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'The Living Landscape – How to read and understand it' by Patrick Whitefield

A review by Rhian Hill

ISBN: 978 1 85623 043 8

48 informative, clear photographs.  333 pages

Published by Permanent Publications. Price: 19.95 (U.K. Sterling)

Having been a walker for most of my life, I have have managed to glean some understanding of how our diverse landscape has evolved. Being naturally inquisitive I often wonder why, why not and how.

Reading 'The Living Landscape' has informed me in much more detail about the influences that have shaped this land of Britain. People, rocks, soils, climate, plants and animals - each have their

part to play and our landscape is the result of the interplay between these. The book opens a door on a new and well-informed way of viewing the landscape, enabling us to interpret what we see.

As Ben Law says in his foreword, 'the knowledge of reading the landscape brings us within it. We become a part of it rather than remaining excluded as outsiders, and through this process, begin to care for our surroundings as mutual dependence becomes apparent.'

The author hopes that the urge to manage our environment in support of biodiversity will develop alongside our understanding of our landscape and our influence upon it. As he says, ‘Only diverse landscapes are truly sustainable. Biodiversity is important for its own sake but it's also a matter of plain self-interest to us humans. We must preserve the whole in order to be sure we've still got all the important parts.' There is no need for altruism here - it is simply in our own best interests. The message is clear and many people need to hear it.

The living landscape is part of a living earth. This wholesome book is a fascinating tool for our education. It inspires a desire to nurture nature with our species as an integral part of the whole. Early in the first chapter the writer echoes the words of Chief Seattle, '.. we're part of the web of life, not superior to it or outside of it. When we forget this we destroy the very living systems on which we depend for survival.'

The reader gets to know the writer quite well by the end of the book and his style becomes familiar. He writes as I imagine he speaks. Some rigorous editing might have shortened the book whilst keeping all of the detail and rich content.

The informative photographs are well taken and beautifully illustrate the descriptions in the text. Some photographs are referred to several times.

James Lovelock, writing in 1979, could have been referring to 'The Living Landscape' by Patrick Whitefield, when he said:

“The Gaia hypothesis is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wander about the earth and the life it bears, and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here. It is an alternative to that pessimistic view which sees nature as a primitive force to be subdued and conquered.'

Rhian Hill is a devoted long distance walker – readers may also appreciate this brief personal anecdote:

'In 2008 I joined a group of people who set off to walk from Lands End in Cornwall to Hopton near Lowestoft in East Anglia. It took 7 weeks from Beltane to Summer Solstice.

Walking is a wonderful way to witness the changing landscape. From the wild ways of Dartmoor to  the white paths of the chalk country; from the big hills of Devon to the flatlands of the east.

Reading 'The Living Landscape' before the walk would have greatly enhanced my understanding of our diverse land of Albion. This pilgrimage was named  'Awakening Albion'.





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