Throughout this book, there has been stress on the importance of the physical environment, which, itself, has been greatly affected by human activity. Woods have been cleared, so that, outside the Forest of Bere in Hampshire, very little of the original virgin forest has survived. Indeed, since 1945, 45 per cent of the United Kingdom’s remaining ancient seminatural forest has been damaged or destroyed. Rivers have been deepened and straightened, coastlines altered. This has been a long process. The marshland of the Fens, for example, has been progressively drained from the Roman period to the present day, with particular activity in the seventeenth century and following the arrival of steam pumps from the 1820s. Yet, at no stage, has there been such pressure on the environment as in modern Britain. Other creatures are decimated by human activities, between 3000 and 5000 barn owls being killed on UK roads each year. On the other hand, the Welsh red kite has been brought back from the brink of extinction, while fish have returned to previously polluted rivers such as the Taff, Thames, Tyne, Wandle and Wear, as de-industrialisation and better management have greatly increased their cleanliness. There is a regional dimension, with animals doing least well in the crowded south of England.
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