Hugh Warwick’s Linescapes is an uplifting and heartfelt review of our landscape here in Britain today. The result of 11,000 years in the making, we sit upon a fragmented patchwork of application – we have made this island our own. The people whose feet stomped the dusty path beneath mine have built a prosperous nation, a safe haven for humans but at an indifference to the ecological consequences of continued progress.
Warwick starts his journey at the beginning, he looks back in time and travels to an area of archaeological preservation. High on the heath of Dartmoor National Park are the remains of houses, ceremonial graves and field boundaries, 10,000 hectares (39 sq mi) of them. Reaves we call them, crumbling away but still an active divide between the ancient field systems and the open moorland. I’ve lived, played, studied and trained in this unique landscape but I can’t help but continue to re-evaluate the significance of this peat covered granite outcrop. Only now I understand the role these sprinkled pieces of archaeology play not only in connecting people to the landscape but as a crucial habitat feature for stoats and wheatears.
Humans initially built lines to protect ourselves but this need to install order transformed into something more aggressive: track ways, canals and railways to facilitate commerce and expansion.
But paradoxically, as Hugh puts it himself, the lines built to fragment our landscape such as walls, hedges, ditches and dykes have become agents of connection for wildlife, whereas the lines we carve into the landscape for connection such as rails and roads have become agents of fragmentation for wildlife.
Due to my work I spend a great deal of time on the open road, or more accurately stuck in traffic jams. This last week as I was sat in traffic on the M6 just north of Birmingham, I couldn’t help but find a strange artistic beauty in the concrete columns of this spaghetti junction. I contemplated Warwick’s words as I looked over this soft estate wandering what might live in these un-peopled woods, are dormouse settled here as Warwick found them alongside the A36? Are these trees invasive ash or maturing native broadleaf? I can’t answer these questions but Warwick has given me hope that with the correct management our roads and railways if managed appropriately can be turned from impenetrable zones into highways of biodiversity, or more accurately I suppose, it gives me hope that we can make the most of these un-peopled areas, our shared land that lies between economic growth and personal mobility.
Chapter by chapter Warwick explores these lines of division and connectivity, walking us through the beautiful green lanes, along ditches and dykes, peering over the garden hedge.
Like daydreaming from the window of a speeding train, Hugh has taken me on a journey from the archaeological Reaves surrounding my Dartmoor home to the proposed site of the controversial HS2. We look at not only how these lines and barriers have changed the landscape but also propose realistic solutions to remapping, and reconnecting, Britain’s fragmented wildlife.
My favourite part of Warwick’s adventure is his journey to the Great Fen Project. Why? Because the Great Fen Project is the quintessential conservation project, an attempt to reclaim a lost landscape by reconnect two remaining ancient wetland sites: Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen. A wonderfully ambitious project but it isn’t as I, or perhaps even Warwick, at first expected.
I believe Warwick came to this site having read George Monbiot’s Feral and expecting to find rewilding as the solution but much to Warwick’s surprise, this project isn’t rewilding, it is managed every single step of the way.
This is a book to challenge your preconceptions and prejudices.