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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Correspondence to R. M. Fyfe.

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Fyfe, R.M., Brown, A.G. & Rippon, S.J. Mid- to late-Holocene vegetation history of Greater Exmoor, UK: estimating the spatial extent of human-induced vegetation change. Veget Hist Archaeobot 12, 215–232 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-003-0018-3

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Keywords

  • Pollen
  • Exmoor
  • Human impact
  • Mesolithic/Neolithic
  • Medieval