Book Review: Linescapes

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

“We describe the world in rational terms, aware of geology and geomorphology […] whereas our ancestors saw a landscape filled with agency, one that was animate.”

The land on which we reside is forever being reshaped by the varying needs of its flora and fauna, including man. Pathways form where creatures habitually traverse their domains, their existence in any space resulting in some species flourishing, others being threatened. When changes are made to the land a rebalancing is required. Elements may be lost but, given time and sufficient neglect, nature regenerates.

The ancient tracks formed by man have been developed, expanded and altered dramatically as our ability to travel in new ways has increasingly isolated us from our fellow creatures. The linear features we use to form connections or to separate the land we now work so intensively have resulted in increasing fragmentation. Many traditional species have, as a result, been unable to survive. In Linescapes, Hugh Warwick examines the history and impact of the various lines man has created which shape our countryside. He explores hedges, ditches and dykes, walls, ancient paths and green lanes, canals, railways, roads, pylons and pipelines. He muses on potential steps that could be taken to mitigate the damage caused when these lines denude and shrink the habitats of creatures requiring more space than they are granted.

“They are so much more than their function as barriers or carriageways. To change our perspective – towards an empathetic look at the landscape – is to become aware of the impact they have”

The author emphasises the value to all of a healthy and diverse natural world, even when managed for man’s benefit. He warns against trying to measure this value in monetary terms, arguing for its intrinsic worth. In his research there is recognition that what now appears beautifully peaceful was often once a heavily worked landscape. The old may be lost and what comes after unexpected.

The author clearly favours certain features. Hedges protect his beloved hedgehogs. Dry stone walls offer sanctuary to many plants and creatures. He has little love for canals which he describes as ‘a concrete ditch of stagnant water’. He writes fondly of green lanes and the benefits these bring.

“There is a ‘green-lane effect’, whereby the inside faces of the hedges that bound the lane tend to be warmer, more sheltered and more attractive to wildlife than the outside faces, creating a microclimate tunnel within which wildlife, should the surrounding fields be forgiving, can flourish.”

“finding over 2000 individual species in an 85-metre stretch is not unreasonable”

Although he argues for protection of nature he also wishes to protect his favoured man-made features.

“The biggest threat these lanes face is neglect – left alone for long enough they will become absorbed into the fabric of the land. The next biggest threat they face is being discovered.”

For each chapter he explores the history before going on site to talk to experts in their fields. Where he held preconceptions to the contrary he invariably comes away more sympathetic. The concrete barriers that prevent vehicles crashing through the central reservations on motorways may be the cause of fatal impacts when large mammals become trapped, but motorway verges are home to a wide diversity of life-forms, left alone as they are to flourish. Railway land enjoys similar biodiversity despite the need for regular interventions for tree maintenance. The argument for building HS2 with adjacent cycle lanes, walkways and linear reserves is a rare suggestion that this infrastructure project could deliver something positive despite its exorbitant cost in money and impact.

The writing is eager and enthusiastic. Interesting facts are shared and points made. Nevertheless I wondered at the focus which seemed to wander. I remain unclear what exactly the author wishes to accomplish.

Any Cop?: A country walk is often circular, the point being the pleasure of the journey rather than to achieve a destination. Likewise this book is a pleasing amble through features that most will encounter but may not always appreciate. With my interest in nature I learned little new but was provided with a congenial reading experience.

 

Jackie Law

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