Dear Mrs Atkins,
I wish I could have a conversation with you about all the changes which has happened since you where alive.
I have been looking at your work, “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” and I have very much enjoyed it, and truly appreciate your craft. It is beautiful work indeed. I was inspired and wanted to make a homage to you, based on the world I live in.
I came to Halstead to visit your church and mansion, and to my surprise the mansion is no longer there and in its place is a modern housing estate, but the church down the lane remains. The world you live in is very different to the one I live in. I’m not going to write about politics or social issues, simply facts about the landscape. Perhaps you might write back to me and add your thoughts?
According to experts that I have spoken to, it seems that the biodiversity itself hasn’t changed very much. However, the overall numbers of most species have declined greatly.
In your era, at the turn of the 19th century, the population of England is around 8.5 million. Today, it is more than 60 million, which along with great changes in farming practices, has put a strain on the soil. After the war, there was an intensification in agriculture, for example land drainage was introduced in 1940 ( and in fact abolished in1987). There has been a decline in mixed farming, and changes in crop rotation as we started to grow monocultures on larger areas. Where your generation used mainly manure to fertilise, we use chemicals – man-made inorganic nitrogen fertilisers. The shift from crop rotation and reduced diversity of crops, led to an increase in pests, which we also tackled with chemicals – organochlorine pesticides to be precise. These have a broad-reaching effect across the whole food chain. We’ve now stopped using them, but only after great cost to our wildlife.
Another major change is that ‘between 1761 and 1844, four million acres of village-based open strip fields were transformed into the neatly hedged, privately owned rectangles we know today. Over the same period, two million acres of commons and wasteland (public woods, marshes and moors free for all to use) were brought under cultivation'(Sitopia by Carolyn Steel).
We have also created new materials, namely plastic. It is made from oil and was seen as a huge breakthrough when it was invented and began to be used in a great many ways. Unfortunately, it is very hard to break down and it is an increasing problem to our planet’s health.
As you can see, there have been great changes and, in fact there are many more, but perhaps we can talk about them over the course of our exchange of letters. I’d love to know your thoughts.
With kind regards