Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

HOW NATURAL IS NATURAL? HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WILDLIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN BRITAIN: Colin Matthew Memorial Lecture

  • Tom Williamson

Abstract

This article explores some of the ways in which historians can, and should, engage with current debates about the environment. What we often think of as ‘natural’ habitats in Britain – heaths, ancient woodland, meadows and the like – are largely anthropogenic in character, and much of our most familiar wildlife, from rabbits to poppies, are alien introductions. The environments we cherish are neither natural nor timeless, but are enmeshed in human histories: even the kinds of tree most commonly found in the countryside are the consequence of human choice. The ways in which the environment was shaped by past management systems – to produce fuel, as much as food – are briefly explored; and the rise of ‘rewilding’ as a fashionable approach to nature conservation is examined, including its practical and philosophical limitations and its potential impacts on the conservation of cultural landscapes.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      HOW NATURAL IS NATURAL? HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WILDLIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN BRITAIN
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      HOW NATURAL IS NATURAL? HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WILDLIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN BRITAIN
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      HOW NATURAL IS NATURAL? HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WILDLIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN BRITAIN
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

References

Hide All

1 Warde, P., Energy Consumption in England and Wales 1560–2000 (Naples, 2006).

2 Thomas, K., Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–1800 (1983).

3 Beresford, M., History on the Ground: Six Studies in Maps and Landscapes (1971); Hoskins, W. G., The Making of the English Landscape (1955); Hoskins, W. G., Fieldwork in Local History (1967).

4 Hoskins, Making of the English Landscape, 14.

5 Taylor, C., Fieldwork in Medieval Archaeology (1974); Village and Farmstead: A History of Rural Settlement in England (1983).

6 Rackham, O., Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape (1976); Ancient Woodland (1980); The History of the Countryside (1986).

7 Pollard, E., Hooper, M. D. and Moore, N., Hedges (1974).

8 Peterken, G., Meadows (2013).

9 Webb, N., Heathlands (1986); Webb, N., ‘The Traditional Management of European Heathlands’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 35 (1998), 987–90.

10 Groves, J. A., Waller, M. P., Grant, M. J. and Schofield, J. E., ‘Long Term Development of a Cultural Landscape: The Origins and Dynamics of Lowland Heathland in Southern England’, Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, 21 (2012), 453–70; Barnes, G., Whyte, P. Dallas, H. Thompson, N. and Williamson, T., ‘Heathland and Wood Pasture in Norfolk: Ecology and Landscape History’, British Wildlife, 18 (2007), 395403.

11 Lennard, T. Barrett, ‘Two Hundred Years of Estate Management at Horsford during the 17th and 18th Centuries’, Norfolk Archaeology, 20 (1921), 57139.

12 Rackham, History of the Countryside, 299–303.

13 Rackham, Ancient Woodland; Barnes, G. and Williamson, T., Rethinking Ancient Woodland (Hatfield, 2015).

14 Williamson, T., Barnes, G. and Pillatt, T., Trees in England: Management and Disease since 1600 (Hatfield, 2017), 81–2.

15 Barnes et al., Rethinking Ancient Woodland, 6–11, 122–30.

16 Doman, P., Fuller, R., Gill, R., Hooton, D. and Tabor, R., ‘Escalating Ecological Impact of Deer in Lowland Woodland’, British Wildlife, 21 (2010), 242–54.

17 Rackham, O., Woodlands (2011), 8290; Williamson et al., Trees in England, 122.

18 Norfolk Record Office BUL 2/3, 604X7; IR 29/5816; estate survey, 1752, Boughton House archives, no catalogue number. Lowe, R., General View of the Agriculture of the County of Nottingham (London, 1794), 34, 114.

19 Vancouver, C., General View of the Agriculture of Hampshire (London, 1810), 297; Stevenson, W., General View of the Agriculture of the County of Surrey (London, 1809), 127.

20 Boys, J., General View of the Agriculture of the County of Kent (London, 1805), 144.

21 Herefordshire Archives and Records, A63/111/56/12.

22 Williamson et al., Trees in England, 128–30.

23 Vera, F., Grazing Ecology and Forest History (Wallingford, 2002).

24 See, in particular, K. H. Hodder, P. C. Buckland, K. J. Kirby and J. M. Bullock, ‘Can the Pre-Neolithic Provide Suitable Models for Rewilding the Landscape in Britain?’, British Wildlife, 20, 5, 4–14; and the essays in Rotherham, I., Trees, Forested Landscape and Grazing Animals (2013).

25 Invasive and Introduced Plants and Animals: Human Perceptions, Attitudes and Approaches to Management, ed. I. D. Rotherham and R. A. Lambert (2011).

26 Mabey, R., Flora Britannica (1998), 138–40; Oswald, P., ‘The Fritillary in Britain: A Historical Perspective’, British Wildlife, 3 (1992), 200–10; Webb, D. A., ‘What Are the Criteria for Presuming Native Status?’, Watsonia, 15 (1985), 231–6; Thomas, S. and Dines, T., ‘Non-Native Invasive Plants in Britain: A Real, Not Imagined, Problem’, British Wildlife, 21 (2010), 177–83.

27 Yalden, D., The History of British Mammals (1999); Rackham, D. J., ‘The Introduction of the Black Rat into Britain’, Antiquity, 53 (1979), 112–20; Johnson, W. (ed.), Gilbert White's Journal (1931), 46.

28 Currie, C., ‘The Early History of Carp and Its Economic Significance in England’, Agricultural History Review, 39 (1991), 97107; Liddiard, R., The Medieval Deer Park: New Perspectives (Macclesfield, 2007); Sheail, J., Rabbits and Their History (1971).

29 Williamson, T., Rabbits, Warrens and Archaeology (Stroud, 2007).

30 Omans, C., The Great Revolt of 1381 (Oxford, 1906), 462–3.

31 Currie, C., ‘Fish Ponds As Garden Features’, Garden History 18 (1990), 2233; Williamson, Rabbits, Warrens and Archaeology, 164–75.

32 Lovegrove, R., Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation's Wildlife (Oxford, 2002).

33 White, G., The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne in the County of Southampton (London, 1813), 113.

34 Cowper, W., The Task (London, 1785), bk I, 37.

35 Gilbert, O., The Flowering of the Cities: The Natural Flora of ‘Urban Commons’ (Peterborough, 1982); Gilbert, O., ‘The Ecology of an Urban River’, British Wildlife, 3 (1992), 129–36; Gilbert, O., The Ecology of Urban Habitats (1989).

36 Owen, J., Wildlife of a Garden: A Thirty Year Study (Peterborough, 2010).

37 Foreman, D., Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century (Washington, DC, 2004); P. Jepson, , ‘A Rewilding Agenda for Europe: Creating a Network of Experimental Reserves’, Ecography, 36 (2015), 18; Soulé, M. and Noss, R., ‘Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation’, Wild Earth, 8 (1998), 1928; Linnell, J. D., Kaczensky, P., Wotschikowsky, U., Lescureux, N. and Boitani, L., ‘Framing the Relationship between People and Nature in the Context of European Conservation’, Conservation Biology, 29 (2015), 978–85.

38 Monbiot, G., Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding (2015).

39 von Wehrden, H., Abson, D. J., Beckmann, M., Cord, A. and Klotz, S., ‘Realigning the Land-Sharing/Land-Sparing Debate to Match Conservation Needs: Considering Diversity Scales and Landuse History’, Landscape Ecology, 29, 941–8; Law, E. A. and Wilson, K. A., ‘Providing Context for the Land-Sharing and Land-Sparing Debate’, Conservation Letters, 8 (2015), 404–13.

40 For a recent audit, see the ‘State of Nature 2016’ report: www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/stateofnature2016/.

41 Board of Agriculture Returns, 1896, 36; Commission, Forestry, Forestry Statistics 2016 (Edinburgh, 2016).

42 Williamson et al., Trees in England, 172–82.

43 Brasier, C. M., ‘Ophiostoma novo-ulmi sp. nov., Causative Agent of Current Dutch Elm Disease Pandemics’, Mycopathologia, 115 (1991), 151–61.

44 Brasier, C. M., ‘The Biosecurity Threat to the UK and Global Environment from International Trade in Plants’, Plant Pathology, 57 (2008), 792808; R. Cheffings and C. M. Lawrence, Chalara. A Summary of the Impacts of Ash Dieback on UK Biodiversity, Including the Potential for Long Term Monitoring and Future Research on Management Scenarios, JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) Report No. 501 (Peterborough, 2014); Denman, S. and Webber, J. F., ‘Oak Declines – New Definitions and New Episodes in Britain’, Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 103 (2009), 285–90.

45 Northamptonshire Record Office, ZB 887; Norfolk Record Office, MS 13751, 40E3.

46 Norfolk Record Office, HNR 465/3/1.

47 Mougou, A., Dutech, C. and Desprez-Loustau, M. L., ‘New Insights into the Identity and Origins of the Causal Agent of Oak Powdery Mildew in Europe’, Forest Pathology, 38 (2014), 275–87.

48 Ehrlich, J., ‘The Occurrence in the United States of Gryptococcus fagi (Baer) Dougl, the Insect Factor in a Menacing Disease of Beech’, Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 13 (1932), 7380; Chester, K. P., ‘The Phtopthora Disease of the Culla in America’, Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 11 (1930), 169–71.

49 Carlton, J., Marine Propellors and Propulsion (2012).

50 Blagrave, J., The Epitome of the Art of Husbandry (London, 1675), 114.

51 Mortimer, J., The Whole Art of Husbandry (London, 1707), 309.

52 Williamson et al., Trees in England, 119–22.

53 Nourse, T., Campania Felix (London, 1699), 27.

54 Cook, M., On the Manner of Raising, Ordering and Improving Forest-Trees (London, 1676), 171.

55 Fuller, R. J., Williamson, T., Barnes, G. and Dolman, P., ‘Human Activities and Biodiversity Opportunities in Pre-Industrial Cultural Landscapes: Relevance to Conservation’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 54 (2017), 459–69.

56 Dolman, P. M., Panter, C. and Mossman, H. L., Securing Biodiversity in Breckland: Guidance for Conservation and Research. First Report of the Breckland Biodiversity Audit (Norwich, 2010); Dolman, P. M., Panter, C. and Mossman, H. L., ‘The Biodiversity Audit Approach Challenges Regional Priorities and Identifies a Mismatch in Conservation’, Journal of Applied Ecology, 49 (2012), 986–97.

57 J. Belcher, ‘“The Greatest Wealth of Our Country”: The Fold Course in East Anglia’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of East Anglia, 2016); Bailey, M., A Marginal Economy? East Anglian Breckland in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1989).

58 Fuller et al., ‘Human Activities and Biodiversity Opportunities’, 468–9.

59 Ibid.

60 Peterken, G. F., Natural Woodland: Ecology and Conservation in Northern Temperate Regions (Cambridge, 1996), 13.

61 Rotherham, I. D., ‘Rhododendron Gone Wild: Conservation Implications of Rhododendron ponticum in Britain’, Biologist, 48 (2001), 711.

62 Brown, A. G., ‘Clearances and Clearings: Deforestation in Mesolithic/Neolithic Britain’, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 16 (1997), 133–46; Caseldine, C. and Hatton, J., ‘The Development of High Moorland on Dartmoor: Fire and the Influence of Mesolithic Activity on Vegetation Change’, in Climate Change and Human Impact on the Landscape, ed. Chambers, F. M. (1993), 119–31; Innes, J. B. and Simmons, I. G., ‘Mid-Holocene Charcoal Stratigraphy, Fire History and Palaeoecology at North Gill, North York Moors, UK’, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 164 (2000), 151–65; Lewis, H. T., ‘Fire Technology and Resource Management in Aboriginal North America and Australia’, in Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers, ed. Williams, N. M. and Hunn, E. S. (Boulder, 1982), 4567; Lyons, S. K., Smith, F. A. and Brown, J. H., ‘Of Mice, Mastodons and Men: Human-Mediated Extinctions on Four Continents’, Evolutionary Ecology Research, 6 (2004), 339–58.

63 D. Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017).

HOW NATURAL IS NATURAL? HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON WILDLIFE AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN BRITAIN: Colin Matthew Memorial Lecture

  • Tom Williamson

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed