Atlas of Places
Rural Patterns II
The most extreme form of unawareness is failure to recognise the part played by human activity in creating the character of the landscape. It is only relatively recently that it has been widely recognised that what were supposed to be wilderness areas in the New World owed their character, or important features of it, to the activities of people who were there when it was ‘discovered’. Awareness of the extent to which the landscape has been formed by generations of human occupation, and of how it has been formed, is still probably quite limited on the part of the majority of lovers of rural landscape. One misapprehension then may be that the rural landscape is purely natural. Such comprehensive ignorance is hard to achieve in a country, such as the UK, most of whose land has been shaped by agriculture in ways that are quite obvious. But a detailed understanding of the forces, technological, social and economic, that conspire to determine the character of the landscape of a particular time and place is not automatically available on the mere survey. The changes in agriculture in recent decades have led to a widespread recognition that new methods of cultivation can transform a landscape, but without necessarily shifting, indeed perhaps reinforcing, the assumption that the preceding landscape was natural, the immemorial setting of an idyllic rural life. This, the Arcadian myth, may be barely conscious, the misty remnant of impressions gained from stories, poems and pictures.