A Varied Resource
Although we live on a comparatively small island, Britain is an extremely special place. It is wonderfully diverse, and none of our neighbours in Europe can boast so rich and varied a collection of habitats juxtaposed in such a small area.
Thanks to the harmonious effects of climate, geographical position and geological heritage, in many parts of Britain you can travel from salt marshes, estuaries and cliffs on the coast to heaths, forests and grassland within the space of a half-hour's drive. Add to that our extensive wetlands, and mountain ranges high enough to harbour collections of unique upland plants, and you have a veritable paradise for every outdoor enthusiast.
Britain's wildlife is as rich and diverse as its landscape is varied. Since most plant and animal species have very specific requirements, it follows that the greater the diversity in habitats the richer and more varied the wildlife. From otters, golden eagles and red deer, to dolphins, swallowtail butterflies and barn owls - Britain's got it all!
Much of our landscape appears pristine and untouched, and it comes as a surprise to many people to discover that almost every area and habitat in Britain has been modified or influenced by man over the many centuries that these islands have been colonised.
Many of our sea cliffs and estuaries, along with the highest mountain peaks, have remained essentially unchanged since the retreat of the last Ice Age - but almost everywhere else has felt the effects of human presence.
In many respects, people have had a profoundly positive influence on the landscape. After all, heathland and grassland habitats would not exist as they do without the forest clearance and grazing regimes of past and present generations, and the diversity of woodland wildlife is generally enhanced by sympathetic exploitation methods. Of course, with our capacity to influence the environment comes a responsibility of care of which land owners and land-users are increasingly aware.
(Source: AA Book of Britain’s Countryside)
Hedges AKA borders
There isn't much natural about the current British countryside. Although many people think our green and pleasant land is as it has always been, once it was either covered by dense forest or submerged under water, making travel inland difficult other than via the river systems. Man changed all that. Around five thousand years ago our Neolithic ancestors began to clear the forest by burning to cultivate the soil, and herding animals whose grazing prevented the trees from recolonising. Over centuries of farming, the landscape --the lowlands in particular – was altered beyond all recognition and is now almost entirely artificial.
In the process we created one of the country's most distinctive features – the humble hedgerow. It's been called our biggest, greatest nature reserve and I like to think of it as the stitching in the patchwork quilt that is lowland Britain.
Today there are approximately 506,000 miles of hedgerow – that's nearly 20 times the circumference of the earth. Impressive as that figure sounds, it's not half as much as there used to be, a decline that conservationists are urgently trying to halt.
Five Reasons why our Hedgerows are so Important
They are living history
Some of the oldest hedges were planted to separate our historic counties or to mark parish boundaries. They can contain outstanding veteran trees kept alive by careful hedge maintenance over the years. In fact, that maintenance itself is part of our social history, a. centuries-old craft passed down from generation to generation. Every region of the country has its own particular way of laying hedges, which adds to the area's distinctiveness.
They provide food for free
For many it's just a childhood memory, but is there anything more pleasurable than berry picking from hedgerows on a late summer's day? Of course, while providing us with miles of berries for jams, hedgerows also provide valuable food, for many birds
They protect the land and crops
Hedges act as valuable windbreaks for crops and also help reduce erosion on vulnerable soils. If sited strategically they can also
prevent flooding and reduce pollution, capturing water that may contain chemical waste from pesticide and fertiliser, filtering it so it doesn't end up in the water supply.
They shelter game birds
Gamekeepers find hedgerows particularly beneficial as they provide sheltered corridors for pheasants and partridges to move around the farm. Partridges in particular rely on hedgerows. Partridges like to nest in hedgerow verges, but, being jumpy birds, they don't like to be in the line of sight of neighbouring pairs. The more hedgerows a farmer has to provide privacy for breeding pairs, the most nest territories can be established on the land, and the bigger the farmer's stock will be.
They are one of Britain's most significant wildlife habitats
It's estimated that our hedgerows provide homes for 1,500 different types of insect, 600 species of plant, 65 different types of mammal and 30 species of bird.
(John Craven’s Countryfile Handbook [Ed’s comment: An amazing source of all things country])
A Bygone Age
June 17th, 1911 BY LEAFY WAYS
While it is extremely pleasant to amble along on the back of a nag, it is also delightful to be whizzed along a country road at the rate of an express train. Tenderness for his steed does not need to trouble the man who travels by motor. When he comes to an inn he need not feel the anxieties which continually worry the traveller who answers to the ancient adage that a merciful man is merciful to his steed, and who must see that his horses are properly put up and fed. However, the owner of a motor cannot altogether dispense with an oversight of his carriage. It may not suffer pain, but, nevertheless, it is subject to as many ailments as any quadruped. If it is not fed with oats, it has to be fed with petrol. Where the horseman has the advantage over the motorist is in the character of the country he can traverse. We have been turning over in our mind what districts would be best for our equestrian tourist. There are many districts in Great Britain where the tourist on horseback might enjoy solitude and beautiful scenery. These are, broadly speaking, the mountain districts, where the heathery moor stretches wide on either side and there is no noise except that made by the lapwing and the curlew, or the occasional tinkling of a sheep-bell. Otherwise silence and deep peace brood over these high, cool districts. For him who would like to pursue these paths, there is a green world open.
(Source: Curious Observations: A Countryside Miscellany from the Pages of Country Life)
The Way of Walkers
By sheer good luck I managed to buy a small stone-built cottage in the very heart of the North Yorkshire Moors where the sense of space is tremendous and the views are for ever. Within a quarter of an hour I can reach the central section of one of the most famous walks in the country the Lyke Wake Walk, an ambulatory switch-back that clings to the very rim of the Dales. Time and time again I have watched walkers striding along that heavily trampled pathway which, end to end, extends for nearly 50 miles. Their gait is fascinating. Walkers can roughly be divided into plodders, those who crash straight through mud and streamlets as if unaware of what lies underfoot, and the light footmen and women who almost subconsciously pick their way around obstacles and reach their destination with their footwear fairly clean.
The difference is a matter of balance. The well-conditioned walker puts to good use some of the dramatic arrogance of the trained actor who, though tired after a long performance, sweeps forward to the curtain for his final bow as if he were treading on air. Watch the walker's arms, his feet. They scarcely seem to touch the ground. Upright walking is one of the outstanding differences between man and his ape-like forbears. It is a unique activity in which, step by step, the body teeters on the edge of catastrophe. Walking is a way of reviving a very old way of life once shared by mendicant friars, beggars, bards, pilgrims and travelling artisans…
….I met a rich young man who said that all his life he had wanted to travel alone on foot as I did, but that somehow he could never make up his mind to begin. What made it all so worthwhile? After talking and drinking until two in the morning I thought I had got pretty close to the heart of the matter. Independence, I said. Walking meant no pre-ordained schedules, no hanging about waiting for transport, for other people to arrive and depart. Alone with a pack on your back you can set off anywhere at any time and change your plans on the way if you want to. Looking around his pleasant apartment, I remarked that of course it depended on what one did for a living. Could he get away for a few weeks? He shook his head, slowly. No, he said, it was difficult. In five words that brought a curious kind of chill he said, 'I run a travel agency'. A bleak silence followed. I enjoyed his coffee and left. The next morning, miles away I strode alone and free.
(Source: The Footpaths of Britain)
self-sufficiency, … a life which is more fun than the over-specialized round of office or factory, a life that brings challenge and the use of daily initiative back to work, and variety, and occasional great success and occasional abysmal failure. It means the acceptance of complete responsibility for what you do or what you do not do, and one of its greatest rewards is the joy that comes from seeing each job right through — from sowing your own wheat to eating your own bread, from planting a field of pig food to slicing a side of bacon… The land can support us, and it can do it without huge applications of artificial chemicals and manures and the use of expensive machinery. …. Self-sufficiency is not only for those who have five acres of their own country. … I knew a woman who grew the finest outdoor tomatoes I ever saw in a window-box twelve storeys up in a tower-block. They were too high up to get the blight.
(Source: The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency)
Top of Page