Tag: Britian

Nature vs. culture or cultured nature?

Yosemite

Scenic landscape of Yosemite Valley. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When most people think of national parks they think of famous examples such as Yellow Stone and Yosemite in the United States or the Serengeti in Tanzania. These parks are large in scale with an emphasis on wild life conservation and the preservation of scenic landscapes.1 Human activity and presence is restricted and regulated and people are mainly visitors. This does not imply that the nature in these places has been untouched by humans. In Yosemite for example there was farming in the past and the management of he park is far from passive. The question is not wether untouched  nature is good and anthropocentric influence on natural systems is less desirable.2  The question is wether we would like to protect nature for the sake of nature or for the benefit of ourselves and other species. It is a question of grades of human interference and impact not one of untouched nature.

In recent years discussions of how to protect nature has been intensified with the debate surrounding the rewilding of landscapes outside of these national parks and some have propose to give more space to nature and restrict human activity.3 A new take on this debate will come from famous biologist E.O. Wilson  in a forthcoming book which proposes to set half of the land surface of the earth apart for wildlife. Unlike some others his take on rewilding is anthropocentric and he does not want exclude people from nature but regards them as an integral part of it.4 This sounds all quite novel but the reality is that in many countries nature conservation and human activity have never been separated like in Yosemite or the Serengeti. Continue reading

Podcast 66: The UK National Grid: history of an energy landscape and its impacts

Pylons

Electricity Pylons. Source: Geograph.org.uk

We take electricity for granted and do not think of where it comes from when we switch on a light or use an electrical appliance. But behind the electricity coming out of a wall socket lays an entire energy landscape of poles, wires, electrical substations and power stations. It is imposed on the landscape like a gigantic web, a grid that has become almost part of the natural scenery.

Just over a century ago this electricity grid did not exist. Power generation was local or at best regional and often based on the burning of coal or the use of locally produced gas. In less than a century the grid covered the entire United Kingdom and many other countries. It revolutionised our lives, the way we worked and it made air in cities a whole lot cleaner. But how did the development of this energy landscape impact on the landscape and environment? What were the social and economic consequences of the expansion of the grid?

This history is now researched by Cambridge based PhD candidate Kayt Button. Her project is part of the British Arts and Humanities Research Council funded environmental history initiative “The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures”, that focuses on environmental connectivities that have emerged in Britain since industrialisation. Episode 66 of the Exploring Environmental History podcast features Kayt’s work and discusses the development of the UK National Grid, and how it changed people’s lives, its environmental impacts and how the past informs the future development of the grid.

Websites mentioned & other resources
The Water and the Power Project website
Blog posts & poster by Kayt Button
Exeter Memories: Electricity Generation in Exeter
South Western Electricity Historical Society
UK National Grid at 75

Music credits
Dance of the Pixels” by Doxent Zsigmond, available from ccMixter
Snowdaze” by Jeris, available from ccMixter

 

 

The production of this podcast was supported by the Water and the Power project and the AHRC.
AHRCPower and the water

Podcast 65: Environmental history of a hydrological landscape: the soughs of Derbyshire

Sough tail

Sough tail (Photo: Georgina Enfield)

Under the Peak District of Derbyshire is a subterranean network of drainage tunnels, the so-called soughs that were used to drain the lead mines of the region

Up till the 16th century most lead mining In the Peak District done on the surface and miners followed horizontal seams. By then the surface seams were exhausted and miners had to sink shafts to reach rich underground seams. By the 17th century most mines were down to the water table. To prevent the mines from filling up with water drains or ‘soughs’ were cut through the hills to a neighboring valley. The construction of soughs changed the hydrological landscape of the Peak District, both below ground and above. In some cases the soughs not only drained mineshafts but also the small rivers above, which as a result were dry most of the year. The construction of soughs also reduced the flow of watercourses powering the mills of the early Industrial Revolution. This led to legal conflicts between sough builders and others who relied on the availability of water. Petitions were submitted to the courts and many of these court cases rumbled on for decades.

During the 20th century the soughs were largely forgotten but recently the soughs have been rediscovered for their industrial heritage on the one hand, and their detrimental effect on the hydrology of the landscape, pitting heritage values versus ecological restoration, creating a new battle ground of interests.

This edition of the podcast examines the environmental history of the Derbyshire Soughs with Carry van Lieshout, a historical geographer at the University of Nottingham. She works on a research project that investigates the environmental and cultural history of the Derbyshire soughs in order to inform understandings of this largely forgotten cultural landscape and to develop management and conservation strategies for underground heritage.

Website mentioned
The Water and the Power Project website

Further reading
From Lead to Tail: an Environmental History of the Derbyshire Soughs. Poster presented by Carry van Lieshout at the World Congress of Environmental History in Guimarães, Portugal, July 2014.

Peter Coates, Who killed the Lathkill? (or, when is a river is no longer a river?), The Power and the Water blog, 5 Nov. 2014.

T. D. Ford and Rieuwerts, J., Lead miners’ soughs in Derbyshire, Geology Today, 23 (2007): 57–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2451.2007.00604.x
 
Music credits
Like Music (cdk Mix, 2013 & 2014)” by cdk, available from ccMixter

 

The production of this podcast was supported by the Power and the Water project and the AHRC.
AHRCPower and the water

Podcast 53: Desire for the Wild – Wild Desires? The trouble with rewilding

Konik ponies

A foal in the Konik pony herd at Wicken Fen.
Photo: Dolly Jørgensen.

It is undeniable that human influence is now felt in almost every ecosystem, region and ocean of the world. As a result wilderness or wild nature is becoming less abundant. In response to this less wild world, landscape and ecosystem restorations are undertaken all over the globe. One of these places is the wetland area of Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, England, where the National Trust is attempting a landscape scale restoration. This programme is not just about restoring but also “rewilding” the landscape. A big part of the Wicken Fen restoration involves the introduction of large grazers: Konik ponies and Highland cattle.

In April a workshop was held at Wicken Fen entitled Desire for the Wild – Wild Desires? Re-wilding in a world of social, environmental and climate change. This workshop considered what “wild” and “rewilding” of nature means and what history can contribute to efforts to rewild and restore landscapes and ecosystems.

Map Wicken Fen

Map of Wicken fen and location.
source: Ordnance Survey, One-inch
to the mile maps of England and Wales,
New Popular Edition, 1945-1947, sheet 135.

The guest on this podcast is is Dolly Jørgensen, a historian of Science and the Environment based at Umeå University in Sweden. Dolly presented a paper at the workshop on how rewilding has been an argument meaning different things to different academic sub-groups, all with a different historical notion of ‘when was wild’. Dolly deconstructs the different meanings of rewilding, and also follows the trail to find wildness all around us.

This podcast is the first of two episodes exploring the Desire for the Wild – Wild Desires? workshop.

Literature mentioned & further reading
William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”, In: William Cronon (ed.), Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (New York: W. W. Norton, 1995), pp. 69-90.

Josh Donlan, et al., “Re-wilding North America”, Nature, Vol. 436 (18 August 2005), pp. 913-914.

Josh Donlan, et al., “Pleistocene Rewilding: An Optimistic Agenda for Twenty‐First Century Conservation”,The American Naturalist, Vol. 168, No. 5 (November 2006), pp. 660-681.

Caroline Fraser, Rewilding the World. Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009)

George Monbiot, Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding (London: Allen Lane, 2013)

Ian D. Rotherham, The Lost Fens: England’s Greatest Ecological Disaster (The History Press, 2013)

Relevant web resources
The Return of Native Nordic Fauna – A Research Blog by Dolly Jørgensen

Dolly Jørgensen, Reflections on rewilding, Return of Native Nordic Fauna, 30 September 2013. Includes the video mentioned in the podcast.

The Places that Speak to us project website

Paul Warde, The Anthropocene: finding ourselves back in the wilderness. Reflections on the workshop on Re-wilding and Wild Desires at Wicken, 18-19 April 2013

Carl Elliot Smith, Rewilding: should we introduce lions and Komodo dragons to Australia?, ABC RN Radio, Wednesday 3 July, 2013. Listen also to Future Tense to find out more about the strand of conservation theory known as rewilding.

George Monbiot, My manifesto for rewilding the world, The Guardian, 28 May, 2013.

Also listen to episodes 38 and 40 of Exploring Environmental History Podcast. Both explore the Wicken Fen Vision and the history of the Fens of Cambridgeshire.

Music credits
Where You Are Now” by Zapac, available from ccMixter
Cm 105 bpm” by Admiral Bob, available from ccMixter

AHRCThe Places that Speak to Us Project and the production of this podcast was funded by the AHRC Landscape & Environment Programme.

This podcast was simultaneously published on the Histories of Environmental Change website.

Podcast 49: Kielder: the story of a man-made landscape

Kielder houses

Former Forestry Commission workers houses in Kielder Village withforestry plantations in the background. Source: geograph.org.uk/Stephen Richards.

Around the world, rural landscapes have been transformed by human activity as never before. In England, one of the most striking locations of such anthropogenic changes is Kielder Forest and Water in Northumberland. Since the 1920s, this site has seen a massive tree planting effort, creating one of the largest man-made forests in Western Europe. During the 1970s a large dam and reservoir were constructed at Kielder in order to create a secure water supply for the industries at Teeside. As a result Kielder has witnessed significant and dramatic environmental changes over the course of the twentieth century, as it was transformed from a pastoral agricultural landscape, to that of a commercial forest and finally it received the addition of a large man-made lake.

Construction Kielder Reservoir

The construction of Kielder Dam
and Reservoir. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

To tease out how people have experienced and perceived the man-made environment of Kielder, the Kielder Oral History Project was conducted. On this episode of the podcast, the two researchers who carried out the Oral History project, Professor David Moon of the University of York and Dr Leona Skelton of Durham University, will discuss some of their findings.

 

 

Books and articles mentioned

Christine McCulloch, Dam Decisions and Pipe Dreams: The Political Ecology of Reservoir Schemes (Teesdale, Farndale and Kielder Water) in North East England (Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag, 2008)

R. McIntosh,’The history and multi-purpose management of Kielder Forest’, Forest Ecology and Management, 79 (November 1995) 1–2, pp 1–11.

Ruth Tittensor, From Peat Bog to Conifer Forest: An Oral History of Whitelee, its Community and Landscape (Chichester: Packard Publishing, 2009).

Relevant links
Kielder oral History project report
Kielder Village Website
Kielder Water and Forest Park website
Kielder Water Wikipedia page
Kielder Forest Wikipedia page

Music credits

Memories of an Old Dog” by Fireproof_Babies
Available from ccMixter

Where You Are Now” by Zapac
Available from ccMixter


Acknowledgements:
The interviews were conducted by Dr Leona Skelton at Kielder during the week 15-19 October 2012. We would like to acknowledge the support of Northumbrian Water plc, especially Andrew Moore and Tonia Reeve, the Forestry Commission, in particular Graham Gill, Julie and Steve Webb of the Kielder Village Store, Duncan Hutt of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, and the staff of the Calvert Trust Kielder for their assistance in setting up the interviews and, especially, all those who agreed to be interviewed.

AHRCThe Kielder Oral History Project and the production of this podcast was funded by the AHRC Landscape & Environment Programme.

This podcast was simultaneously published on the Histories of Environmental Change website.

Podcast 40: Reframing a vision of lost fens

Wicken Fen

The landscape of Wicken Fen
(Photo: Jan Oosthoek)

Wetlands were once common over a large part of eastern England. Of these so-called fens only two percent survives today and most of it is now situated in nature reserves. One of these reserves is Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. It represents a landscape that was once common in the region, combining sedge fens, reed beds and woodland, and was once a major source of food and fuel for local communities. Wicken was one of the very first properties to be bought by the National Trust in 1899. Today Wicken Fen is the focus of a controversial proposal to radically expand the area of managed wetland around the reserve and to return arable land to its former wetland condition. On this podcast we interview Stuart Warrington, Nature Conservation Advisor for the National Trust at Wicken Fen, about these proposed changes and the role of history in recreating the wetlands.

Map Wicken fen

Map of Wicken fen and location.
Source: Ordnance Survey, One-inch
to the mile maps of England and Wales,
New Popular Edition, 1945-1947,
sheet 135.

The second half of the podcast is devoted to a talk delivered by Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University at a two-day workshop organised by the Histories of Environmental Change Network in November 2010. In his talk Ian analyses the attitudes towards the fens over the centuries and how these influenced the desire to drain thousands of square kilometres of wetland. He also considers the rich wild life in these wetlands and what a rich resources these provided for its inhabitants.

Website mentioned
Histories of Environmental Change

Literature cited
Rod Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology (Edinburgh University Press, 1996)

T. C. Smout, Nature Contested: Environmental History in Scotland and Northern England since 1600(Edinburgh University Press, 2000)

Music credit
Mechanics in Love (Cue 3) flac Stems” by boomaga
Available from ccMixter
 

Podcast 38: The draining of the East Anglia Fens: social unrest, design flaws and unintended environmental consequences

This episode of the podcast examines the history of the Fens, a region of wetlands in East Anglia in England. The Fenland primarily lies around the coast of the Wash in the Northern top of East Anglia.

The Fens are at or just above sea-level and, as with similar areas in the Netherlands, much of the Fenland originally consisted of wetlands which have been artificially drained since the Middle Ages and continue to be protected from floods by a system of drains, dams and pumps. Much of this work was carried out during the 17th century. With the support of this drainage and coastal protection system and because of its fertility, the Fens have become a major agricultural region in Britain for grains and vegetables.

The story of the reclamation of the fens is one of social unrest, design flaws, money problems and unintended environmental consequences. The guest on this episode of the podcast is Julie Bowring, a PhD candidate at Yale University and she is in the final stages of writing up a dissertation on the so-called Great Level of the Fens in Cambridgeshire, England.

Map Great Level

Development of the Great Level, 1503-1658. Map: Julie Bowring/Wikipedia

Website mentioned 
Histories of Environmental change

Literature cited
H.C. Darby, The Draining of the Fens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940)

Music credit
The Pond ” by Chuck Berglund
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 31: Environmental History of the 2012 Olympic site: the Lower River Lea

Map London

London and West Ham ca. 1901.
Map courtesy Jim Clifford

Former industrial sites worldwide are constantly reinvented and redeveloped reflecting changes in economies and societies over time. Nowhere else in Europe is regeneration of a former industrial site more spectacular than the 2012 Olympic site on the banks of the River Lea in West Ham, East London. The creation of the Olympic park promises the rehabilitation of the Lower Lea Valley by restoring its eco-system and revitalising the community of the area.

But the Lower River Lea has a long history, going as far back as the 11th century, of industrial development and associated environmental degeneration. Jim Clifford, a doctoral student at York University in Toronto, talks in this episode of the podcast about the environmental and social history of West Ham and the Lower Lea River. He highlights that there have been attempts in the earlier 20th century to improve the Lea River’s environmental and social conditions but that the high expectations of these schemes were not always met.

Blog mentioned in this podcast
Westham and the Lower Lea River – Blog by Jim Clifford

Music credit
Trawnicing” by Pitx
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 20: Great Floods of Northumbria, 1771-2008

The theme of this podcast is the history of severe river flooding in the north east of England. With the floods in the town of Morpeth in September 2008 fresh in the minds of people in Northern England it seems appropriate to look back in time to great historic floods and to see whether the rivers of Northumberland have produced even greater floods than those experienced recently. The guest on this podcast is David Archer, a retired hydrologist who worked for Northumbrian Water and the National Rivers Authority, and an expert on the history of floods in the North east of England. He will explore the great floods in the Tyne basin of the past 250 years and even beyond. In addition David will discuss what historical sources are used for the reconstruction of past floods and how such information can be used for current flood risk management.

Map Northeast England

River systems of northeast England and places mentioned in the podcast.

Podcast 16: Urban air pollution in historical perspective

Urban air pollution is certainly not a new problem. During the Middle Ages the use of coal in cities such as London was beginning to increase. By the the 17th century the problems of urban air pollution are well documented.

The Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries was based on the use of coal. In addition the burning of coal in homes for domestic heat pusehed urban air pollution levels further up with sometime disastrous results. The Great London Smog of 1952 resulted in around 4,000 extra deaths in the city, and led to the introduction of the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968.

The problems realated to air pollution, past and present, are well known but less known is the cultural history attached to air pollution. In this edition of Exploring Environmental History Stephen Mosley of Leeds Beckett University explores how Victorians and Edwardians viewed air pollution and how they dealt with it. He also suggests that there is a continuation of perceptions of air pollution that links us with the Victorians.

The colonial origins of scientific forestry in Britain

Around 1850 Britain had no forestry service and there was no formal training of foresters. Forestry was still practised in the context of estates mainly owned by the aristocracy and managed by foresters who had learned the traditional management techniques under an apprentice system from their predecessors. British forestry was fragmented, not formalised, and far from centralised during the entire 19th century. Most of the forestry remained concentrated on large privately owned estates, especially in Scotland, where it served the double purpose of ornamental woods and, to a lesser extent, wood production for local use.1The British Government and many landowners did not feel the necessity to increase timber production and introduce modern formalised forestry practices from the continent because the British had direct access to the large timber reserves of their Empire, of Scandinavia and the Baltic states. Importing timber from overseas was much cheaper than to produce it back home in Britain.2  Continue reading

Podcast 4: Resources, the past and the present

This podcast reports on the annual meeting of British Environmental Historians held at the Open University in Milton Keynes on 19 May 2006. The theme of this day conference organized by the EAEH-UK Branch was the use of sources in Environmental History. Interviews with participants cover the use of historical records in modern natural resource management, the Soil Association and Lady Eve Balfour and the history of the stratosphere.

Taking the Pledge: A Study of Children’s Nature Conservation Movements in Britain 1870-1914

By Fred Milton

The late Victorian era saw an increased public concern for the welfare and protection of wildlife, particularly birds. This included the formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the institution of bird protection legislation and the founding of children’s societies with the objective of educating and teaching children to be kind to wildlife. This relationship between children and their behaviour towards animals was of course not new. Continue reading

Podcast 1: What is Environmental History?

Environmental history is a rapidly expanding subfield of history. This podcast will introduce listeners to what environmental history is and why it is needed. In the second part of the podcast Fred Milton, a postgraduate student at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, will talk about his work on the development of children’s environmental societies in the period between about 1870-1914 in Britain.