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Agricultural Regions and Agrarian History in England, by Joan Thirsk

By Joan Thirsk

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Forest economies were well designed to keep people alive but not to make them rich men. Their activities dovetailed neatly with those of neighbouring, usually arable, regions; they supplied, for example, young cattle and sheep to be fattened elsewhere. But their large areas of underused, often rough, pasture and neglected woodland could not escape the attention of the sixteenth-century improvers, wishing to put more land under the plough. (ll) Usually this resulted in the upgrading of only select portions of woodland, as for example in Ashdown Forest in Sussex, since many poor woodland soils resisted improvement, even though lime was energetically bestowed to counteract their acidity.

The fenland economy had adapted itself sensibly to the environment and, while feeding its own inhabitants satisfactorily, it also supplied some necessary foodstuffs to other parts of the kingdom, especially London. But in the sixteenth century when efforts to expand arable farming were at their height, such a seemingly benighted countryside could not be left in peace. Schemes were laid to drain and then plough the fens, which were implemented in the seventeenth century when economic conditions no longer favoured such a transformation.

Men had less incentive to keep sheep and so these now took second place in their reckoning. But, all in all, the fells and moorlands were able to turn seventeenth-century changes in agricultural prices and the expansion of industrial enterprise to good account. ; 49], around the estuary of the Humber [51], where several rivers including the Trent converge and a large arc of land is enveloped in the Isle of Axholme and Hatfield Chase [61; 23, I, 48], and in the Somerset Levels in the neighbourhood of Sedgemoor and Bridgwater [65; 22, 78-9; 23, I, 358ffJ.

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