The Shaping of the Sussex Landscape
by Peter BrandonPublished by Snake River Press
SUSSEX BOOK REVIEW
The erudite Peter Brandon returns to a subject he has written about many times before - the impact of man on the seemingly natural landscape of West Sussex.
The Shaping of the Sussex Landscape picks out nineteen themes which have influenced how Sussex is today - all arranged in a more or less chronological order depending upon when they made their mark.
Sussex Countryside BooksMore books about the landscape of West Sussex.
In the earliest chapters of the book Peter Brandon touches on a theme in which he has considerable experience - how to read the landscape.
He has a wealth of knowledge about the tell tales signs of the long-forgotten actions of man: a patch of bracken, a depression in the Downs, the best way to spot lynchets and so on.
These are valuable skills that can enhance any walk or journey and I was looking forward to these being developed further throughout the book.
Unfortunately the more modern sections are short of tips of this sort. The limited available space is devoted to explaining what happened - and fair enough. In a book of fewer than 100 pages, it's hard to cram such a lot in and The Shaping of the Sussex Landscape succeeds in demonstrating that almost everything we see in the Sussex landscape has been influenced by us in one form or another.
Perhaps the wonderful Snake River Press will commission Peter Brandon to write a further volume on how to read the Sussex landscape. He'd be the right person to do it.
Many of the subjects dealt with are well known (What did the Romans ever do for Sussex?), but each subject is well covered, making this an ideal book for anyone who wants a better understanding of why the Sussex landscape looks as it does.
The book's most interesting chapter describes the beneficial effect of the great country houses on the landscape. It's tempting to think that while we are now grateful to the various dukes and earls who consumed so much wealth on shaping the landscaping, in eighteenth century France such indulgent practices contributed to the elimination of the unpopular aristocracy.
Obviously the coming of the railways to Sussex and the rush to colonise beautiful Sussex is the factor with the biggest visual and all-round environmental impact on our lovely county.
Dr Brandon is optimistic that the damage that has been done over the last 150 years can be undone. He calls his chapter on the emergence of conservation as a factor in man's use of the Sussex environment The Turn of the Tide - the Saving of the County.
The Shaping of the Sussex Landscape doesn't gloss over the loss of much of the character of Sussex. Peter Brandon describes many villages as now being little more than "chichi dormitories or places of retirement" and laments the homogenisation of town and country life.
But as a Sussex enthusiast he concludes that "Sussex still has much to be proud of" and I'll drink to that.
Book reviewed by Mark Hoult, West Sussex.info
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