Sometime after the end of the last Ice Age, between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, humans began to construct settlements and develop a livelihood that did not require a constant migration to new food areas. Where mankind had previously relied on making simple tools for hunting, it now became more advanced and started to domesticate animals and vegetation. This rather rapid change from hunter-gathering towards an agricultural and farming existence involved a greater intensification of output and gave mankind a greater chance of prosperity and survival.
On a small scale, the environmental impacts of the first agricultural processes would have been negligible. However, for populations to prosper and grow it became necessary to increase agricultural output, which in turn required the conversion of natural systems. Forests, for example, were felled to make way for crops. The environmental repercussions of this may well have been serious. Where woodlands were cleared, soil erosion would have occurred leading to flooding. Regular harvesting of crops would have led to the depletion of soil nutrients. The conversion of land for agriculture involved the destruction of natural ecosystems. Loss of ecosystems, especially those supporting rare and sensitive species, would have resulted in a loss of species diversity and richness.
More recently, a revolution in agricultural practices in the Western world has accelerated the development of mankind and increased the stresses placed upon the environment. During the 18th and 19th centuries modern farming machinery began to replace hand tools, whilst improved farming methods, for example crop rotation and the use of hybrid crops, led to a substantial increase in agricultural output. This rapid development of agriculture coincided with the Industrial Revolution.