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Blakeney Point has always been at the forefront of new knowledge and new ideas. It has reflected our understandings and our perceptions of nature, holding up a mirror to how we view the natural world, but it has also been a pioneer, inspiring us to extend what we know and to explore new ways of seeing and thinking. Today Blakeney Point remains an intellectual testing ground, a laboratory of the imagination. It asks us not only what we know about nature but also how we think of it, how we value it and how we might best be part of it.
Shifting Sands sets out to document Blakeney Point's role in uncovering new knowledge and nurturing new thinking but it also explores the often deep historical contexts to these ideas, tracing the connections between the story of this shingle ridge and the shifting sands of our environmental imagination.
"Andy Stoddart has written an unusual and thoughtful book about an uncommonly interesting place. The shifting sands of the title are as much about our shifting perceptions of nature and its refuges, and what to do about them, as about the play of wind and water on sand and shingle. This is not just a survey of the natural history of this iconic tongue of land, it is much more than that.
Blakeney Point has intrigued, inspired and employed people in many ways. This book documents how the shore gunners of the late nineteenth century, targeting rare birds in the Suaeda bushes, were succeeded by the botanist Prof. F. W. Oliver. The latter established his outdoor laboratory to study the vegetation in this shifting marine environment and came to focus on ecology, an emerging discipline at the time, which helped eventually to inspire the concept of nature conservation.
Oliver's way of looking at plants as a community led him to think of nature as a resource, using a growing understanding of plant communities for our benefit through management and development. One idea of his was to plant Spartina, not specifically to reclaim the muddy expanses of Blakeney harbour, but for cattle feed and paper manufacture, although he was certainly not the first person to advocate planting pines to stabilise the sand dunes.
The concept of conservation, and the creation of nature reserves, came directly from the perceived need to maintain such wild environments for the purposes of research, and the discussion of this development leads later in the book to reflections as to how and why we can best relate to a natural world, when we seem to be distancing ourselves ever further from it.
There is plenty of factual writing about the birds and seals, the geology and the wealth of scientific research the Point has generated. Yet beneath it all lies the mystery and the charm of this ever-changing landscape. Since this book came into my hands I have learnt of the damaging influx of sand into Blakeney harbour, which has destroyed vast numbers of mussels – an important element of the local economy – so the ecology of this area has much to teach us yet. This well-researched book is a pleasure to read, and will be enjoyed by anyone who has tramped along that unforgiving beach to the Point."
- Martin Woodcock, www.britishbirds.co.uk, 27-09-2013