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A little bit of history

Field of wild daisies

The many landscapes of The National Forest host a variety of habitats, plants and animals. The wooded hills of the Needwood and Charnwood Forests are quite different from the floodplains of the Trent and Mease Valleys and the parklands around Melbourne are different from the industrial coalfields around Swadlincote. This variety is due to a combination of the landscapes on which they have developed and the activities of man.

The natural history of The National Forest began 600 million years ago when the rocks of Charnwood Forest (some of the oldest in England) were created. Since then, our landscape has been constantly changing. At first this was due to the natural processes that created our planet: the movement of the continents, volcanic activity, changes in sea levels and the passing of Ice Ages. But from the arrival of early humans in the Trent Valley some 250,000 years ago, man also began to affect the natural world around him. At first, this effect would have been small but as the human population developed and our numbers grew, so did the impact we had on our environment.

The result is the working landscape that we see in The National Forest today. Perhaps the two greatest influences have been farming and mineral extraction (mining and quarrying).

For thousands of years, farming has been central to the development of the people of the British Isles. As our populations have grown, we have needed more and more food to sustain us. To meet these demands, farming expanded and became more intensive, taking more and more land. But, while the food produced was vital, farming began to push many plants and animals to the margins in hedgerows and isolated woodlands.

Although stone had long been quarried for building materials, it was only in the last few hundred years that the growth of industry has led to a huge expansion in mineral extraction in the Midlands. Within The National Forest area, sand and gravel are still being quarried along the Trent Valley and clay is still being extracted in some areas. But the coal mining that was at the centre of so many communities in south Derbyshire and north-west Leicestershire is all but gone. All that remains are the extensive mounds of "spoil" produced by the collieries which have slowly been restored to woodland and other habitats.

Both farming and mineral extraction were vital to the development of both the local area and the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, these twin pressures, together with many other human influences, affected the wildlife of much of our area. The result was a reduction in the richness and variety of our plants and animals. Some species, such as the otter, were lost while others, such as bluebells, became restricted to those remnants of suitable habitats that were left. So, The National Forest area, as with much of the Midlands, had relatively less wildlife interest than other parts of the country.