A simplistic watercolour of the River Wye belies a detailed look at many aspects of our varied countryside and Patrick Whitefield, a pioneering permaculturalist with an eye for the wider environment, uses years of careful observation to explain some of the complex interactions which underpin our scenery. However well you might know your local patch, there is information here that will make you want to look again.
Ant hills, for example, aren’t just randomly dotted across open grassland, but usually develop on the best drained part of a field. Allied to the direction of the sun, ant hills also have specific north and south facing vegetation and, in theory, it should therefore be possible to use one as a crude form of compass.
Forests and woods lie at the other end of the spectrum and the ways in which succession has created, and continues to create, our landscape are examined. Grassland, heath, moor, hedges and even roads get the same treatment, with nice crisp photos and simple sketches, but the chapter looking at water surprisingly omits rivers, canals and inland waterways.
Extracts from field notebooks bring descriptions to life, but only two or three of the illustrations venture north of a line between Somerset and Surrey. One solitary case study frustratingly whets the appetite for more and ideas for further reference are limited to half a dozen titles. One of these is Oliver Rackham’s magnum opus and, perhaps in a nod to the old master, there’s even a photo of him clambering around an ancient wizened tree.
HOW TO READ A LANDSCAPE by Patrick Whitefield, Permanent Publications, £16.95 (hardback)
This story was published in the April 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine