Since the 1950s a loose coalition of scholars has brought about a radical transformation in our understanding of how the countryside of England and Wales came to acquire its salient features, a transformation which, it now seems, may also bring about some fundamental rethinking in rural planning policies which have long passed unquestioned. The front-runner was W.G. Hoskins, an economic historian by training, who since the Second World War has inspired a great new army of local historians with a series of writings which have demonstrated, among much else, how the landscape can be 'read', while hammering home the fact that most of it remained unchanged for much longer than has generally been supposed. Later on, a cluster of young historical ecologists based at Monks Wood Experimental Station, outside Huntingdon, deepened and widened some of Hoskins's pioneer perceptions, adding support to them with biological data. Beginning to overtake all of these in practical effectiveness, however, is the remarkable figure of Oliver Rackham, a throwback to earlier centuries in his solitary, single-minded endeavours made at the expense of an orthodox - and secure - career.
LRB 22 January 1987 | PDF Download