Another Chapter in the Continuing Life History of the General Buller Statue in Exeter, UK

I thought I had done with writing about General Buller following my initial reflections (here) in November 2014, and further thoughts (here) in July 2015, following the critical intervention (or ‘guerrilla memorialisation’) event that took place that Summer. In tracing the ongoing ‘biography’ of the General Buller monument, I argued that it can be seen both as a meaningful vehicle of contemporary politics, at which a critical and creative engagement with the past can occur, and also as a dynamic site, with an open-ended life history that has time depth. The General Buller Statue, therefore, is never ‘cast in stone’. The status ‘does work’, serving as a site of contemporary debate; it can engage, as well as be engaged with.

These observations accord with debates and critical comment about many statues around the world today, most recently through the high profile events and deliberations surrounding the fate of many statues and monuments to the Confederacy in the USA’s southern states, as well as debates in recent years about the fate of Cecil Rhodes in South Africa (or Oxford – see here). The question over whether we should manage such ‘difficult heritage’ by removing monuments, adding extra plaques, or leaving them be has certainly had a high public profile, matched by some interesting academic debate, such as Lisa Johnson’s paper on JP Coen’s statue in Holland. Indeed, the broader issue of how to deal with contentious pasts in the present formed a central theme of a recent Book Review forum in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers that dealt with David Lowenthal’s Past is a Foreign Country – Revisited. Whichever side of the fence one sits – whether arguing for the removal or preservation of a statue – most of these debates tend to focus on the subject matter of the statue or monument: should we or shouldn’t we ‘memorialise’ General Buller (or Cecil Rhodes, or General Robert E. Lee etc.)?

But late at night on 10th June 2017 in Exeter, a young man called Tom Calloway, aged 18, fell from the General Buller statue and died.

Exeter_Buller_Tom memorial1

Since Tom Calloway’s tragic death this Summer, there has been a more-or-less constant effort in maintaining his ‘presence’ through memorialisation activity at the site. How-ever ‘spontaneously’ this activity began, this seems to be more than the ‘spontaneous memorial’ practices that one often finds at the sites of recent tragedy. The statue is located directly outside Exeter College, and so many of Tom’s colleagues, friends, teachers and classmates regularly come past ‘his memorial’. And where does it leave General Buller?

Exeter_Buller_Tom memorial2

At the time of his accident, Tom Calloway was undertaking the ‘tradition’ of placing a traffic cone on General Buller’s head. This playful and creative engagement with formal memorial sites has a long tradition and many parallels, perhaps most famously at the Duke of Wellington’s horse statue in Glasgow. It was Glasgow City Council’s concern about the potential for accidents to happen (and threatened plans to prevent people from climbing the statue) that brought out the wider public’s fondness for seeing the traffic cone donned on the Duke of Wellington. Public heritage debate demanded the Duke of Wellington be adorned with his ‘customary traffic cone’, and so Glasgow City Council dropped their security plans and tacitly turned-a-blind-eye to nocturnal activities with traffic cones. In Exeter, General Buller has been adorned with traffic cones and other paraphernalia for as long as I can remember, whether in playful jest or as purposeful critique, but what will happen now?

In terms of representing something meaningful for the people who pass by every day, General Buller is now a site for remembering Tom Calloway. Debates over whether and how we should remember General Buller’s role in the Boer War; whether he was a ‘war criminal’ to be put on trial, or an embarrassing ancestor to be kept hidden from view, now seem of secondary importance. In its most affective guise, the statue no longer memorialises General Buller at all.

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Fishing for Memories: the Material Consequences of Nostalgia

I recently gave a lecture on a ‘Sources and Methods in Heritage Studies’ course at Aarhus University on a theme of doing interviews and oral histories. It is a research approach that I have used quite often in my work; something that I enjoy and something that I feel has a lot of potential, both in terms of having analytical power in providing material through which to understand the world better, and also something that has a great deal of ‘traction’. Interview and oral history material can be exciting! People are always interested in conversational material as a lens in to a field of research – and people always enjoy hearing some interesting stories in class.

My task of putting the lecture together, one might think therefore, should have been easy. And I have plenty of really nice material to draw from as case studies in order to illustrate the lecture. However, I was also keen to get across to the students the importance of having a strict ethical code of conduct; of ensuring that such material should be collected fairly and the use of the material should be carefully thought through, so that interviewees should provide ‘informed consent’ for the material that a researcher collects. This provided me with a problem – I had lots of nice material (lots of juicy stories), but I have never done an interview with anyone in which I asked an additional question: Is it OK if I use some of the juicy bits for my teaching?” … I can hardly instruct all my students to adhere to strict ethical guidelines about the use of interview data if I cannot stick with the instructions myself! And so, despite having a lot of really nice oral history and interview material, I felt that I couldn’t directly use this material in my lecture.

Upon realising my dilemma, I was reminded by all those automated telephone messages I have sat through, which talk about how “this conversation will be recorded and used for training purposes”. Such phrases always annoy me, and I am not about to start asking such a question in my research interviews – nor go back and check with old interviewees whether it would be OK to use their material! So, what should I do?

I decided upon conducting an imaginary interview with my Gran (1912-2002), together with some commentary from my Grandad (1913-1967), who actually died before I was born. And since they were both born in the small fishing community of Mousehole, near Penzance in West Cornwall, then the subject of ‘fishing communities before the War’ was an obvious choice.

Mousehole2

Mousehole – a ‘typical’ Cornish fishing village

I guess this is a sort of auto-ethnography, since the interview narratives derive from my memory of stories that my Gran used to tell me, but there are also some archival materials. In practice, the exercise ended up being a strange personal monologue involving an intergenerational narrative stretching back over five generations of my family to the 1880s. The narrative contains several statements of ‘factual truth’ (some interesting and more widely relevant, and some banal and of interest only to a few people). As a whole, however, the power of the narrative lies in between the lines of what is said; within the margins of the ‘factual account’ produced from my memory of my Gran’s stories, and perhaps within what is not said – or remembered by me.

I did actually try to do an oral history with my Gran once. It must have been in about 1989 or 1990. I was an undergraduate student who had just done ‘oral histories’ in a University Methods course, and probably saw my Gran as an important ‘research resource’; a subject to be exploited for the sake of my course assignment. I wanted to ask her about her memories of the fishing industry in Cornwall during the 1920s and 1930s – but she wouldn’t tell me anything (and I don’t blame her!). Over the years, however, her stories gave me a lens into the history and cultures of fishing in West Cornwall, from the 1880s to the Second World War. …. Specific stories about the time that a whale got caught in the nets, which had to be cut loose and abandoned, or when my Great Grandfather’s boat got blown off course in a storm and nearly wrecked on the Isle of Ushant (Ouessant, in Brittany). These were the exciting stories for a small boy to remember. But the central narrative about the whole period, which remains with me today is this:

Gran: “In my grandfather’s day, [i.e. 1870s-1890s] all the fishing would be for pilchards…. Our boat was The Activity – that’s the boat in that painting [over the mantle-piece] He had that painting done after The Activity won the Mount’s Bay Cup, [in 1887] as the fastest boat in Mount’s Bay”

Me: [gesturing to the painting] “Is that your Grandad on the boat?”

Gran: “No, that’s my father as a boy – my Grandfather was ill when they ran the Mount’s Bay cup, so couldn’t go, so he made his son the ‘skipper’, even though he was only a boy, and made sure that the artist painted him in the picture as the ‘skipper’. They had the picture painted the following season, by an artist in Sunderland… the artist made sketches one year, and they collected the painting the following season, as they followed the shoals around the coast”

Activity_1885

‘The Activity’

I have always thought that The Activity was a good name for a fishing boat; the ‘Matthews’ family fishing boat, sailing out of Mousehole, owned by my great-great grandfather, skippered for the day by my great grandfather, Thomas James (TJ) Matthews. Intermixed with the family saga, is a story of pilchard fishing, not as an isolated and ‘placed’ activity, located within the fishing harbours of West Cornwall, but as a mobile – almost nomadic – industrial experience, taking place around the coasts of Britain. I asked my Gran about the pilchards, and she told me that they were mostly salted and sold to Italy, and so, while Mousehole (and west Cornwall) today can sometimes be packaged up and marketed to tourists as an inward-focussed and strongly ‘local’ place, it seems that it was built upon pilchard fishing as an international trade, and nomadic experience. And it is also slightly ironic that a fiercely proud and strongly Methodist sea fishing community was dependent on the fish consumption habits of Catholic Europe. But my Gran didn’t seem to know much more about the pilchards.

Gran: The Pilchards all went away before the Great War. When I was young [1910s and 1920s], all the fishing was for herring – that’s what my father caught in the Hopeful, and my Uncle caught in the William.

While The Activity is a good name for a fishing boat, I have always thought that The Hopeful is an absolutely splendid name for a fishing boat! We have several pictures and photos of The Hopeful – indeed, I always look out for it (PZ 634) in early photos of Mousehole Harbour, which can be purchased in postcard or print form today from ice cream and souvenir shops on the Cliff. My Gran’s recollections of the 1920s and 1930s are direct, lively, and supported by photographs that my Grandfather took. My Grandfather trained as a carpenter, became a schoolteacher, but died before I was born. He wrote a thesis about fishing in West Cornwall for his teaching qualifications, and was obviously a keen photographer, who actually took several photos while out on fishing trips.

Researchers nowadays talk about IK or TEK (Indigenous Knowledge, or Traditional Ecological Knowledge), to refer to the practices of a preindustrial way of life, in which sustainable human activities formed part of a harmonious relationship between cultures and natures, in which the landscape (and seas) were cared for and traditional communities were resilient. Reaching beyond the tangible heritage of wooden fishing boats and solid stone harbours, these photos speak of a more intangible heritage of skill, experience and knowhow. In the form of ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’, perhaps these heritage narratives can provide instruction for policy makers today?

Within these photographs is a story that my Gran could illustrate from her memory, recognising faces, skills and practices – but it is largely a memory of how the herring fishery collapsed. The herring ‘went away’! Many boats went longlining and mackerel increasingly took over as the more important catch. But eventually, of course, the mackerel ‘went away’ as well.

Me: But Gran, you keep saying that these fish ‘went away’ … that the pilchards ‘went away’; that the herring ‘went away’; that the mackerel ‘went away’ – like they went away on holiday or something. But this is all just from over-fishing!

You have to remember that I was an arrogant and unthinking teenager (destined, it seems, to be a vegetarian animal rights campaigner) who was not very well trained or experienced in showing sensitivity during interviews, even to my own grandmother! (I went vegetarian in October 1989, and took up hunt sabbing in the 1990s!) Insensitive or not, the nostalgic story of ‘traditional fishing’ is actually a narrative of how fishing declined; a heritage of a community under stress, as fishing catches diminished, and as boats were decommissioned – even the perennially optimistic Hopeful was scrapped.

Pilchard catch-bad year Newlyn 1936

My grandfather’s notes describe this photo as ‘a bad catch’

This heritage of decline, of hardship, and of a fishing community struggling to cope and to comprehend is also marked within my Grandad’s photographs. A boat landing fish labelled as a ‘poor catch’, or accusatory suggestions of culprits to blame as fishermen look for answers to why stocks were declining – the sharks are to blame, or perhaps it is the French!?

This is the heritage of a community struggling with change – and a changing relationship between cultural practices and natural resources. It is also a heritage narrative that acts as a warning – that we shouldn’t over-romanticise them, or reify them as a salvation in the form of ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’.

This is the heritage of a community that is struggling and slowly dying – but it is in that form that it perhaps becomes evermore powerful; not as a guide towards ecological resilience, but as a ready-made sense of injustice that can be tapped in to.

Skip forward to 2016: As a marginal, relatively deprived and under-developed region, Cornwall had a special status within the EU allowing it to receive all sorts of extra funding streams, through ‘Objective One’, or ‘Convergence Funding’. Such regional development aid helped to build roads, public facilities, business parks, and a large University campus. Indeed, the ‘heritage industry’ of Cornwall has been one of the region’s largest beneficiaries, in the form of the Geevor Tin Mining Museum in Penwith and the Heartlands Industrial Museum-Park between Camborne and Redruth. And during the EU Referendum in June 2016, yet Cornwall as a whole voted strongly to leave!

brexit-cornish-fisherman_Mousehole

Building roads, industrial parks, museums, a university (etc. etc.) is all very well, but the story that mattered in June 2016 was a heritage of fishing, articulated as a heritage of loss and injustice. The Cornish used to fish for pilchards (until the pilchards ‘went away’); the Cornish used to fish for herring (until the herring ‘went away’); the Cornish used to fish for mackerel (until the mackerel ‘went away’). The romantic sense of place (so carefully nurtured by the tourism industry) trumped any understanding of late 19th and early 20th century fishing as an (international and nomadic) ‘industry’, and the temptation to blame formed the core of the narrative: the fault lies with the ‘French’ (or Spanish etc.).

So: here is a ‘heritage story’, of surface facts and information – about fishing boats and harbours as well as more intangible elements about experiences, skills and techniques. Reading in the margins, however, it is a story of communities under pressure – struggling to survive, and struggling to comprehend changes that are taking place beyond their control. Further than this, however, this is also a story of how heritage narratives themselves circulate and travel – and what they do today, whether they are ‘true’ or not.

For more on the history of Cornish fishing, see: http://www.cornwallgoodseafoodguide.org.uk/cornish-fishing/history-of-the-cornish-fishing-industry.php

Future Heritage Past: Hans Rosenström’s Shoreline installation (ARoS Triennial, Aarhus, Denmark, 2017)

As European City of Culture (2017), Aarhus has been host to a series of significant exhibitions and other creative events this year. Perhaps one of the most ambitious has been the 1st ARoS Triennial Exhibition, entitled THE GARDEN – End of Times; Beginning of Times (June 3–July 30, 2017). Quoted in Isobel Harbison’s Art Agenda review (http://www.art-agenda.com/reviews/%E2%80%9Cthe-garden%E2%80%94end-of-times-beginning-of-times%E2%80%9D/) ARoS’s director, Erland Høyersten promised that the exhibition would “thematize man’s [sic.] coexistence with, and view on, nature … over a period of 400 years”, the Triennial exhibition focussed on depictions of nature throughout history over three sites. Representing ‘The Past’ are over 100 works of art (mostly painting) located in a series of galleries within the main ARoS Art Gallery. ‘The Present’ is represented through a half dozen or so installations down at the redeveloping Docklands area, while ‘The Future, is displayed through a couple of dozen installations strung out along the coast and through the forest to the south of the city centre. Apparently, the Exhibition’s opening coincided with President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US intended to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. It is not the task of this Blogsite to pass comment on the artistic merit, depth or meaning (for me, some ‘worked’ and some didn’t), but one piece struck me in particular as having resonance with this ‘Geographies of Heritage’ Blog, both in terms of its subject matter, and (perhaps ironically) in terms of its demise (or destiny!?)

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Shoreline, by Hans
Rosenström (Three channel sound installation, concrete, paint, view, 10:16 minutes. Photo by Anders Sune Berg

I cycle along this stretch of coast each morning on my way to work, and the last installation that I passed each morning was Shoreline, by Hans Rosenström. According to the artist (see: https://hansrosenstrom.net/shoreline/), the view of the horizon represents the future, and the constructed ‘ruin’ (or folly) cites a fragment of a Caspar David Friedrich painting (Klosterfriedhof im Schnee, 1817/1819). It is a nice way of confounding linear temporalities, especially since ‘The Past’ section of The Garden exhibition contained some Friedrich paintings:

“Grounded on the earth, gazing out to the shoreline, the viewer will hear disembodied but present voices, overlapping and interweaving raising issues of how nature’s and our own communities are formed and relationships between them. The text is written in collaboration with the Palestinian poet Farah Chamma” (Rosenström 2017)

Interestingly, Friedrich’s Klosterfriedhof im Schnee was itself destroyed during in Berlin during air raids in 1945 – and it is Berlin, of course, which has become a lens through which so many scholars (planners and architects, journalists and writers, historians and philosophers) have since pondered on the temporality of life, place and identity (e.g. Gunter Grass, Cees Neeteboom, Karen Till, Neil MacGregor). Indeed, in his essay on ‘presentism’ and relations between time and heritage, Francois Hartog (2005: 9) called Berlin a laboratory of reflection, and it is to Hartog’s reflections on the temporality of heritage to which I am prompted by Rosenström’s Shoreline installation. According to Hartog, we are living in a time of overwhelming heritagisation and museification, where the past is daily created and merchandised. This proliferation of heritage, Hartog argues, is a sign of rupture: “heritage has never thrived on continuity but on the contrary, from ruptures and questioning the order of time, with the interplay of absence and presence, visibility and invisibility. […] Heritage is one way of experiencing ruptures, or recognizing them and reducing them, by locating, selecting, and producing semaphores” (Hartog 2005; 15).

Shoreline-2

So, does this make Rosenström’s Shoreline a semaphore? … something that causes us to question the order of time, and to critique Western linear conceptions of inevitable progress? In many ways, perhaps this gives our engagement with heritage (and engagement of heritage) some positive potential – that heritage process and practice can do something. Hartog mentions that heritage can help us reduce or overcome ruptures by locating ourselves, and so by asking these questions, does it allow us to make an intervention? The ability to locate ourselves through semaphores, and make selections, is suggestive of a purposeful or mobile sense of nostalgia, situated in the present but with an eye to the future. Maybe this can be something that has promise – though Hartog seems quite pessimistic:

“The future is no longer a bright horizon towards which we advance, but a line of shadow that we have drawn towards ourselves, while we have come to a standstill in the present, pondering on a past that is not passing” (Hartog 2005; 16).

So what happened to Rosenström’s Shoreline installation? The Exhibition ended on 30th July, and over a couple of days, the ‘ruined’ folly was taken down, broken up and carried away to be discarded. The installation was dis-assembled and ‘skipped’ – a ruin was ‘ruined’! Not sure what that means!

 

 

 

 

Sighthill, Glasgow: a Megalithic Monument Going Back and Forth in Time

Earlier this summer, the Sighthill Megalith, close to Glasgow city centre underwent some serious restoration work, being moved, re-sited, and ‘re-sighted’, so as to be aligned with the sun on Summer Solstice.

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The original monument was built in 1979 as part of a Glasgow Parks Department job creation scheme, but on the election of Margaret Thatcher’s government, the funding was pulled before the stones could be placed accurately, according to astronomical alignments. Indeed, the whole 1970s build-phase had some serious astronomical issues anyway, being placed in the ‘wrong location’ because the original site chosen was deemed unsuitable since it turned out that a large slab-block of flats would have obscured the view of the sun on the Solstice!

Sighthill with flats

The Glasgow Herald (page 8, 19th June 2017) described the realignment work that was taking place during the 2017 Solstice week as “recreating Britain’s first authentically – and accurately – aligned stone circle to have been erected in more than 3000 years”. The Herald highlighted the way that the Sighthill stones mirrored certain key Neolithic sites in Scotland such as those at Callanish in Lewis and at Stennes in Orkney. In many ways, this effort reflects a distinctly ‘national’ project, with a specific ambition to make links to famous ‘Scottish’ Neolithic sites, and is described by the project’s champion, Alasdair Gray, as work that “continues a Prehistoric Scottish tradition”. Thus, the building work acts to requisition the efforts of people from the Neolithic period (who would certainly have had no conception of a “Scotland”) into being a baseline of cultural and technological development for a distinctly ‘Scottish’ nation. In this respect, these actions mirror the Scottish National Museum’s attempt to place the Pictish carved monument at ‘Hilton of Cadboll’ within a distinctly ‘Scottish’ linear narrative of cultural development (see the work of Sian Jones, and also Harvey 2015). However, while the Hilton of Cadboll stone is a ‘genuine’ Pictish carved stone, placed at the ‘start’ of a story of national artistic progress, the Sighthill Megalith is a product of a 1970s urban job creation scheme, in search of ancient antecedents. Mind you, as Sian Jones notes, whatever the material origins of the Hilton stone, its meaning today should also acknowledge the adherence of the present day population to the stone as having contemporary meaning for the people in the village. So what should we make of the Sighthill Megalith?

Sighthill vision_.jpg.gallery

By providing a seemingly direct link to a suitable deep past, it seems to supply an air of legitimacy to the nation of Scotland; of originary solidity to a sense of linear inevitability in Scottish progress. On the other hand, the story also tells of a more recent past; one of post-war urban redevelopment schemes in Glasgow, the emasculation of local government and the attitudes of Thatcherism to local artistic practice, and perhaps a desire to do things better.

Rebuilding in the name of ‘conservation’ is a common practice that tends to overturn neat ideas about there being a palimpsest of archaeological layers. Wilkinson and Harvey (2017) found that the regular rebuilding of Tarr Steps in Exmoor after each flood was at the heart of what made Tarr Steps an ‘ancient monument’ (see also this blog: https://geographiesofheritage.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/how-to-build-an-ancient-monument-tarr-steps/). The Sighthill Megalith, however, differs from Tarr Steps (or the Hilton stone), since there is never a pretence of built material continuity – no-one would claim that the Sighthill stones are ‘Neolithic’ in a material sense.

Sighthill building work

The images of the Sighthill stones being re-positioned and re-alligned are reminiscent of the re-building of famous Neolithic sites such as Avebury and Newgrange. Indeed, at Newgrange, there was a similar effort to re-align the stones according to the Solstice – the Winter Solstice in the case of Newgrange. These efforts seem intent on producing what might be described (following Umberto Eco) as a ‘simulacrum’, where the copy is better and more real than the original. But I’m not sure that this is very fair either. For one thing, again, there is no pretence of the site being literally ‘from the deep past’, and for another thing, while sites such as Avebury and Newgrange were rebuilt in a stridently national cause, a deeper look at the Sighthill Megalith reveals a distinctly locally orientated and more humble initiative.

Thus, the Sighthill Megalith seems to be a much more open and future-orientated example of heritage-making in process. The re-siting and re-sighting efforts do not seem to be activities of ‘completion’, nor (despite some of the rhetoric in the Scottish press) do they seem to be overtly ‘national’. Rather, they appear to be commemorative of earlier skills (call them ‘Scottish’ or not!), and provide a canvass for future memory practice. Glasgow City Council officials talk brightly of how the “Sighthill megalith will be a key feature of the new Sighthill, [with] its new life emblematic of the rebirth of the area”; (I guess they need to say such things to underline the value of ongoing urban redevelopment work). But as an imaginative piece of heritage work that allows an open-ended sense of enchantment to bubble to the surface, I have a lot of time for the re-sighted Megalith site of Sighthill!

Sighthill _flowers-at-sighthill

Harvey D.C. (2015) ‘Heritage and scale: settings, boundaries and relations’, International Journal of heritage Studies, volume 21(6), pp. 577-593.

Wilkinson, T. and Harvey, D.C. (2017) ‘Managing the future of the past: images of Exmoor landscape heritage’, Landscape Research, DOI: 10.1080/01426397.2017.1315380.

(Pictures all from Google Images).

 

 

 

Ancient woodlands and woodland memories: dreams of re-wilding, from Dartmoor to Caledonia

While on a field trip to Dartmoor last term, on a cold and windy day, we were all very relieved to be able to shelter in Wistman’s Wood. This is one of my favourite spots on the Moor. People talk about the place being enchanted and mysterious, but I think I like it most because it is always so full of life. … there is always the sound of bird song, even in the middle of Winter; the trees are draped with various mosses and lichens, and even a non-botanist can plainly see how numerous and diverse the plant life is.

Woods Wistman's_Wood_in_winter

Wiseman’s Wood in Winter

Wistman’s Wood is normally referred to as an ‘ancient woodland’ – a glimpse of what much of Dartmoor might have looked like thousands of years ago; a magical piece our ‘natural heritage’, to be treasured and protected.

The biodiversity of the Woods was brought home to me during one visit I made with a colleague from the University of Minnesota, Professor Jim Perry. Jim is an ecologist, and as we sat down on a patch of nearby empty moorland, he implored me to “Listen!”… We sat and listened… Silence! …

Woods-empty dartmoor

Dartmoor!

OK; we could hear the occasional skylark, but not much else. As an ecologist, Jim spent about 10 seconds rooting around on the ground before announcing that we were sitting in a desert – very few species; hardly anything able to live here. About 20 minutes later, we were sitting within Wistman’s Wood, and once again, Jim implored me to “Listen!”…

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Wiseman’s Wood in the Summer

A myriad of different vibrant bird song, and a humming buzz of insect life. Jim spent 20 minutes rooting around, counting up the pieces of plant, lichens, moss, beetles, insects and other inhabitants, just within a 5 yard circle from where he was sitting. We couldn’t actually stay there for very long though, since the insects started to bite, and we had to move on.

This is a familiar type of narrative, often repeated by those people who are enthusiasts for ‘re-wilding’ – the supporters of policies that seek to overturn many of the present agricultural practices of management in our upland spaces. Rather than (artificially) maintaining open spaces of moorland expanse, people like George Monbiot would curtail upland grazing by sheep and cattle, so as to encourage the progression of a ‘natural’ process of plant and animal succession towards that of a state of ‘ancient woodland’; rich in biodiversity – to be more like Wistman’s Wood, than an open ‘desert’ moorland landscape.

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Cattle grazing on the open moorland, just west of Princetown

I can see the point that the ‘re-wilding brigade’ are making – particularly when I am sitting in Wistman’s Wood! The re-wilding sentiment seems to have caught the public’s imagination, perhaps in connection to the recent popularity of New Nature Writers. So, I was a little surprised when I read an article in the Guardian, entitled “Scottish climbers and gamekeepers unite to oppose woodland plan” (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/15/scottish-governments-forestry-strategy-called-into-question)

As the article noted, Mountaineers and Gamekeepers rarely see eye to eye. The former are usually diligently interested in issues of open access and the ‘freedom to roam’, while the latter are generally keen to restrict access for the sake of deer stalking and grouse shooting activities. Apparently, though, the Government is keen to increase the amount of forest in Scotland as a climate change measure – but of course, more forests might mean a reduction in open moorland; a distinctive character of Scotland’s upland landscapes. In a joint letter, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Mountaineering Scotland say that they are worried about the threat of forestry to Scotland’s “dramatic open views and vistas”.

Woods-open scotland

Knoydart, Scotland – ‘characteristic’ open expanse of landscape

As a keen walker and occasional Munro-bagger myself, I can see the point. Indeed, looking back through my hill walking photos, I see that I have numerous examples of “dramatic open vistas’, in Scotland and elsewhere, including Dartmoor.

Woods-dartmoor empty

A student on my Dartmoor field trip, however, put me on to a Blog, which followed this point up (https://adriancolston.wordpress.com/2017/02/16). Entitled “A Curious Row about Trees in Scotland”, the article picked out and developed some further points of clarification from Mountaineering Scotland. Despite the tone of the Guardian article, the Mountaineers and the Gamekeepers were mostly keen to get some clarification on a coherent policy from the Government, and were worried about the potential for the treasured wide-open vistas to be destroyed by commercial coniferous plantations.

Woods-conifers

I can certainly see this point, being no fan of dense conifers myself. Whatever one might say about open moorland being a ‘desert’, replacing one green desert with another (slightly darker green) doesn’t make sense. But what intrigued me the most, however, was that in their clarification, Mountaineering Scotland called for the growth of native woodland, and conservation of Scotland’s “iconic Caledonian pine forests”. So, from a discussion of iconic open spaces, to one of iconic Caledonian pine forests. But what is a Caledonian pine forest?

Woods scots-pine-web-1024x683

It always strikes me that the phrase ‘Caledonian pine’ is often misunderstood, and greatly misused; as Christopher Smout of the Scottish Forestry Trust has recently noted “It is often assumed … that Caledonian Forest was composed of Caledonian pinewoods, which is not true at all” (http://www.scottishforestrytrust.org.uk/userfiles/file/projects/p13-243%20inaugural%20rsfs%20annual%20lecture/scots%20pine.pdf)

It turns out that there is no such thing as a “Caledonian pine”, most people – seemingly – confusing and conflating what they think is a ‘Caledonian pine’ with a ‘Scots Pine’, which is one of the most widely distributed trees in the world today. Indeed, as Smout goes on to say, much of the diverse mix of trees, flora and fauna that might be found in a ‘Caledonian forest’ has had a very long history of co-evolution with humans: “to assume, as many environmentalists do, that you can get ‘back to nature’ (i.e. to a time before human influence) by seeking to recreate the world before farming is wrong” – and it might even be that blanket bog and the open moorland country might actually be the natural climax vegetation for much of northern and western Highlands of Scotland.

woods-scots pine

So, where does this leave us? A debate about ‘re-wilding’ in several forms – certainly a general conclusion that the ‘wild’ part of ‘re-wilding’ is always an imaginative pretense. There is a strong notion that it is never a good idea to apply a blanket policy in our uplands – either to ‘re-wild’ or not. But also, implicit within these debates is an often-glossed over recognition of human-non-human co-evolution and co-existence.

Somehow, I feel that the re-imposition of a vast ‘Caledonian pine forest’ (comprised of scots pines, and running with wolves, lynxes, beavers and bears) would be an injustice to the memory of numerous generations of human inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland; their lives, experiences and activities. Taking just one (almost?) entirely unpopulated Glen in Knoydart as an example, a cursory examination of a map of Glen Carnoch reveals a multitude of Gaelic place names:

Coire na Gaoithe n’Ear: Corrie of the East Wind

Beinn an Aodainn: Mountain of the Face

Allt Achaddh a’Ghlinne: River of the field of the glen

Bealch na h-Eangair: Pass of the mill

Who once lived in this valley, and who named these features? The Glen is ‘empty’ today, but the names suggest that there was once a mill (probably a simple ‘clach’ mill), and that the side valley once contained a ‘field’. If we carry out a policy of ‘re-wilding’, the memory of the field will be erased. In striving for a ‘Highland Wilderness’ that never existed, the exploits and experiences of real people who once lived in these glens, the descendants of whom are now spread around the world, might be lost forever.

On a more prosaic scale, as much as I always enjoy visiting Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, I would hate for the whole of Dratmoor to be covered by such dense forest, ‘ancient’ or otherwise.

The Dynamic Heritage of Woodland Management: Destruction, Renewal and the Art of Coppicing

In February, I spent a day on a coppicing course in the Cotswold Hills, with Cotswold Rural Skills. Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management, which involves the chopping down of trees close to ground level for the extraction of timber and in order to encourage new growth. It requires a delicate balance; leaving around 15% of the canopy, and should be done on a rotation (about every 7-15 years), depending on the wood. A well-managed coppice has a slightly open feel to it, and is a haven for wildlife and a diversity of flora, insect life and fungus.

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The practice can be seen as one of the key elements of intangible woodland heritage; one that celebrates the lives and skills of woodland workers, craftsmen and charcoal makers. As such, it is a key element of the long-term curatorship of the countryside in Britain (as well as in much of NW Europe). Many of the ‘ancient woodlands’ owe their longevity and upkeep to the practice of coppicing, with its language of coupes, standards and stools, and specialist equipment of bow saws, loppers and characteristic billhook.

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Our trainer was Simon who, as well as passing on some basic skills of coppicing and billhook work, including splicing and directional felling, also told us about some of the history as well as the environmental context of coppice work. In most ancient woodlands in southern England and Wales, coppicing was done regularly up until the Second World War, and in some areas into the 1960s.

This knowledge made me reflect on my childhood reminiscences of woodlands in the 1970s and early 80s – that perhaps woodlands really were ‘darker places’ in the memory of youth; a very full canopy allowing very little to grow on the woodland floor of what, in my youth, I thought of as a ‘natural ancient woodland’, but which was, in fact, a poorly managed coppice! I remember that many of the trees had multiple trunks coming up from the ground, but what I only now realize is that these were overgrown coppice stools, probably untouched for 40+ years. The darkness and strange woodland shapes that provided a sense of romantic mystery were ghosts of an ancient activity that had maintained the woodlands for previous generations; traces of human endeavor and injenuity.

In my memory, the ‘Great Storm’ of October 1987 in southern England was a ‘destructive force’ that threatened the very existence of the woodlands. But in opening up the canopy and ‘extracting’ many of the older trees, perhaps the Storm should be seen as a prompt towards heritage action. Mistakes were certainly made following the 1987 storm, as some ground was cleared, dead wood removed, and woodlands re-planted with plastic-wrapped saplings in rows. But the increased biodiversity and richness of flora and fauna in the ‘devastated areas’ can also call attention to the benefits of coppicing and the paradox that it encompasses – that the healthy maintenance and longevity of a woodland requires regular destruction.

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There is a strange mix of sensations in felling a tree. On the one hand, there is a pang of guilt, as you cut through the living bough and the feeling that one shouldn’t be ‘killing’ such a mighty being; an organism that is probably older than I am and will be here after I am long gone. But of course, the knowledge that ‘death’ is not straightforward, and that the tree will recover and live for many decades helps to ease the worry – and, to be honest, the dramatic energy and sense of satisfaction as the trunk topples towards the ground is irresistible! There is almost a sense of electricity in the air as the ‘crack-crack-crack’ is followed by a moment’s silence before the crash of branches on the ground.

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During the afternoon of the course, I felled four trees all on my own. My first effort was a fairly small tree, which was already leaning at a fairly good angle, so as to make the direction of fall very clear and un-risky. Even a novice couldn’t go wrong here! And I was very pleased with the outcome; the ‘gob’ was cut precisely, and the back-cut allowed a nicely-sized ‘hinge’ to work in the favour of a very clear direction of fall.

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I moved on to a second, which worked in similar fashion. Then a third; slightly bigger and in a more difficult situation and angle. I concentrated hard; got some advice from Simon, and over it went. Simon and trainer inspected it, and said it was the ‘best of the afternoon so far’ – and I glowed with more than just sweat and hard work! I was now a very small part of the intangible heritage of woodland craft – and act of ‘creative destruction’.

Perhaps it was the kind words of encouragement from Simon, the trainer, which led me onwards – towards tackling a much bigger tree? Anyway, I made a hash of it! … it didn’t kill anyone, but my back-cut went awry and the ‘hinge’ actually cracked completely wrongly, and so it was absolutely down to luck, rather than judgment, that it actually fell (roughly) in the right direction. It left an embarrassingly bad stump of torn wood and a wonky cut … long-lasting evidence of a piece of shoddy woodland heritage craft practice!

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Oh dear!

But all was not lost: The official ‘Deadwood Code of Practice’, tells us that we should “LEAVE broken or shattered branches, they are far better habitat than straight cuts and encourage decay”.

So: what I thought was a terrible piece of woodland heritage skill, turns out to be an ‘expert’ piece of heritage management! … with hindsight, perhaps I could claim that I was just showing off – balancing a nice straight cut that reflected my newly learnt heritage skills, with a purposefully broken effort, to encourage decay and biodiversity?!

More seriously, I feel that the wider world of heritage management could learn a thing or two from coppicing. Good coppice work has very little to do with traditional ideas of ‘preservation’ – it is all about process and dynamism…. Material ‘heritage’ must be destroyed – in order to conserve the dynamic context of a world-in-being. As with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, the (creative) forces and processes of destruction are required for heritage value to be realized – only with coppicing, the processes of destruction are very much human-made, and reflect a heritage of skill and know-how (plus a bit of serendipity!).

Rodney Harrison (among others) has been recently pondering on the necessity for what he calls the ‘decommissioning of heritage’. As a society, we are laden down with a surfeit of heritage; what on earth can we do with it? How can we get rid of it – suffocating under a burden of material pastness? Well, I think woodland management practice has a partial answer to these quandaries – coppicing is all about ‘decommissioning’!

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Stonehenge, Big Roads and Heritage Process

Plans were announced by the UK Government in January 2017 to spend £1.4billion on building a large tunnel so that the major A303 trunk road can be put underneath the Stonehenge landscape. According to the National Trust and Historic England, the continuing presence of the road spoils the setting of the site, and so the tunnel will ‘improve our understanding and enjoyment’ of Stonehenge World Heritage landscape. Dan Hicks, of the Pitt Rivers Museum and School of Archaeology in Oxford has written an excellent commentary on the episode in the online Conversation (http:/theconversation.com), entitled “Archaeologist: the A303 is a crucial part of Stonehenge’s setting”. Although the title of Dan’s piece gives away his basic point of view(!), I feel it is worth reflecting upon and developing a little further here, since it strikes me that the episode chimes with so many crucial elements of present day heritage management – and identity politics in the UK.

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Bouncing off Jacquetta Hawkes’ phrase that “Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves – or desires”, Dan Hicks charts the conceit of seeking to ‘preserve’ Stonehenge as an ‘authentic ancient monument’ by tunneling a dual carriageway under it; the fabrication and management of the illusion of an unchanging Neolithic relic. Stonehenge has been built, re-built, viewed, ignored and/or engaged with for at least five millennia. Developing this idea of Stonehenge having an on-going biography – or life history – Dan Hicks likens the present attempt to conceal the ‘modernity’ of the big road to a revival of Georgian aesthetics, whereby landscapes are curated by the scraping away of present day ‘eyesores’, in order to allow cultured elites to stroll through an ‘authentic’ landscape of artful charade.

image-0065This line of thinking reminds me of the biography of nearby Avebury (within the same World Heritage Site). From the 1930s to the 1950s the wealthy amateur archaeologist and marmalade magnate, Alexander Keiller, oversaw the scraping away of much of the old village of Avebury, the wholesale remodeling of the landscape, and repositioning of the stones, in order to create an uncluttered ‘Neolithic’ landscape, fit for the nation – and fit to become, ultimately, a World Heritage Site. Medieval buildings were demolished and many stones were re-erected to create a fittingly ‘national’ monumental landscape.

Avebury and Stonehenge are thoroughly modern landscapes, reflecting the hopes, desires and dreams of the present day, and it would be a hypocritical confection to pretend otherwise. According to Hicks: “Today, it is Stonehenge’s modernity that is under threat from a narrow vision of the past” – and so we need to make space for the story of the A303, rather than airbrush it out of the picture. In his Conversation piece, however, Dan Hicks goes a little further than this, implying an important divergence from the situation at Avebury.

Alexander Keiller’s never-fully-realised plans at Avebury, certainly saw the remodeled monument as a carefully curated national landscape, but it was very much a ‘public space’ – albeit with lots of interpretation boards and signage to moderate and control pubic behavior. In many ways, the equivalent development at Stonehenge, akin to Keiller’s vision, was that of Cecil Chubb who, in the early 20th century bought it and presented it to the nation. The site was ‘cleaned up’, with several stones re-erected, to become a favourite picnic spot for motorists on the nearby A303. This was the Stonehenge that I first visited in the 1970s; thermos flask and cups of tea laid out on one of the stones. Cecil Chubb’s gifting of Stonehenge came with the demands that no other building ever be erected on/close to the site, and that the stones should be maintained as far as possible in their present condition – it all chimes with an ambition for the site to be understood as an unchanging monument set within the neatly cut grass sward of the specifically ‘English’ countryside. However, Chubb also stipulated that ‘the public shall have free access’, although Chubb did allow for a ‘reasonable sum, not exceeding one shilling’ to be charged, presumably to cover the costs of cutting all that grass.

The £15.50 entrance fee for visiting Stonehenge, together with the practice of sealing the actual stones off from the public, represents what Dan Hicks argues to be an increasing restriction of access at Stonehenge. This is no longer a ‘public space’. I get this point – that the momentary view of the stone through a car window, as you speed past on the A303, while not necessarily the aesthetic view that might be shown on a tasteful postcard is, nevertheless, a thoroughly democratic view. I haven’t actually ‘visited’ Stonehenge for 30 or more years, but I have ‘kept an eye on it’, during regular car journeys; I have maintained a direct relationship with the site without ever needing to pay an entrance fee.

On the one hand, these recent developments make you reflect on all the other public spaces that are being ‘privatised’; pedestrianized shopping centres that are now patrolled by private security firms, or World Heritage Sites such as St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, set amid a parkland that (according to an ivy-covered plaque) was ‘presented to the citizens of Canterbury’ as recently as 1977, but now only accessible through payment of £5:80. On the other hand, however, is a story of how singular (and often overtly ‘national’) ‘heritage management practices’, have themselves sidelined or obliterated alternative heritage narratives. The singularly most striking example that I can think of for this, is the Meadows at Runnymede, next to the River Thames just west of London.

As the site of the signing of the Magna Carta, Runnymede has a central place in any heritage narrative of democratic freedom. Not surprisingly, perhaps, as the ‘Birthplace of Democracy’, Runnymede has become a ‘monumental landscape’; a setting within which several monuments and memorial features can be visited; several monuments to the actual signing of the Magna Carta, as well as monuments to John F Kennedy, and the Air Forces Memorial, dedicated to dead RAF service personnel. It is – still – a ‘public space’, to be visited freely. But in laying out the national monumental landscape in the 1930s, the National Trust actively extinguished a whole range of local commoners’ rights. At Stonehenge, it is the every-day and slightly banal or mundane heritage of catching a glimpse of the stones from a passing car, which is removed from the public orbit. At Runnymede, there is a deep sense of irony, that it is the public rights of the Commons, which were over-ridden by the need to set out a suitably monumental national landscape! The public can still visit (and, unlike at Stonehenge, there is no £15:50 fee), but the terms on which the visit takes place is now that of the nation. The mundane and ever-day relationship between people and the landscape – the ‘right’ to be present – has been extinguished, as a relationship is re-forged and mediated through an official discourse related to a distinctly national story.

stone-runnymede2Back at Stonehenge, I am reminded of something I wrote back in 2006 (a chapter entitled ‘Landscape as Heritage’, in RJP Kain’s England’s Landscape the South West, published by English Heritage), when pondering the question of which landscape best represents the ‘essential landscape’ of the South West, I came up with the A30 trunk road (which is, essentially, the continuation of the A303, which passes Stonehenge, further up-country). “If we try to be honest about the aspects of the present-day landscape that the people of the future will remember us for, then the A30 would be a very good example. Today, the road provides an axis and backbone to the region, and is a symbol of the region …. [memories of sitting in traffic jams, and glimpsing the countryside as you go] is a far more meaningful memory to preserve than the typical picture-postcard images … the road network (love it or hate it) is surely among the most enduring symbols of early 21st century life”. I remember that, at the time, some of the bigwigs at English Heritage were quite angry that I had suggested this trunk road as the key item of heritage in the South West, but Roger Kain, the editor, stuck by me. Just as Dan Hicks has said that the A303 is a crucial part of Stonehenge’s setting, then the A303/A30 provides a crucial way in to understanding ongoing heritage processes, and will be a central part of what will become the future past.