Linescapes: Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife, by Hugh Warwick, May 2017. Square Peg, ISBN 9780224100892, 264 pages. RRP £17.99 (hardback)
There is no shortage of books on the market that have sought to peel back the layers of the palimpsest of human history in the British landscape, so one is looking for something which offers a slightly different perspective on the familiar. For my money, Hugh Warwick achieves this in abundance. Whatever one’s viewpoint, the British landscape offers a plethora of lines, whether these be hedges, walls, canals or roads, lines created as boundaries or as connections between points. It is on these linear features that the author builds his articulate, entertaining and informative analysis. Lift this book off the shelf and the reader will find no map, nor diagram, nor photograph, but these are unnecessary in a book which paints such vivid word portraits of our landscape in such a personal and engaging manner. The catalyst for the book was a journey by train through the English Midlands and it is the author’s opening portrait of the view from the window which made me aware that this was going to be a different journey … “On one side of us, the Birmingham Canal, uninviting and unloved, dark water sitting in a stream of concrete. On the other, the M5, dystopian brutalism at its finest, stagnant too”. This very personal journey begins with our ancient history, then takes the reader along hedges, ditches, walls, green lanes, canals, railways, roads, pylons and pipelines.
It is easy to make a functional separation between barriers such as stone walls, which partition landscape, and lines of communication such as road and rail which provide linkages within it, but defined in terms of wildlife all lines offer a multitude of functions, serving both as living space and as avenues along which both flora and fauna can survive and procreate. Warwick makes the reader stop and look between the stones, under the hedge, along the roadside, and among the engineering structures which are so much a part of the world of the twenty-first century. Here are to be found the dynamic ecosystems which are constantly adjusting to new sets of environmental conditions. Here are the species which find new man-made niches, offering them better odds for survival and cascading changes through the food chain.
In the author’s own words, “wildlife does not understand the lines we draw on a map, only the barriers we erect along them”, and he calls us to rethink what we see on our own environmental journey. His intensely personal journey encourages us to look more closely at the world around us in its fecundity and its ability to adapt to the changes which our activities impose upon it. Pick this book off the shelf – you will find yourself wanting to share Hugh Warwick’s journey, and it may well prove to be a life-changing one.
Rev Dr John Harrison
Diocesan Environment Adviser, Anglican Diocese of Newcastle upon Tyne