Very little or nothing in an English landscape is entirely natural and untouched. Mankind has modified the land in some way or other to support its domination of the earth.
‘One needs to be a botanist, a physical geographer, and a naturalist, as well as an historian, to be able to feel certain that one has all the facts before allowing the imagination to play over the small details of a scene. For unless the facts are right there is no pleasure in this imaginative game’.
The Making of the English Landscape, W.G. Hoskins.
Most readers of comments on this Website will be familiar with the theory of woodland climax. The British Isles at one time were heavily wooded. Dominant oakland covered most of the lowland area with some conifers, mainly juniper over the higher regions. If the English/Welsh landscapes were left to their own natural resources they would eventually revert to oak forest.
Many landscapes, interesting and ‘naturalistic’ in appearance have developed over time by a process of human civilisation. From an initial period we refer to as ‘slash and burn’, systematic interventions to grow crops and create grasslands have gradually brought about the present landscapes of today.
Changing methods of agriculture, mining for minerals and quarrying for stone have integrated into the landscape forming a generally attractive typical English landscape of today. Early development of settlements turning from hamlets to established villages in various vernacular materials are recognised as beauty spots.
Farming developed over the centuries culminating in an agricultural revolution that was closely followed by the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing industries including cloth mills, potteries etc were supported by rising increases in coal mining and some areas were badly damaged by exploitation of the land. Iron and steel foundries have polluted surrounding countryside with chemical fallout. Excessive sheep grazing over the uplands have created vast grassland areas of interesting but bare and barren hills.
Man has continually modified the landscape mostly to meet the demands from the population for housing, roads and the infrastructure necessary for an increasing civilisation. Flooding in many areas has been the outcome of manmade interventions now requiring serious consideration. Upper regions where there is high precipitation are unable, due to the bare nature of the sheep grasslands, to sufficiently absorb the rainfall. The run-off down into the increasingly populated areas can become flooded. Housing has overdeveloped the lowland ‘floodplain’ meadows of the past. This prohibits any attempt to prevent ‘flash-flooding’ and generally disperse the rainwater.
The flow of water from highland to lowland can be controlled to some extent by intervention such as minor dams in the uplands. Streams and rivers could have controlled diversions to allow runoff over farmland. Sheep grazing on the highlands could be reduced to allow some increase in the vegetation to absorb and prevent the scale of runoff. These restorative methods would enhance the wildlife population and may generally improve conditions of the natural landscape.
NB. I am in no way advocating a dramatic removal of sheep from the uplands but I believe that some reduction is necessary. ‘Sustainable commoning by responsible allocation’.