Lakes, lives and landscapes: exploring the diverse histories of people and their standing waters using a multi-disciplinary approach

This project is available from the academic year 2024/25 onwards.

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Helen Bennion

Geography, UCL

Helen Bennion's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Carl Sayer

Geography, UCL

Carl Sayer's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Lakes and ponds are important landscape features with rich ecological (Sayer et al. 2008) and cultural (Prince 1964) histories. As vital elements in an early agricultural world, ponds developed a rich associated culture, with uses and meanings that are both little understood and written down. This project would explore how the ecological, landscape and cultural histories compare and interact for lakes and ponds and how, by understanding the past values attached to different types of waterbody, we can better inform future conservation and management. By delving into historical archives and hearing the stories of a diverse range of people, a fuller understanding of the creation of, and change at, these sites could be achieved, in turn making a valuable contribution to conservation ecology including re-instatement of old management practices. This PhD will address two broad research questions:
• How can we employ a combination of historical archives, palaeoecology and oral histories to gain a fuller understanding of the creation of, and functional change at, lake and pond sites, and to elucidate the cultural and spiritual aspects of lesser-studied ponds?
• How can we best employ a multi-disciplinary approach to inform landscape conservation and sustainable management practices?
A scoping study funded by UCL and the National Trust (NT) has already identified several NT properties with both lakes and ponds and these could be a good starting point for selecting study sites for the PhD. The scoping study also identified a range of approaches that could be developed in various ways including: exploration of regional distinctiveness; a focus on estates and their home farms; a ‘demonstration pondscape’ to highlight various past uses and values of ponds; palaeoecological studies of pond sites to assess how documented land-use and management histories are reflected in the sediment record.

Policy Impact of Research:

The project has potential for informing practical management and NT engagement work, particularly in light of climate change, food security and changes in agricultural policy. We could explore bringing in the NT as a Case Partner. There might also be opportunities to work with other organisations with interests in landscape history e.g. The Gardens Trust, Historic England and Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies.

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