This causes spoilage of landscape, soil productivity and food production.
7. Dumping of wastes:
Growing human activities generate biodegradable as well as non-biodegradable wastes. Wastes that are generated from industrial activities, mining activities as well as construction activities are non-biodegradable. They are not absorbed, decomposed or dissipated by the ecosystems naturally. These wastes are very harmful to human existence.
At the same time, dumping grounds are also exceeding their ability to handle wastes. This results in the waste lying around which serves as a breeding ground for pests, viruses and pathogens. Not only do these cause pollution of air, water and food, overflowing dumps are also harmful for birds and animals that prey on the garbage.
Non-biodegradable wastes like polythene, glass, plastics and metals are most harmful for the environment. They can clog drains, cause water pollution and result in soil degradation.
Indiscriminate felling of trees is called deforestation and has led to depletion of forests and mangroves. Despite severe rules being implemented by the government to protect the forests, trees are rapidly being cut to create space for construction, to extract paper and to provide for the growing fuel needs of the population.
Deforestation is now a global threat. Marine reserves like mangroves are also disappearing because of the industrial activities undertaken in the sea. All these factors are leading to destruction of the environment and the landscape.
9. International industrial waste:
An important international environmental issue over the past years has been the trade of toxic waste between industrialized countries and less developed nations. Developed countries produce toxic wastes like solvents and cobalt, apart from chemical and pharmaceutical wastes.
They sell these to developing countries to dispose because the cost of destruction of these wastes in developing countries is low. In March 1989,105 countries met under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Basel, Switzerland, and passed the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Countries like New Zealand have been able to maintain their natural landscape because of their strict rules to safeguard climate change, the ozone layer, hazardous substances and biodiversity.
10. Construction of dams and mining operations:
There has been a spurt in the construction of flyovers across all cities and towns. The number of dams being built has also increased. While hydroelectric dams supply the energy required to run cities and towns, their construction and storage of water often leads to destruction of surrounding landscapes. Forests are often cleared for these purposes and the flora and fauna of that region is destroyed. Such activities have led to plant and animal species disappearing from their natural habitats.
Destruction of landscape is being caused by mining activities and to create space for agriculture and construction. As a result, ice on mountains is getting thawed due to these activities. This has led to what can be considered man-made disasters like landslides and avalanches. Mining wastes result in soil toxicity, which leads to harmful production of food. This is poisoning the food chain, which is another reason for extinction of species.
With the rise in population, rural lands surrounding urban areas are being cleared for settlements. For this reason, forests and even coastal areas are being looked at to create more space. Urbanization not only leads to destruction of forests and marsh lands, but they even lead to increased environmental waste.
Land reclamation, which uses coastal land for urban use, is leading to a decrease in coastal forests like mangroves. This makes cities more susceptible to natural disasters like the Tsunami. Urbanization also leads people towards consumerism. This means that there is a rise in use of elements such as metals, glass and plastic.
Their disposal leads to hazardous environmental wastes and spoilage of landscapes. According to a United Nations report, more and more natural landscapes are likely to be used for urbanization with the world population expected to increase by more than one- third over the next 30 years (United Nations, 2002).