Historic landscapes

Whilst many archaeological features are important in their own right, their value or interpretation may be enhanced when looking at them and their setting within the wider landscape. Many archaeological sites/features are directly related to adjacent archaeological evidence, or natural features such as rivers. For example, areas of woodland may contain indicators of past woodland management (such as pollarded veteran trees), but also contain a Roman farmstead, suggesting that whilst the woodland may be of considerable age, it post-dates the farmstead which would have been in a more open setting.  This argument could be strengthened by the remains of other nearby farmsteads located in surrounding agricultural fields. Thus looking not just at a single feature, but at the wider landscape with a holistic approach can tell you more about the feature in question and its role in the landscape, but also the history and evolution of the surrounding environment. In addition to using archaeological features to understand a past landscape, techniques such as geoarchaeology and environmental archaeology can also be employed.

One example using palynology (pollen analysis) is the woodland history of Glen Affric. The Forestry Commission (jointly with the University of Stirling) is funding a PhD study into the woodland history of Glen Affric National Nature Reserve using palynology. Pollen grains are surprisingly tough microscopic particles that can often be identified to an individual plant species. When preserved in a sediment sequence, they can provide snapshots of past floral diversity. Analysing a range of sediment samples from different areas and depths allows the changes in floral diversity to be plotted over time. Obtaining a better understanding of past floral diversity will help current management planning for the restoration of native woodland in Glen Affric forest.

Other examples of Historic Environment projects with Forestry Commission involvement include:

  • Wilsontown Ironworks - Forestry Commission Scotland manage the location of Wilsontown Ironworks and a large portion of the associated surrounding landscape.   The first Ironworks in Lanarkshire, it was established in 1779 and worked in fits and starts until 1842.  Historically the Ironworks is important as the location for several key developments in iron manufacture, and as a remarkable example of integration and of mechanisation.   This industry shaped the local physical and cultural landscape.  The heart of the site is a SAM but many features exist outwith this area and together make up the landscape of the Ironworks.  Little remains of the Ironworks today and Scottish Lowlands Forest District are developing a project to ensure that Wilsontown Ironworks is put on the map. 
  • The Hafod Project - The Hafod estate occupies some 200 ha of the Ystwyth valley (Ceredigion) and surrounding hills. Most of the land is owned by Forest Enterprise (FE) who, in partnership with the Hafod trust, is engaged in a major historic landscape conservation and restoration project. Core funding is from the HLF and the Cydcoed project. The main aim of the project is to restore and protect the designed landscape of a previous owner Thomas Johnes (1748-1816). Work so far has included extensive archaeological surveys, restoration and conservation of buildings, monuments, structures and re-opening an extensive network of Georgian footpaths. 
  • Promoting natural heritage - FE Wales has opened a geological trail at Coed-y-Brenin (Gwynned). The trail explores the geological history of the region and passes through the roots of a 500 million year old volcano. The mining history of the area is also covered. This trail forms part of a wider, educational landscape concept that is being promoted by FE Wales. 
  • Wood pasture - Pigs have been introduced into Southwick Wood, Northamptonshire to help break up the ground vegetation and soil surface to enable the grassland species to become re-established. The aim is to recreate a medieval management system of wood pasture and is part of the districts ancient woodland restoration plans.  
  • Neroche land heritage project (SW England).
  • Gibside Estate restoration project (NE England).
  • West Scotland Atlantic oak woods
  • Dalriada (W Scotland).