Devon Wildlife Trust & the Beaford Archive
Lisa Schneidau, Northern Devon NIA Manager with Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT), explains why the Beaford Archive is so important to DWT.
The British landscape has been shaped by layer on layer of history. Our hedgerows, fields, woodlands and settlements have developed over centuries in response to the policies and priorities of a changing population; and our wildlife has changed and adapted to match.
North Devon is no different. In the 1970s and 1980s, James Ravilious and Roger Deakins captured hundreds of images of a landscape in a time of rapid change. Dutch Elm Disease had decimated mature trees across Britain, and agriculture was intensifying, with the use of new technologies and chemicals to increase production. Ravilious in particular was aware that many of his images were recording a rural idyll, a way of life that was fast disappearing.
Devon Wildlife Trust has been playing an active part in north Devon’s landscape since that time, not only with our nature reserves like Halsdon woods, Dunsdon and Meresfelle, but also working with local people to benefit wildlife on private land. DWT has supported hundreds of landowners and parishes to protect and enhance our Culm grasslands, native woodlands and rivers – all those features that make North Devon such a special place. This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to turn the clock back, but simply encouraging and supporting land managers to include a space for nature in their operations, and protect the precious wild places we have left. Of course, in the longer term, protecting our soils, managing flood waters and encouraging pollinators make good business sense as well.
The Beaford Archive is of huge interest to DWT, as a record of landscape and wildlife change. Iconic images such as Stephen Squire hedgelaying, children in Chulmleigh off on a nature trail with their teacher, and grazing animals on Hatherleigh Moor, tell us a great deal about how the land was managed and appreciated forty years ago. Some locations have changed beyond all recognition, while some are exactly the same today as when James Ravilious saw them. The images prompt questions about how those places have changed today and how they contribute to local identity and sense of place. For those with an eye for nature, they also tell the story about how our wildlife has changed.
The Beaford Archive is much more than a set of photographs: it is a living resource to be celebrated, added to, and continued, held by those who live and work in north Devon. We are very lucky that Beaford, as keeper of the archive, has taken such a proactive approach to sharing it with the local community and developing the Hidden Histories project.
Beaford has been truly groundbreaking in the way it has embraced this complex project and allowed it to change and develop with the input of many people. DWT has been delighted to contribute to this project through Community Trails, working with six local schools to interpret the landscape through image, art and nature. We have had a lot of fun, and learned a great deal from the children and adults we have worked with. I hope that the impacts of the project continue for many years to come.
In the snapshot of time we are living in today, more agricultural upheaval is likely as policies change, and the spectre of Ash Dieback is starting to make itself known across the north Devon landscape. The fate of wildlife hangs in the balance, and if society chooses, we could yet lose our green and pleasant land to industrial agriculture. Yet so many people in north Devon love their landscape and are working hard to restore our wildlife and build a positive environmental future.
I wonder what the new images added to the archive in 40 years’ time will tell us about the North Devon landscape of 2058?
For more information about Devon Wildlife Trust go to www.devonwildlifetrust.org