Terraced landscapes in United Kingdom
28.09.2017, by Bénédicte Gaillard
The entries are still in process, the e-atlas is still under development
Deliberately created cultivation terraces have never been a feature in England (or the UK) but lynchets resembling terraces might form where Celtic field systems were developed on steep slopes in the late Iron Age and Roman periods. More significant are the remains of medieval strip lynchets where medieval arable strips were ploughed around the contours on steep hillsides within an open field system, with a lynchet (or step) consequently forming on the downside of the ploughs-trip over a long period of time (the name is derived from Old English hlinc ‘ridge’); this method helped to avoid soil erosion.
S.S. Frere & J.K.S. St Joseph, 1983. Roman Britain from the Air (Cambridge University Press).
C. Taylor, 1970. Dorset (Hodder & Stougton).
G. Whittington, 1962. ‘The distribution of strip lynchets’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 31, pp. 115-30.
Strip lynchets were most frequent along the Jurassic limestone or chalk escarpments of England or upon other calcareous formations but with concentrations along the chalk and limestone escarpments in the south-west in Wiltshire and Dorset (often the same areas as those where Celtic fields were common). They formed upon slopes of between 6 and 27 degrees where the need for cropland forced such exploitation and this may have been related to settlement patterns such as increased nucleation and also to deteriorating climatic conditions in the thirteenth century. They were, for instance, particularly common in Wiltshire in the Vale of Pewsey where much of the lower ground was too marshy for cultivation. Such strip lynchets are particularly well preserved today along the chalk scarp near Bishopstone further to the north. Most of the strip fields reverted to pasture with the subsequent enclosure of the open fields.
Good examples are perhaps more numerous in Dorset, found all along the face of the chalk scarp across central Dorset (including examples at Buckland Newton, Woolland, Ibberton, Sutton Waldron and Compton Abbas) or on less steep ground along the valley of the South Winterborne such as those associated with the settlements of Winterborne Came, Winterbourne Abbas, Winterburne Steepleton and Winterborne Monkton. At Worth Matravers on the Isle of Purbeck, the medieval strips overlook a narrow valley draining into the sea at Winspit, clear remains extending across an area of some 100 acres with less well-preserved strips covering a further 190 acres on the slopes of West and East Man. The subsoil here is mainly Lower and Middle Purbeck limestones and marls except for the area towards the sea where there are marls and shales and where the strip fields may have been ploughed across old landslips in an attempt to obtain more land for crop cultivation.