Man made barriers both impeded and enrich nature
25 Sep 2021
Written for Paperback
Lines on the landscape both divide and connect, that is Hugh Warwick’s central argument in this, his fourth book. The author has previously written about hedgehogs, about which he frequently contributes to the media, and wildlife more generally, and I expected Linescapes to describe the impediments human-made barriers present to our wildlife, and to an extent that is what I got, but he goes much further, even ending on a note of hope!
Warwick’s book contains chapters on human-made barriers of hedges, ditches and dikes, walls, ancient paths and green lanes, canals, railways, roads, and pylons, and pipelines. The separation of male and female animals by walls and vegetation was key to selective breeding of domestic and farm animals, but now these very barriers are rich lacunae for biodiversity, connecting isolated communities, as are canal banks, motorway verges and the bases of pylons, products of our Anthropocene landscape. For example, where once the hot ash from steam trains scorched the edges of railway tracks, rendering them near uninhabitable to much wildlife, the demise of smoking engines has seen the rehabilitation of this ‘soft estate’, 30,000 hectares of it, as a reservoir for animals and plants of many sorts; however, one mature tree beside a line may shed 50,000 leaves, it only takes a few tonnes to compress into a fine and traction-less mulch on the rails, for travellers to hear that dreaded announcement, ‘leaves on the line’! Much worse, Warwick recounts how a barbed wire fence in Texas in 1885 led to the deaths of thousands of cattle when they were unable to move south to avoid blizzards, and how the barbed wire fence erected by Slovenia in 2015, erected to control the flow of migrants, is also having decimating effects on the wildlife, as well as humans. One must question what damage a separation wall between the USA and Mexico might have.
Hugh Warwick writes with great passion and intensity, with a wealth of information. On every page enticing details are revealed, from ancient reaves (lines of stones), erected on Dartmoor around 3,500 years ago, to the 43 minutes taken by a photon of light to travel from the sun to Jupiter and 35 minutes to be reflected back from there to Earth. However, Warwick’s work is much more than an I-Spy book of worthy facts. In his final two chapters he wrestles with how the worth and value of our landscape can be included in the value we place on nature, its value for our health and sanity, our fundamental well-being. ‘An infrastructure in harmony with the landscape is easy and cheap if done right from the beginning’ says Lars Nilson, Environment Director of the Swedish Transport Administration, a message the designers of the HS2 railway line need to hear loud and clear, and now.
Academics we may work and think in fragmented ways, but Hugh Warwick is a thoroughly holistic worker, thinker, scholar and writer and, I expect, speaker. I recommend this book unreservedly, in particular to postgraduate students starting work on ‘the landscape’; it is a rich source of suggestions for possible lines for enquiry, and a brilliant source of pithy quotations!
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