Workshop agendas were drafted in conjunction with partners (National Trust, Quantocks AONB Service and Northumbrian Water/Forestry Commission), designed to maximize direct contact with the physical sites as well as group discussion time. In addition to representatives of our project partners, we involved a citizens' watchdog group (workshop 2) and also incorporated the perspectives of creative practitioners whose work our locales shaped: artists (workshops 1 & 2), a curator of artworks (workshop 3) and a photographer (workshop 2).
The locations demanded in a concrete and site-sensitive way that we relate the concepts and histories addressed in the workshops to material processes, and confronted us with the direct issue of how material change shapes those histories. They also provided the opportunity to intensively engage with a wide range of approaches in the humanist tradition - documents, maps, photos, oral history, conversations with managers and ecologists, and creative art works.
Workshop 1: Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
Date: 5th-7th November 2010
Britain's first National Nature Reserve (NNR) and island of wetland within one of the world's most intensively farmed environments, Wicken Fen has a continuing history as a key site for scientific research since the advent of the ecological sciences.
Workshop 2: Quantock Hills, Somerset
Date: 1st-3rd March 2011
A mosaic of upland heath, ancient woodland, conifer plantation and small-scale mixed farming, and where many essential ingredients of the romantic perspective on nature were developed by Coleridge and Wordsworth, the Quantock Hills became England's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1956.
Workshop 3: Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland
Date: 25th-27th March 2011
Northern Europe's largest artificial lake and Europe's largest planted forest.
The workshops spawned a dialogue between scattered researchers that has promoted conceptual and topical work that will inform future research, individual and collective – themes and ideas that are unlikely to have emerged in other, more conventional contexts. We also expanded traditional discussion of environmental change at our selected sites by bringing wider historical and geographical horizons to bear (among them those of our Australian, Dutch and Swedish participants). Above all, we have developed a model of working that has been universally well received by participants and partners. As the head of the Quantocks AONB team commented: 'I found it refreshing to have some challenging questions thrown at us about why and how we manage the Quantock Hills AONB. All too often we are so busy with writing management plans and then delivering these that we do not look at the big questions and issues'. We have cemented a range of relationships with project partners and artists who are keen to explore further opportunities for working together. Not least, we have fostered an esprit de corps among UK-based environmental historians who are now much more likely to work collaboratively on a regular basis.
Network members edited a collection of essays inspired by the workshops into a book, following a roundtable discussion at the European Society for Environmental History's conference in Finland in June 2011.
Future plans include: an application to AHRC's CDA scheme for linked studentships attached to each of our project partners (to develop, for example, historical exhibits); a grant application to AHRC to explore the meaning and management of AONBs (the least studied of the UK's various categories of protected land) and their relationship to better known national parks (Coates); a conference with the National Trust (Warde); a walk (in the Quantocks) for the Royal Geographic Society's 'Discovering Britain' website (Coates); an application to Leverhulme for an international network award to bring together scholars of Russian environmental history for a similar series of site-specific workshops, and a podcast on these sites (Moon); a submission to DEFRA's Independent Panel on Forestry (which will be visiting Kielder in late July [Moon/Warde]); an application to extend the life and activities of the Network through a follow-on set of site-specific meetings.
A number of these linked applications have been successful. Network members (Coates, Endfield, Moon and Warde), secured a follow-on award from AHRC for the project 'The places that speak to us and the publics we talk with'. Coates then secured an additional follow-on award for the project 'At the core of the Quantocks: further dissemination of the fruits of the orchard project', which was the subject of an AHRC podcast. In 2013 Network members Coates, Endfield and Warde secured a large AHRC grant through the call 'Care for the future: thinking forward through the past' for the project 'The power and the water: connecting pasts and futures'.
Duration: July 2010 - October 2011
Professor Peter Coates
Higher Education Institution:
Department of History, University of Bristol
Professor David Moon, Durham University
Dr Paul Warde, University of East Anglia
Edited collection of essays (forthcoming 2014), Local Places, Global Processes, Oxbow Books
'Discovering Britain' walk on the Quantocks for the Royal Geographical Society
Exploring Environmental History Podcast - Reframing a vision of lost fens
Exploring Environmental History Podcast - A transformed landscape: the steppes of Ukraine and Russia
Roundtable discussion at European Society for Environmental History Conference 2011