An evaluatory study of the methods used in the reconstruction of historical vegetation and land-use, with reference to part of East Sussex, England

Moffat, Brian (1984) An evaluatory study of the methods used in the reconstruction of historical vegetation and land-use, with reference to part of East Sussex, England. Doctoral thesis, Polytechnic of North London.


This thesis is directed towards an evaluation of the principal methods used in the reconstruction of historical vegetation and land use. It is argued here that previous reconstructions by many authors have employed only one or a very limited range of techniques, and that comparative evaluation of the resultant data and of the methods themselves has generally been lacking in such studies.

The present study draws on and evaluates a wide range of evidence from a strictly circumscribed study area on eastern Pevensey Levels, Sussex. The evidence principally includes lithostratigraphy, the analyses of pollen, plant macrofossils (supported by radiocarbon dating) and mineralogy, and primary and secondary documentary sources. The local archaeological record is also examined. Consideration is given to the extent to which the species and growth forms present, and their nature, abundance and distribution, can be assessed. The dynamics of change are reconstructed and discussed, and formations of historical vegetation are tentatively proposed.

The data from diverse sources are reciprocally tested. Correspondence is discussed, and present-day ecological data are drawn on in the explanation of anomalies. This enables critical reflections to be made on the contributory disciplines, as well as more general evaluation.

The main general conclusion is that any one method, were it used singly, would seriously mislead as to the nature of vegetation sensu lato. The data en masse yielded includes numerous incongruities, and ecological discussion and interpretation is offered on these. Particular, significant conclusions include the awry representation in the pollen record of the majority of tree and shrub taxa as a consequence of sustained management practices; the gross under-representation of low-growing plants en masse ascribed to inhibited dispersion in a taller-growing general context; the under-representation in the recent pollen record of the hop, a locally common cultivar, due to specific management practices; the faulted, vague and ambiguous nomenclature of many types of vegetation and land-use in the documented record, as elucidated by in situ macrofossil and sedimentary records, together with the pollen record; the re-assertion of the status of the oak as the primary forest-forming tree in the study area, contrary to trends evident in other work on the forest history of south-east England. The documentation was found wanting in its singular slant-on the reclamation of the Levels, the nature of extractions from woodland and on the act of clearance. The means proposed for unifying the twin blocs of evidence, spatial analysis, was discussed and its rejection explained.

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