Since the last Ice Age mankind has shaped and changed our landscape in a multitude of ways. Some of these layers of history have vanished and can only be detected by the latest in archaeological techniques. However, there are other changes that we have made that are still visible even thousands of years after they have been created. It is these lines of roads, hedges, walls, canals and railways that criss-cross our landscapes and have sliced and diced them into ever smaller fragments that Warwick is interested in. Modern agriculture has decimated the wildlife across our land, a theme picked up by John Lewis-Stempel in the Running Hare and Stephen Moss in the Wild Kingdom, thankfully it is these linescapes that can offer a sanctuary to our much-beleaguered wildlife.
To discover how our wildlife is faring Warwick takes to the highways and byways, climbs the high grounds by the walls, peers into the hedges, wades through the ditches, floats lazily along a canal, treads carefully along our railway lines and walks warily under the pylons. Some of these lines, the roads in particular, is utter carnage for mammals and birds in particular, in other places wildlife is just about clinging onto existence too. There are some success stories, the industrial might of the canals faded long ago, and rather than being grubby dirty places as Warwick is expecting, they are now havens for all sorts of aquatic creatures and even the exotic blue darts that are kingfishers have made their home there. Simple changes can have a massive effect, just by not cutting a verge can improve life for invertebrates and the birds that feed off them immeasurably. The power lines that stretch across our landscapes claim a fair number of causalities but the space below them is being used to create something called the Natural Grid. Inspired by the report Making Space for Nature by Sir John Lawton this concluded that SSI’s were too dislocated and were accelerating the decline of wildlife generally; where the Natural Grid comes in is to ensure that the land beneath the power lines is managed effectively with wild flowers and plants to act as feeding stations.
Linescapes is a timely book, Warwick pulls together a lot of disparate elements of the landscape and tries to make us think about them in a cohesive way. There are examples of where good practice can make such a difference and he even visits the Devil’s Punchbowl in Surrey to see what a properly planned change can be like. The time is now to make properly considered changes, and they need not be big changes to make a real difference to our beautiful countryside and natural world.