Friday, June 25, 2010

England's patchwork quilt

click photo to enlarge
Visitors to England, and particularly to the lowland areas of these islands, frequently comment on the way much of the landscape is parcelled up into fields bounded by hedges. Natives returning from faraway places often only really notice the contribution that the patchwork of fields makes to our environment when they have been absent for some time and have the opportunity to see English farmland with fresh eyes. And in the minds of many - natives and non-natives alike - there is a feeling that this quintessentially English scene is one of long standing: that it has always been thus.

In fact, the hedges and the fields that they enclose are, for the most part (and especially those of the English Midlands) the product of planning and planting that took place only two hundred years ago. At that time, under a legal process known as "enclosure", the common fields shared by multiple farmers were parcelled out to individual landowners who then enclosed them with hedges. In a few areas of the country, such as the South West, small fields with hedges had long been used, but elsewhere they were imposed in the interests of agricultural efficiency. Many saw the enclosure process as a usurping of ancient rights and a re-distribution of land from the poor to the rich: hedges were disliked because they were part of that process. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that the disappearance over the past fifty years (in the interests of agricultural efficiency!) of more than half our hedgerows, is widely lamented.

Today's photograph shows the patchwork effect of the fields near Breedon-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire. Each field is a slightly different colour depending on whether it grows wheat, barley, pasture, hay, oilseed rape etc. The dividing hedges are either neatly cut to a uniform width and height, or left to grow in a more natural way, depending on the owners' predelictions, and may or may not contain trees for similar reasons. The best view of this effect is from an aeroplane, but a prominence that rises above the general area, such as Breedon Hill from where I stood to take this shot, serves almost as well. The distant power station with its cooling tower plumes and man-made cloud is at Ratcliffe-on-Soar in nearby Nottinghamshire, and the large buildings in front of it (and actually some distance away), is East Midlands Airport.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 34mm (68mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On