When did the British landscape acquire its modern look, take II

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Kate 2 years, 8 months ago.

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  • #15697

    tommm
    Participant

    My apologies for the 2nd post, but it looks like the server ate my first try.  So….Hello all, I'm new, and am looking forward to learning more in these forums.  I also have a question that came to mind as I was listening to the last podcast.  I'm an American that has visited Wales several times, and I find it very beautiful, but also it is lacking in wildness.  It seems like humans have been in Britain for so long that there is no wilderness left.  So, I'm curious when the British Isles acquired their modern look.  In the Dark Ages, were there still wolves, bear, and lynx?  Were there large forests?  I also seem to recall hearing that in Wales when the trees were cut down, the soil was somehow altered in such a way that the forests won't grow back, and instead you get bracken.  I'd love to know if this is true.  Thanks all!

  • #18571

    Liam
    Participant

    Would have been at least a few hundred years after that cos the early norman kings had their forest laws which implies that there was still a substantial amount of forest left

  • #18572

    tommm
    Participant

    Thanks Liam.  Wikipedia tells me that the bear and lynx became extinct around 500AD, and the wolves became very rare in England around 1500AD, hanging on for another 100 years or so in Scotland.  However, I haven't found much on the forests.This does bring to mind another question: is there any drive in Britain to try and re-establish natural ecosystems (although I know that defining "natural" is a judgement call)?  Here in the States I'd say there's a significant minority that would like to preserve lands in their most wild state, and I wonder if the British approach to preservation and nature is different?

  • #18573

    anonymous
    Participant

    I suppose this may depend on what your idea of “wilderness” is.To my British mind, there are many parts of these islands that do qualify as wilderness.  Tent on my back, I've travelled through many areas spending days totally remote from civilisation.  In Wales there are the Brecon Beacons (used for selection and survival training of the SAS) and Snowdonia.  The Scottish Highlands have vast areas of remote wilderness and England is well served between the Peak and Lakes Districts, not to mention places like Dartmoor.All of these areas are predominantly moorland and you are right that after the trees were felled, mosses took over and made the soil too acidic for young trees to gain a foothold, not to mention exposure to the strong winds without the shelter of mature trees around them.As with any country with an established agricultural heritage, accessible land has long been developed and exploited.  There are plough furrows still visible in some areas that date back many thousands of years so that gives an idea of how long this has been going on.  It's the areas that are either too barren or too difficult terrain that now remain as wilderness but we do have plenty of these.We do still have large forested areas, some natural and some plantation.  These are nothing to compare with Scandinavia or parts of North America though.

  • #18574

    anonymous
    Participant

    I also meant to add that there have been moves in Scotland to reintroduce beaver and wolves to the wild.  The latter hasn't happened yet and landowners are understandably concerned about the risks to their livestock but a beaver reintroduction is successfully under way: http://www.scottishbeavers.org.uk/

  • #18575

    tommm
    Participant

    One thing I find fascinating is that here in the U.S. the idea of wilderness has a sacred quality to it, as if having wild lands is essential in the development of the American character.  There is a strong desire among some to return areas to their natural state, including plant and animals that were around before European settlement.  What constitutes being natural is a tricky question, however.  When I go to, say, the Brecon Beacons, the American in me wants to remove the sheep and treat the soils to bring back the “natural” forests.    I realize it's a cultural bias of mine, and I've always wondered how folks in the U.K. think of wilderness or nature, or if there is any sense that anything was lost as humans altered the local ecosystems.

  • #18576

    Jonny the Grognard
    Participant

    Honestly, I have never thought of the 'wilderness' as foresty or any kind of variation. I count the wilderness as woods and mountains and sheep. That is a basic description of what i consider wilderness

  • #18577

    tommm
    Participant

    I live in Colorado, and tend to think of wilderness as any place I can see no evidence of human structures or development.    I also would prefer if our government owned natural lands had their full compliment of native predators, since I see that as preserving biodiversity in the face of human encroachment.  But I realize this is all subjective, which is partially why I brought up the topic.  Cheers!

  • #18578

    Mick
    Participant

    Hello. I have spent a bit of time mooching around the Welsh borders in particular trying to make sense of the landscapes so for what it is worth…I don't think that there was a single transitional period for the landscape. More land was probably cleared in the neolithic and in particular the bronze age than people imagine. For instance large parts of Cornwall were already being farmed then and the landscape there is similar. Around the coast, borders and lowlands in Wales there are plenty of signs of fairly dense early habitation. Less so in the mountainous interior but even there most of the forestry is modern. In short, the human landscape is ancient. Genuine original woodland with long standing growth of indigenous species is comparatively rare. Notwithstanding, on wolves, it appears that the English King Athelstan rec'd 300 wolf skins every years from Hywel Dda of Wales; that would have been in the mid 900's. A.D. Liam, the forests referred to in the forest laws refers to areas where the hunting was reserved for the king. It doesn't mean that they were forests in the sense of being densely wooded.

  • #18579

    anonymous
    Participant

    I have travelled throughout the United States and in Scotland, and I don't want to make sweeping judgments, but I think there are at least two different ideas about what constitutes a “wilderness”.  I have been many places in the Western United States where the hand of man has touched but lightly; and while I saw many places in Scotland that were isolated, they all had the feel of a place that has been long inhabited.  It has to do with timing I think.  The Western United States began to be heavily settled in the latter half of the 19th century, around the same time as the conservation movement began to gain steam.  Whereas when the towns and villages of the British Isles began to be settled, they had no thought that 500-1000 years in the future their ancestors might be curious about what the place looked like before humans lived there.  But I think basically, the Brits have looked at wilderness as quite nice, but it must be controlled.  Whereas Americans, probably because it was settled so much later; and the country was so big; (and other reasons, which belong in a different podcast,) began to see wilderness as not just something that couldn't be controlled but later as something that shouldn't be controlled.  This isn't a slam against the Brits by the way, it is a function of time, technology and geography.By the way, this is apropos of nothing, but among the American members, do you find yourself being extra careful with the terms "English and British"?  I used to use them almost interchangably; (I know, I know, I'm embarassed,) but now I only use "English" to refer to someone or something from the country of England.

  • #18580

    anonymous
    Participant

    By the way, this is apropos of nothing, but among the American members, do you find yourself being extra careful with the terms "English and British"?  I used to use them almost interchangably; (I know, I know, I'm embarassed,) but now I only use "English" to refer to someone or something from the country of England.

    Yeah, totally!  There's Britain, Great Britain, England, and the UK... I think I've got them straight.Actually... while writing this I hit wikipedia and now I think I'm confused again :)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uk

  • #18581

    anonymous
    Participant

    One difference between the American and British views of the sanctity of nature may be that in Britain we've had longer to spread and much less space to spread into – there's still plenty of space in America left for wilderness.I imagine that even in the highlands of Scotland you will have some signs of human habitation, even if it's just the occasional fence designed to stop the sparse herds straying too far.  Certainly that seems to be the case in the Brecons and on Dartmoor.The lack of massive forests compounds the sense of never being too far away from civilization - visibility is much further.I believe there may be a secret policy by the mobile phone companies to preserve the surviving wilderness though.  Given my average phone signal...

  • #18582

    Kate
    Participant

    Hello.  Thanks for this topic, I am super interested in ideas of nature and the place of people in and relating to it.  If you want to explore this further, I HIGHLY recommend reading Ancient Woodland and/or History of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham.  He was a historical ecologist and describes natural history in a wonderfully readable way.

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