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The Heath's Tale

August's Newsletter

Merry Met Virtual Traveller

As we reach the end of August, 95% of UK crops have been harvested. The fields lie in stuble and scattered beans and the ground nesting birds have long since flown their nests.

Next month we will celebrate the autumn equinox and the abundance that we find in the hedgerows at this time of year. Plenty to pickle, jam and preserve.

Farming and food production have long influenced and shaped our landscape. Heathlands, for example, are a solely manmade creation and yet these habitats are now rare and valuable. Some of my local heathlands hold 12 of the 13 species of UK native reptiles and amphibians. The only reason it they not hold all 13 is because pool frogs are currently only found in one place in the UK and that's not local.

Male & Female Sand Lizards One Of The Three Native UK Lizards

Heathlands have been in use since the bronze age. Once the spiritual sites of our ancestors, they still have burial mounds on them today. These are known as barrows and they date back 5000 years.

As we became more settled in our communities and farming we cleared spaces for crops. When we discovered the heathland would not support these crops we grazed our livestock on them and in this way the land became heathland, full of scrub, gorse and birch trees.

Over the coming centuries the land was used as common land for collecting estovers, turf and peat for fuel, grazing livestock, gathering heather for roofing and bedding and birch for brooms.

This came to an end with the 1805 Enclosure's Act and from that point on the heathland became closed off to the commoner. Without cattle to graze it, heathland became lost and up until recently this land has been viewed as unproductive wasteland. Now, however, we see the value in these precious habitats and celebrate them.

Next month I will be taking part in an event to do just that, celebrate the local heaths, The event is run by The South Downs National Park and I will be there with Herigeas Hundas.

With the autumn storytelling season about to begin I find myself booked to tel several tales of farming and how has shaped our landscape. I have a private booking to tell tales on a dairy farm, the village greening festival and later in September I will be taking part in the Equinox Boat Burning at Butser Ancient Farm, where I will be telling more stories of our ancestors and the landscape.

I'd like to finish this missive with a rather neat little quote from Wendell Berry that combines farming and stories:

'Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.'

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