The history of Britain is written in the landscape. Since the earliest farmers began cutting trees and ploughing clearings, people have moulded and shaped the land, leaving behind the stories of their ways of life in the patterns of fields and hedgerows, rivers and marshes, buildings and walls. Setting off on a journey to understand some of the great landscapes of Great Britain, Aubrey Manning, retired Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh University, discovers a trail of clues to more than 5,000 years of history right beneath his feet.
In the first programme, Aubrey goes in search of the secrets of the Weald - a great saucer of woodland in Kent and Sussex, surrounding by the chalk Downs. He wants to find out why the Weald has retained its ancient forests when so much woodland elsewhere has been felled. Looking for clues, Aubrey uncovers evidence in old Roman tracks of a valuable ancient resource. Combined with the poor quality of the soil, does this explain why the Weald has never been used for ordinary farming?By looking for pollen in cores taken through the peat, a paleobotanist reveals that it's possible to trace the history of the plants and trees which have grown in the area at different times. Aubrey discovers that the Weald has a long industrial history and learns how to spot the signs of medieval furnaces hidden in the undergrowth.
From Henry VIII's time, the woodlands of the Weald had another important use - providing timbers for the Navy. But was the Navy's demand for Oaks too great for the Weald? In Portsmouth, Aubrey boards the Mary Rose and Nelson's Victory to discover the answer.
And in his final visit to Kent, Aubrey finds out how the growing demand for beer in the 19th century offered the Weald another new future with a small-scale crop which continues until this day, and which has helped to preserve this ancient wooded landscape.
Running Time: 30 minutes (approx)
Database last updated: 29 March - 19:30