281 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, b/w maps
While few detailed surveys of fauna or flora exist in England from the period before the nineteenth century, it is possible to combine the evidence of historical sources (ranging from game books, diaries, churchwardens' accounts and even folk songs) and our wider knowledge of past land use and landscape, with contemporary analyses made by modern natural scientists, in order to model the situation at various times and places in the more remote past.
This timely volume encompasses both rural and urban environments from 1650 to the mid-twentieth century, drawing on a wide variety of social, historical and ecological sources. It examines the impact of social and economic organisation on the English landscape, biodiversity, the agricultural revolution, landed estates, the coming of large-scale industry and the growth of towns and suburbs. It also develops an original perspective on the complexity and ambiguity of man/animal relationships in this post-medieval period.
"An Environmental History [...] is an engaging read, written with clarity and care, and with only the minimum use of specialized vocabulary."
– Terry O'Connor, University of York, UK, Institute of Historical Research, Reviews in History
"This book is an academic geographer's view on the changes that have shaped the English landscape and its wildlife over the past 400 years. It takes as its standpoint the assertion that our rural landscape is 'largely if not entirely artificial in character', albeit one once rich in wildlife. In Professor Williamson's view, 'heaths, woods and meadows are, in most ways, no more "natural" than suburban gardens'. I thought this old chestnut had been put to rest a long time ago but it keeps resurfacing. [...] On a more positive note, Williamson quotes freely from contemporary texts about changes to the landscape and what people thought about them. [...] Probably little of this will come as a revelation to British Wildlife readers, and the cramped pages, relieved only by the occasional map or muddy halftone, make reading hard on the eyes. Much of it has been better said elsewhere but Williamson does at least provide an overview based on a huge range of sources. But, as I say, it is troubling that even academics can believe that our crowded landscape is essentially man-made. Whatever happened to the teachings of ecology?"
– Peter Marren, British Wildlife 25(4), April 2014
2. The 'Traditional' Landscape and its Wildlife
3. Agricultural Change and its Impact 1650-1850
4. The Impact of Landed Estates
5. Industry and Towns 1650-1870
6. Agriculture in Depression
7. The Spread of Suburbia
8. Attitudes to Wildlife
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Tom Williamson is Professor of History at the University of East Anglia, UK. His many publications include The Transformation of Rural England (2002) and Shaping Medieval Landscapes: Settlement, Society, Environment (2003).