This is Worstallesque in its ignorance of SI units

Some 7,000 years ago the Scottish Highlands was home to 15,000 square metres of ancient woodlands, a habitat for great herds of wild grazing animals, lynx, wolves and native red squirrels.

Great grazing herds of red squirrels is fun.

So, one sq metre is 1×10*0 m2, right? 10 is thus 1×10*1 m2? Or have I got that wrong already? But 15,000 is therefore 1.5×10*4 m2. And what they almost certainly mean is 1.5×10*7 m2, yes? Or is it 1.5×10*8 m2? Umm, 10k metres to a hectare, 1,000 hectares to a km, 15,000,000,000,00andhowmanymore?

Easier, for me at least, to say 15,000 square metres and 15,000 square hectares or even something like the accurate number, 15,000 square kilometres. Or ten thousand square miles in real money.

Given my inability with SI – it’s all just a blur of numbers to me – I have sympathy with those who also don’t instinctively grasp relative and likely sizes. But that the arts graduates manage to get it wrong with words does still astonish.

32 thoughts on “This is Worstallesque in its ignorance of SI units”

  1. Pretty sure they meant to say square kilometres. 15,000 square metres is a square of sides 123 metres – so about 3 or 4 football pitches! Pretty sure those giant squirrels roamed over more than that. By getting the dimension units wrong by a thousand they get the area wrong by a million times. Arts grads indeed.

    There’s no such thing as a square hectare as a hectare is already a unit of area. It’d be like saying ‘square acre’.

  2. So the mighty woodlands of the ancient Scottish Highlands covered an area equivalent to 2 football pitches? It must have been cheek by jowl in there, with those herds of grazing animals, lynx, wolves and red squirrels.

  3. 15,000 square metres? Our local park is about that.

    Quick thumb estimate for squares: count off an even number of digits that leaves 2 or 3 digits left over at the left end (eg 15000 -> 150|00) drop half the right digits, cos eg srq(100) = 10 so (15000 -> 150|00 -> 150|0) then do the easy square root of the left bit ignoring any fractions (15000 -> 150|00 -> 150|0 -> 12|0 -> 120).

    So, a square a smidge bigger than 120m by 120m. Something tells me a footy pitch is 100yards, so two footie pitches.

    How deep are these squirrels packed?

  4. I think we should return to those 15,000 square metres of ancient woodlands. It’s not very much, but the Scots will need the rest of the highlands for wind farms and refugee camps.

  5. Er… animals don’t graze woodlands. Grazing animals eat grass. Woodlands are trees. I suppose you could posit very very large grazing animal. A 200 ft high red squirrel should about do it.

  6. Come to think of it, there’s another assumption here. I’m trying to think of a part of the world similar to the Jockish Highlands support either great herds of grazing animals or extensive woodlands. Wood lands in the valleys maybe. But there just isn’t the soil on those uplands to support that. The Highlands have probably looked much as they do since the after ice age. A long while after. It would have taken thousands of years just to get soil established on bare rock. Starts with mosses, then more complex plants. There’s a whole lot of literature on this in thought experiments on terraforming Mars.
    The only changes in the last 7000 years will have been ancient Jocks clearing the the valley woodland for timber & farming.

  7. Of course it’s square km.

    There was no great Caledonian Forest in historical times – it’s just a myth. How about 7,000 years ago? The chaps who study pollen have a view.

    As I understand it (i.e. amateur speaks) there may well have been lots of woodland in the warmer period after the Younger Dryas (Americans must love that expression) but when the weather turned cooler and wetter bogs and moors replaced the trees. I now check WKPD and find:

    The Scots pines of the Caledonian Forest are directly descended from the first pines to arrive in Scotland following the Late Glacial; arriving about 7000 BC. The forest reached its maximum extent about 5000 BC, after which the Scottish climate became wetter and windier. This changed climate reduced the extent of the forest significantly by 2000 BC.

    Which reminds me that the period that climate people used to call the “Holocene Optimum” was warmer than today.
    Again I check WKPD:

    The Holocene Climate Optimum (HCO) was a warm period that occurred in roughly the interval roughly 9,000 to 5,000 years BP, with a thermal maximum around 8000 years BP.

  8. 3.7 acres, in English. 15,000 Hectors (or whatever they call them) is about 60 square miles. But if it’s square killermeters, that’s about 5,800 square miles, from a total land area of almost 31,000.

    Can I have a job at the Telegraph?

  9. Pigs like to graze in forests, or rather they did in Saxon times.

    Also there used to be a lot of beaver in Scotland, so 3 1/2 acres of woods wouldn’t have sustained them for very long.

  10. They have now corrected it to 15,000 square kilometres, but they continue to say that a woodland will provide a habitat for the Golden Eagle (which nests on crags inaccessible to foxes).
    FYI 15,000 sq km is about one-fifth of the area of Scotland and “forest” does not necessarily mean thick woodland: the New Forest was created to provide a place for Normans to hunt game with a mixture of wooded areas and clearings; lynx do not form herds.

  11. @J77: ‘“forest” does not necessarily mean thick woodland’: as you say the medieval meaning was a place with reserved hunting rights for deer. In Scotland, for example, it might be almost treeless land – a bit of arable, meadow, or pasture perhaps, and lots of moorland. There the King, Earl, Abbott or whoever would, at least in principle, chase the deer.

    But people who chatter about the Caledonian Forest undoubtedly mean a large acreage of dense woodland – which, as I say, didn’t exist in historical times. The Romans claim to have fought in a Scottish forest – in the sense of woodland – but I wonder whether that was just a writerly habit of attributing any difficult fighting against northern barbarians to forest. Maybe the defeat in the Teutoburger Wald was seared into their souls. Maybe it’s the same sort of thing as English generals complaining of fighting wild Irishmen in the woods – at a time, the pollen records show, when there were damned few woods in Ireland.

    Or maybe the Romans did fight in Scottish woodland, in which case it wouldn’t have been high in the mountains.

  12. Square hectares is an example of the sort of muddle that gives us Lake Winderlake (Windermere), River river (Avon) and suchlike, and they are the results of combining different linguistic sources, which I suppose is what square and hectares is.

    Some years ago, the rozzer running a speed awareness course tried to tell me that kinetic energy was measured in pound-newtons, after pointing out that a car at 30mph has a lot less KE than one at 40, while being completely ignorant of the fact that the problem was one of momentum transfer not raw KE. But then he was a fuckwit in other respects.

    I left the course feeling aggrieved that I’d be done for 35 while the woman sitting next to me had been done for 95, and I’m pretty sure that I was fitted up anyway.

    The woman had the good sense to suggest that if I argued the point we’d all waste a lot more time!

  13. @ dearieme
    Yes – I wasn’t disagreeing with you, just poorly expressed comment that 15,000 sq km of forest is not the same as the whole of Scotland being thickly wooded like a Forestry Commission plantation.

  14. One of the royal forests was “Pickering Forest”. Go looking for Pickering Forest today. What that actually meant was the North Yorkshire Moors. It does not mean the moors were forested in Norman times, it was as mentioned: an area with hunting rights reserved to the King. It was just as bleak a wasteland then as now – probably worse as today it’s had 500 years of management.

  15. 7000 years ago?
    That’s… ummmm… middle of the neolithic.. Just about when Doggerland permanently became part of the North Sea and all that.. 2 millennia before peeps on the Isle started even *thinking* about putting up a couple of posts in a circle near what’s now Salisbury…

    I’d like to imagine there would have been a tad more than a hectare-and-a-half of forest in Scotland… Cold and wet as it was then as well…
    And what with the post-glacial stuff and changing climate even then… Certainly not in the places where peeps see them now..

  16. “7000 years ago?
    That’s… ummmm… middle of the neolithic”

    A useful approximation for Britain is that people have lived here for about 12,000 years, with the first half mesolithic (hunter-gatherers) and the second half neolithic and later (farmers and drovers, and so on). So 7,000 years ago is a bit too early for the neolithic.

  17. 1000 hectares to a kilometre? No Tim – at least not out here in France, where we’ve sadly been using them for a long time. Here we only get 100 hectares to a square kilometre.

  18. 15,000 m2 is less than 4 acres. I needed to look that up but even just seeing the number I thought that it seemed small for supporting thundering herds.

    I don’t think you need to be horribly familiar with metric to have that stand out as a pretty small number – even for herds of squirrels;)

    Some (most) people just don’t pay attention. Doubly so in the world of (journalism)

  19. A hectare is about the size of Trafalgar Square, 100 *100 metres, thus 10,000, square metres. How much wildlife do you see there, apart from pigeons and performance artists?

  20. “ some time before 11,300 years ago Scotland was under a nice thick ice sheet, so no squirrels of any size”

    Shame as the idea of giant sabre toothed squirrels roaming a frozen Scotland has a certain appeal, that would be a re-wilding/extinction recovery campaign I’d support

  21. I’d always assumed the Scottish Highlands were a very long way away, but maybe Father Dougal was right and it is simply much much smaller than we had been led to believe?

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