Last night I gave a talk entitled ‘Fingle from the wildwood – a story of a changing climate, prehistoric people, their descendants and their impacts‘ at the Fingle Bridge Inn in Drewsteignton.
I tried to weave together the story of the end of the last Ice Age to the present time by looking at the pollen record, the climate, the actions of prehistoric people from the New Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age and the impact of the extinctions of our mammal fauna over the period. I won’t try and reproduce it all here but you can download my Powerpoint presentation here (I have removed the photographs to make the file a more manageable size) – it may not make much sense if you didn’t hear the words that went with it!
I started with this quote from Oliver Rackham “Conservationists do no service to woodland if they try to remake it on the image of what they imagine wildwood was like” – just in case anyone had a brainwave!
I include here a few tables which people might find useful as they catalogue some of the key timescales and events.
The vegetation history of the British Isles
A pollen diagram of tree cover from Dartmoor
From Harry Godwin’s book – the History of the Brtish Flora summarising vegetation, cultures, woodland cover and geology
Key dates and events in our archaeological history
I then discussed what all this means, highlighted the huge gaps in our knowledge and talked about Frans Vera’s counter-theory that the ‘wildwood’ was in fact a savannah with ‘parkland trees’. A controversial theory but one which does help explain how the wildwood was cleared by a small number of people using stone axes.
I talked about some challenges for the future: tree diseases, the growing number of deer, climate change and people.
I finished the talk with a quote from Fingle Woods’ Spirit of Place statement – which Fingle Woods’ managers can use as a benchmark to determine whether their actions are appropriate.
Over the centuries, people have changed the appearance of the landscape from heathland and wild woods to oak coppice and then to conifer, driven by local and then national need, influenced by fashion and economics. As a result, the gorge has been dressed in different ways. In the coming decades, we want to help the gorge to clothe itself again, reverting to its more natural state. Fingle Wood’s inheritance will help shape its future, making it a place of conservation in a changing environment, and inspiration and enjoyment for everyone – today and for the generations to come.
Thanks to everyone who came and seemed to like what I had to say.