Fiona Stafford: The myth of the unchanging countryside

Professor Fiona Stafford joins James Fisher to talk about the constantly changing landscape around us.

We tend to think of the British countryside as rural idyll, a patchwork of fields, farms and forests, rolling on through time until rudely interrupted by the building of a new housing estate, a dual-carriageway or some other man-man incursion.

But the landscape around us is changing constantly, has always been doing so, and always will. Fiona Stafford, professor of English at Oxford University, joins the Country Life podcast this week to talk about how, and why, we fail to recognise those shifts.

Even in the space of a generation or two, vast changes can take place that we scarcely think about: from swamps drained and reservoirs created to the hundreds of Second World War airfields which once dotted so much of Britain, and which how have mostly been turned to other purposes. And how about the River Humber, crossed by a mighty suspension bridge which feels as if it will be there forever; yet the Solway Firth was once spanned by a spectacular Victorian viaduct of which almost nothing now remains.

When we talk about conservation, then, what are we conserving? If the landscape is being constantly made and re-made, how are we to say which particular moment in time we’re trying to return it to? The countryside, after all, is a workplace, not a museum. Fiona tackles these ideas in her new book, Time and Tide: The Long, Long History of Landscape, and we’re delighted that she was able to join our podcast host James Fisher to discuss this fascinating topic.

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Episode credits

Host: James Fisher
Guest: Professor Fiona Stafford
Producer and editor: Toby Keel
Music: JuliusH via Pixabay
Special thanks: Adam Wilbourn

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