Telling the lie of the land

May 26, 1995

LAND DEGRADATION AND REHABILITATION Edited by C. J. Barrow - John Wiley Quarterly, Pounds 142.40 (institutions), Pounds 110.00 (individuals) ISSN 0898 5812

Amid all the concern with global atmospheric changes (greenhouse gases, stratospheric ozone depletion, sulphate aerosols and acid deposition), the fact is often lost sight of that for the great bulk of the world's population (and in particular, for the world's poor), land degradation is the crucial environmental issue. Having said that, land degradation is a diverse range of processes and phenomena that includes desertification, soil erosion, salinisation, waterlogging, surface compaction, industrial blight, loss of habitat and decline in the quality of vegetation cover.

Land Degradation and Rehabilitation is therefore potentially a very important journal for it "seeks to provide rational study of the recognition, monitoring, control and rehabilitation of degradation in terrestrial environments". Now that the journal is six years old one can assess whether it has met its potential, whether it has developed its own niche, and whether it has maintained a broad concern across the whole field of land degradation. It has been successful on all three counts .

Two of the four issues are thematic. One, edited by Bruce Thom, is concerned with "Land use and land cover in Australia: living with global change". This attracts some of the leading Australian contributions in this area, and some, in the Australian style, are trenchant and thought-provoking. Notable is J. M. Powell's analysis of environment and development in Australia since 1788. The second theme issue, edited by Andrew Millington, concerns "Indigenous soil and water conservation in Mediterranean areas", though one of its key papers is much more wide-ranging than this and provides a particularly good review of the value of indigenous techniques in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the non-thematic volumes there is a good mix of material including papers largely concerned with techniques (such as geographical information systems, mixture modelling in remote sensing, and the use of caesium-137 in soil erosion studies), papers primarily concerned with identifying that degradation is taking place, papers dominantly concerned with methods for land rehabilitation, and papers concerned with perception and attitudes.

Although the editorial board is drawn chiefly from developed countries, the subject matter of the journal is very evidently international. Authors come from Australia, India, Bolivia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, Germany, but not, curiously, from the United States.

There is no other journal that covers precisely the same ground as Land Degradation and Rehabilitation. The highly successful Journal of Arid Environments and Applied Geography covers some of the same areas, and the same applies to the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Indeed, when one looks at the references at the end of each paper it is plain that no one journal straddles this field and that many citations refer to consultancy reports, conference proceedings and other ephemeral or inaccessible sources. In a sense this is a justification for Land Degradation and Rehabilitation.

Papers seem to be published commendably quickly after acceptance. There are papers accepted as late as September in the 1994 volume. This is a major attraction for potential authors and suggests that either there is a limited amount of material being submitted (so that no backlog builds up) or that the managing editor, C. J. Barrow, and the publisher are extremely efficient.

In terms of production quality, this journal is very much in line with normal Wiley practice. The overall impression is good in terms of clarity of text, level of illustration, information on authors, abstracts and key words. In two issues there are full colour maps, which is a major benefit for papers based on remote sensing.

In sum, this is a successful, topical, wide-ranging, international and efficient journal that deserves a higher profile and a greater level of citation than at present.

Andrew Goudie is professor of geography and pro-vice chancellor, University of Oxford.

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