Friday, March 13, 2009

The Disappearance of the English Countryside

A study from the Campaign to Protect Rural England maps the effect of urbanization and development on the english countryside.






From the summary of the report:
We have developed a method of mapping areas of intrusion in England. These are areas disturbed by the presence of noise and visual intrusion from major infrastructure such as motorways and A roads, urban areas and airports. The resulting maps show the extent of intrusion in the early 1960s, early 1990s and 2007.
The report also has extensive data tables so you can see, for instance, that Oxfordshire County has gone from 75.45% undisturbed in the 1960s, to 54.63% in the early 1990s, to 41.45% today. It has such figures for all counties in England.

The maps are interesting in their own rights; but I'm also intrigued by the difference in the premise of this study from what you might see coming from a conservationist society in the U.S. In the States, you don't see much of this sort of concern with the aesthetic corruption of the countryside; what you do see is a concern for keeping areas in a state of uncorrupted wilderness (however that is defined). The American approach may be sentimental, in some ways, but it's not particularly aestheticist. I'm sure this has to do with the fact that the U.S. has an enormous amount of rural land, and it's not under threat of being consumed whole by a nation-swallowing urban conglomeration; and then, too, there's the fact that England doesn't really have any wilderness left to preserve. But I wonder if there's also a different approach to nature going on here: Americans see nature as an Eden to be preserved, or exploited for its resources; Brits see it as a garden to be managed. But this is just an idle hypothesis - anyone have any thoughts on this (poossible) cultural difference?

38 comments:

Tom said...

Management is probably the key - much as we like to think we're away from everything when we're in the English countryside, it's all been pretty intensively managed for however many centuries. Mostly this means agriculture - even the hillier areas in the north and south-west that aren't really farmed are nevertheless used for sheep grazing, and the division of territory within those areas has traditionally been done by means of very labour-intensive dry-stone walling.

Even areas such as the remaining fens are the result of human activity: "The nature of the Fen has been shaped by topography, hydrology, and in particular, by centuries of use by man" (Wicken Fen website).

In the US, the main type of management of "wilderness" areas that I've heard of is control of forest fires, which though well-intentioned is now well known to be counterproductive as it allows fuel to build up - so management is essential to our "undisturbed" areas and possibly detrimental to yours.

Chachy said...

Interesting, about the fens. Apparently that's true of the classic craggy and barren Scottish Highlands landscape as well: turns out it used to be forested! I had no idea until I visited and saw all these sad little quadrangular stands of trees - attempts at reforestation, evidently.

Tom said...

Yup - large areas of heather and peat-covered mountains are still called "Forest of X" in the Highlands.

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