Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 215–232 | Cite as

Mid- to late-Holocene vegetation history of Greater Exmoor, UK: estimating the spatial extent of human-induced vegetation change

  • R. M. FyfeEmail author
  • A. G. Brown
  • S. J. Rippon
Original Article


This paper presents the results from three pollen profiles from a group of small spring mire sites on the southern edge of Exmoor in south west England. The size and topography of these sites allow detailed local landscape histories around each site to be reconstructed which broadly cover the mid- to late-Holocene. Comparison of the individual local landscape histories demonstrates the scale of spatial variation in vegetation around the upland edge, and facilitates understanding of human-landscape interactions from the early Neolithic onward. In the early Neolithic significant short-term woodland disturbance is recorded around the upland fringe, including clearance of oak-hazel-elm woodland, suggesting that the shift from Mesolithic to Neolithic is not marked by a gradual environmental transition. Following this, there is clear evidence of Neolithic management of upland heath using fire, presumably for the management of upland grazing. Woodland clearances are recorded throughout the later Prehistoric period; however, the use of multiple profiling suggests that woodland clearance is spatially discrete, even within an area of 4 km2. Pastoral land use is dominant around the uplands until around 900–1,000 a.d., and there is no discernible Roman or post-Roman period impact in the vegetation, suggesting cultural stability from the late Iron Age to the early Medieval period. By 1,100 a.d., there is a shift to mixed arable-pastoral farming which appears to continue well into the post-Medieval period.


Pollen Exmoor Human impact Mesolithic/Neolithic Medieval 



This research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (Grant F/00144/D). We wish to thank Rob Wilson-North (Exmoor National Park) for discussion of the archaeology, and Mark Dinnin, Zoë Ruiz and Jackie Hatton for help with field and laboratory work. Comments by Keith Barber and an anonymous referee were also most helpful.


  1. Andersen ST (1978) Identification of wild grass and cereal pollen. Danmarks Geologiske Undersøgelse Årbog, pp 69–92Google Scholar
  2. Andrew R (1984) A practical pollen guide to the British flora. Quaternary Research Association, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. Beckett SC, Hibbert FA (1979) Vegetational change and the influence of prehistoric man in the Somerset Levels. New Phytologist 83:577–600Google Scholar
  4. Bennett KD (1994) Annotated catalogue of pollen and pteridophyte spore types. Unpublished report, Department of Plant Sciences, University of CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown AG (1999) Characterising prehistoric lowland environments using local pollen assemblages. Quaternary Proc 7:585–594Google Scholar
  6. Caseldine CJ (1999) Archaeological and environmental change on Prehistoric Dartmoor – current understandings and future directions. J Quaternary Sci 14:575–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Caseldine CJ, Hatton J (1993) The development of high moorland on Dartmoor: fire and the influence of Mesolithic activity on vegetation change. In: Chambers FM (ed) Climate change and human impact on the landscape. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 119–132Google Scholar
  8. Chambers FM, Mauquoy D, Todd PA (1999) Recent rise to dominance of Molinia caerulea in environmentally sensitive areas: new perspectives from palaeoecological data. J Appl Ecol 36:710–733CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dumayne L, Barber K (1994) The impact of the Romans on the environment of northern Britain: pollen data from three sites close to Hadrian’s Wall. The Holocene 4:165–173Google Scholar
  10. Dumayne-Peaty L, Barber K (1998) Late Holocene vegetational history, human impact and pollen representativity variations in northern Cumbria, England. J Quaternary Sci 13:147–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Edwards KJ (1979) Palynological and temporal inference in the context of prehistory, with special reference to the evidence from lake and peat deposits. J Archaeol Sci 6:255–270Google Scholar
  12. Edwards KJ (1999) Palynology and people: observations on the British record. Quaternary Proc 7:531–544Google Scholar
  13. Edwards KJ, MacDonald GM (1991) Holocene palynology: II human influence and vegetation change. Prog Phys Geog 15:364–391Google Scholar
  14. Faegri K, Kaland PE, Krzywinski K (1989) Textbook of pollen analysis (4th edn). Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  15. Fleming A (1979) The Dartmoor reaves: boundary patterns and behaviour patterns in the second millennium b.c. Proc Devon Archaeol Soc 37:115–131Google Scholar
  16. Fleming A (1988) The Dartmoor Reaves. Batsford, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Fleming A (1994) The Reaves revisited. Proc Devon Archaeol Soc 52:63–74Google Scholar
  18. Fox HSA (1991) Farming practice and techniques, Devon and Cornwall. In: Miller E (ed) The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol 3. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 303–323Google Scholar
  19. Francis PD, Slater DS (1990) A record of vegetation and land use change from upland peat deposits on Exmoor. Part 2: Hoar Moor. Somerset Archaeol Nat Hist Soc Proc 134:1–25Google Scholar
  20. Francis PD, Slater DS (1992) A record of vegetation and land use change from upland peat deposits on Exmoor. Part 3: Codsend Moor. Somerset Archaeol Nat Hist Soc Proc 136:9–28Google Scholar
  21. Fyfe RM, Brown AG, Coles BJ (2003). Mesolithic to Bronze Age vegetation change and human activity in the Exe Valley, Devon, UK. Proc Prehist Soc 70 (in press)Google Scholar
  22. Fyfe RM, Brown AG, Cook N (submitted). A new high-resolution late-Holocene palaeoecological and palaeoclimatological record for Exmoor, south west England. The HoloceneGoogle Scholar
  23. Hatcher J (1988) New settlement: south west England. In: Hallam HE (ed) The Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol 2. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 234–244Google Scholar
  24. Henderson CG, Weddell PJ (1994) Medieval settlements on Dartmoor and in west Devon: the evidence from excavations. Proc Devon Archaeol Soc 52:119–140Google Scholar
  25. Hester AJ, Baillie GJ (1998) Spatial and temporal patterns of heather use by sheep and red deer within natural heather/grass mosaics. J Appl Ecol 35:772–784Google Scholar
  26. Jacobsen GL, Bradshaw RH (1981) The selection of sites for palaeoecological studies. Quaternary Res 16:80–96Google Scholar
  27. Jowsey PC (1966) An improved peat sampler. New Phytologist 65:245–248Google Scholar
  28. Lamb HH (1982) Climate, history and the modern world. Methuen, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Leah MD, Wells CE, Huckerby E, Stamper P (1998) The Wetlands of Shropshire and Staffordshire. Lancashire Imprints, LancasterGoogle Scholar
  30. Mackay AW, Tallis JH (1994) The recent history of the forest of Bowland, Lancashire. New Phytologist 128:571–584Google Scholar
  31. Mellars P (1976) Fire ecology, animal populations and man: a study of some ecological relationships in prehistory. Proc Prehist Soc 42:15–45Google Scholar
  32. Moore PD, Merryfield DL, Price MDR (1984) The vegetation and development of blanket mires. In: Moore PD (ed) European Mires. Academic Press, London, pp 203–235Google Scholar
  33. Moore PD, Webb JA, Collinson ME (1991) Pollen analysis. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  34. Odgaard BV (1992) The fire history of Danish heathland areas as reflected by pollen and charred particles in lake sediments. The Holocene 2:218–226Google Scholar
  35. Palmer SCF, Hester AJ (2000) Predicting spatial variation in heather utilization by sheep and red deer within heather/grass mosaics. J Appl Ecol 37:616–631CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Parker AG, Goudie AS, Anderson DE, Robinson MA, Bonsall C (2002) A review of the mid-Holocene elm decline in the British Isles. Prog Phys Geog 26:1–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Peglar SM (1993) The mid-Holocene Ulmus decline at Diss Mere, Norfolk, UK: a year-by-year pollen stratigraphy from annual laminations. The Holocene 3:1–13Google Scholar
  38. Peglar SM, Birks HJB (1993) The mid-Holocene Ulmus fall at Diss Mere, South-East England – disease and human impact? Veg Hist Archaeobot 2:61–68Google Scholar
  39. Pennington W (1965) The interpretation of some Post-glacial vegetational diversities at different Lake District sites. Proc Royal Soc B161:310–340Google Scholar
  40. Pennington W (1970) Vegetation history in the north-west of England: a regional synthesis. In: Walker D, West RG (eds) Studies in the vegetational history of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 41–79Google Scholar
  41. Pennington W, Haworth EY, Bonny AP, Lishman JP (1972) Lake sediments in northern Scotland. Proc Royal Soc B264:191–294Google Scholar
  42. Prentice IC (1985) Pollen representation, source area and basin size: towards a unified theory of pollen analysis. Quaternary Research 23:76–86Google Scholar
  43. Ralston I (1999) The Iron Age: aspects of the Human communities and their environments. Quaternary Proc 7:501–512Google Scholar
  44. Riley H, Wilson-North R (2001) The Field archaeology of Exmoor. English Heritage, SwindonGoogle Scholar
  45. Rodwell JS (1992) British plant communities 3: grasslands and montane communities. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  46. Scaife RG (1988) The Ulmus decline in the pollen record of South East England and its relationship to early agriculture. In: Jones M (ed) Archaeology and the flora of the British Isles. Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph no 14, Oxford, pp 21–33Google Scholar
  47. Simmons IG (1964) Pollen diagrams from Dartmoor. New Phytologist 63:165–180Google Scholar
  48. Simmons IG (1996) Changing the face of the Earth. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  49. Simmons IG, Innes JB (1987) Mid-Holocene adaptations and later Mesolithic forest disturbance in Northern England. J Archaeol Sci 14:385–403Google Scholar
  50. Simmons IG, Innes JB (1996) Disturbance phases in the mid-Holocene vegetation at North Gill, North York Moors: form and process. J Archaeol Sci 23:183–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Simmons IG, Rand JI, Crabtree K (1983) A further pollen analytical study of the Blacklane peat section on Dartmoor, England. New Phytologist 94:655–667Google Scholar
  52. Sims RE (1978) Man and vegetation in Norfolk. In: Limbrey S, Evans JG (eds) The effect of man on the landscape: the lowland zone. Council for British Archaeology Research Report, Oxford, pp 57–62Google Scholar
  53. Skinner C, Brown AG (1999) Mid Holocene vegetation diversity in eastern Cumbria. J Biogeography 26:45–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith AG, Cloutman EW (1988) Reconstruction of Holocene vegetation history in three dimensions at Waun-Fignen-Felen, and upland site in South Wales. Philos T Roy Soc B322:159–219Google Scholar
  55. Smith K, Coppen J, Wainwright GJ, Beckett S (1981) The Shaugh Moor project: third report, settlement and environmental investigations. Proc Prehist Soc 47:205–273Google Scholar
  56. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ (1993) Extended 14C database and a revised CALIB radiocarbon calibration program. Radiocarbon 35:215–230Google Scholar
  57. Sugita S (1993) A model of pollen source area for an entire lake surface. Quaternary Res 39:239–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sugita S (1994) Pollen representation of vegetation in Quaternary sediments: theory and method in patchy vegetation. J Ecol 82:879–898Google Scholar
  59. Sugita S (1998) Modelling pollen representation of vegetation. In: Gaillard MJ, Berglund BE, Frenzel B, Huckriede U (eds) Quantification of land surfaces cleared of forests during the Holocene, Paläoklimaforschung/Palaeoclimate Research 27. Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart, pp 1–16Google Scholar
  60. ter Braak CJF (1987) CANOCO – a FORTRAN program for canonical community ordination by [partial] [detrended] [canonical] correspondence analysis, principle components analysis and redundancy analysis. Agricultural Mathematics Group, WageningenGoogle Scholar
  61. Tipping R (1994) The form and fate of Scotland’s woodlands. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 124:1–54Google Scholar
  62. Tipping R (1995) Holocene evolution of a lowland Scottish landscape: Kirkpatrick Fleming. II Regional vegetation and land-use change. The Holocene 5:83–96Google Scholar
  63. Todd PA (1996) The MAFF Molinia study: control of purple moorgrass (Molinia caerulea (L.) Moench) in heather (Calluna vulgaris) moorland after reduction in sheep grazing. In: Phillips J (ed) The Heather Trust Annual Report. Heather Trust, Kippen, pp 13–16Google Scholar
  64. Turner J (1964) The anthropogenic factor in vegetational history. I Tregaron and Whixall Mosses. New Phytologist 63:73–82Google Scholar
  65. Turner J (1970) Post-Neolithic disturbance of British vegetation. In: Walker D, West RG (eds) Studies in the vegetational history of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 97–116Google Scholar
  66. van Geel B, Buurman J, Waterbolk HT (1996) Archaeological and palaeoecological indications of an abrupt climate change in The Netherlands, and evidence for climatological teleconnections around 2,650 b.p.. J Quaternary Sci 11:451–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Vuorela I (1970) The indication of farming in pollen diagrams from Southern Finland. Acta Bot Fenn 87:1–40Google Scholar
  68. Wimble G, Wells CE, Hodgkinson D (2000) Human impact on mid- and late Holocene vegetation in south Cumbria, UK. Veg Hist Archaeobot 9:17–30Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography, Archaeology and Earth ResourcesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

Personalised recommendations