Galloway has been rebuilt over the last 30 years. This small, frequently overlooked corner of Scotland has been trained to produce staggering amounts of renewable energy and timber products, not to mention around half of Scotland’s milk. This boom represents an extraordinary leap of progress, but it has also taken a heavy toll on the culture and heritage of an ancient and distinctive landscape.

It’s clear what Scotland gets from Galloway; we can measure our productivity in gallons and megawatts, but it doesn’t always feel like a two-way street. There are few jobs for young people in the south west. Investment in local infrastructure seems to melt and crumble every year. In the face of accelerating development, local communities frequently lodge notes of concern and protest, but these are routinely overturned or ignored by government ministers in Edinburgh. Our commercial outputs have gone through the roof, but it often feels like we’re being left behind; disempowered and ignored.

The campaign to designate Galloway as a National Park was recently met with a resounding “no” from Holyrood. In 2014, a massive hoard of Viking treasure was unearthed by a metal detectorist in Galloway. It was whisked away to Edinburgh so quickly that it made our heads spin. All this might read like gripe or grievance, but the south west has been on the back foot for decades.

Even as a child growing up in Galloway, it was always very clear that I lived in a fine, mighty place. I never wanted to leave, but young people find it incredibly hard to get started here. I was lucky to have been brought up in a farming family, and it seemed obvious that I should work with cattle. Cows have been our currency here since before history began, and Belted Galloways are an internationally recognisable trademark for southern Scotland. Working a number of jobs and saving up a few pounds here and there, I finally invested in a small number of hairy Galloway cows in 2015. Almost immediately, I was swallowed up into a culture and sense of continuity which was dazzling in its clarity and intensity. I never really left south west Scotland, but agriculture gave me a compelling connection to the place where I belonged.

Hill farming is slow work. Starting with four heifers, it has taken five years to build a herd of 30. Each beast has its own character and attitude, and together they work as part of a system which created these old moorland places many thousands of years ago. Check on cattle at dawn or dusk and walk between their heavy bodies; it’s a transportation to a different epoch. But life in this landscape is changing day by day. Commercial and industrial pressures are forcing our ancient places into fresh, untested new shapes. Galloway is famous for its granite foundations, but this place has begun to move so quickly that nothing is certain anymore.

I have always been fascinated by birds. More than any other species, curlews seemed to represent the rough, endless Galloway landscapes that I had known as a child. However, many of these places have simply vanished over the past 20 years. Come down into Galloway through Carsphairn nowadays and you’ll pass through 100 square miles of commercial forest plantation, electricity pylons and wind turbines. That used to be curlew country; a place where the birds were so numerous that naturalists could hardly be bothered to count them. But curlews have declined by almost three quarters since 1994, and it seems likely that they could soon be gone altogether.

Curlews depend upon wide, moorland habitats which are created and maintained by old-fashioned agriculture. As I worked with traditional cattle over several years, I steadily sank into a way of life that is now facing extinction. Galloway cows produce excellent beef, but their carcases are small and slow-growing. Supermarkets prefer to work with faster breeds of cattle, and the financial case for farming in the hills gets slimmer every year. No matter how carefully I herded my cows and drove them out to the moors, money remained tight and fewer curlews returned to breed each year.

As farming and forestry have intensified, curlews have been pressed out of existence - It’s fair to reckon that they have now declined too far to recover here. Huge new forest creation targets mean that thousands of acres of their habitat continue to be be ploughed and planted every year; a forester friend confessed that the industry now has a simple goal; to plant up the places they missed in the 1970s.

It’s not clear where this leaves Galloway. For all that I mourn the loss of curlews, their decline is simply part of a much bigger shift in culture, heritage and communities in the south west. I find meaning and value in the old farming ways, but I can’t deny that I am fretting over the remains of something that is already dead. I’m tortured by the realisation that we have lost so much, but as I sank deeper into keeping and breeding Galloway cattle, I was ever more tantalised by the realisation that powerful fragments of the old ways remain.

There is something very human in the culture of this place which nothing can erase. Most people find Galloway strangely enigmatic. We’re just part of “Dumfries and Galloway”, and it’s not always clear to outsiders where the line lies between these two component parts. Many people say it doesn’t matter, but try saying “Galloway doesn’t exist” to a pub full of folk in Castle Douglas or Newton Stewart. It’s not always a pretty place or an easy existence; life in these hills can be desperately isolated and lonely, but the hardships are often more formative and interesting than days when the moors tremble with smiles and sunshine.

It turns out that my style of farming calls for a difficult balance between loss and preservation. The way things have gone in Galloway, we have not been able to choose what we are allowed to keep and what has been taken from us. My grandfather would have said that it was unimaginable to think of Galloway without curlews; the birds seemed to serve as an icon for the place. But as curlews begin to slip out of sight, there’s still hope in the discovery that some things can never be lost.

Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape by Patrick Laurie is published by Birlinn (£14.99) and is shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. The winner is announced on September 9.