Author Kevin Lerwill
Gatwick Greenspace Community Wildlife Officer
What does a poppy symbolise to you… sacrifice, heroism, comradeship?
For me, it symbolises all of these, it also symbolises a short period in time when our country, and countryside, changed forever. In this milestone year, we should not only remember the sacrifices made by previous generations in the name of freedom, but also spare a thought for the devastating effect that the two World Wars have had on our landscape.
Prior to 1914, the industrial revolution saw the population gradually moving away from its agricultural roots towards a more prosperous, urban lifestyle, although traditional farming still played a large part in our economy. After 1918 however, rapid advances in science and technology (largely developed by military scientists during the Great War) helped to effectively “rip-up” the old countryside in order to quickly feed a Commonwealth on the verge of famine and large areas of woodland and hedgerows were quickly cleared to maximise the space available for crop production and livestock rearing.
Combined with this, many of the farm workers, game keepers and forest workers who set off for France in 1914 never returned and many of their jobs were soon replaced anyway by a more mechanised, intensive method of managing the countryside that did not rely on manual labour and so their skills (which had existed for hundreds of years until then) were not passed onto the next generation and they gradually faded away one by one.
This erosion of sympathetic management only intensified after World War Two with the introduction of pesticides and herbicides and it carries on to this day, with the associated habitat loss being the main reason why so many of our native species are now in decline. It is unrealistic to hope that we can turn back the clock again to a simpler, more care-free world, but I hope that by remembering the fallen, we can also honour their memory by doing what we can in our lives to protect what is left of our countryside and the wildlife that remains to share it with us.