The NAEE blog recently carried a guest posting from Geoffrey Guy who lectures at Reaseheath College, and is the Director of Education for Bushcraft Education Ltd, and founder of the Bushcraft Education blog. It was about the enclosure of land and its recent liberation by legislation granting open-access – well, up to a point – and the benefit this has had for environmental education, and outdoor education more generally.
I take much of my understanding about enclosures from ‘Forces of Change’ by Henry Hobhouse. Hobhouse says that the first enclosures took place after the Black Death when empty villages were just swallowed up by adjacent estates and the land was used to rear sheep. He says that it was in later periods that open field systems of common usage were enclosed and that this took place at a variety of speeds which seem to be linked to the price of wheat. That is: higher wheat prices = a call for more efficient agricultural land = enclosures. It was only after 1800, Hobhouse says, that the fens, moorland and hills became systematically enclosed. With the final repeal of the Corn laws in 1845, the pressure on agricultural land became less, and most of the enclosures took place around town and cities. Hobhouse says that they came to an abrupt end in 1869 following attempts to enclose Wimbledon and Clapham Commons, and the Epsom Downs, but there do seem to have been acts of parliament after that time.
NAEE also mentioned A Short History of Enclosure in Britain recently. This is by Simon Fairlie, and is published in the Land magazine. It describes in a lively fashion how enclosure of common land over the centuries deprived most of the British people of access to agricultural land. This added considerable richness to my knowledge, and I recommend all three readings about this complex and compelling subject which remains alive today.