The Natural Scene

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Architect: Brian O’Rorke ◦ Theme Convener: Kenneth Chapman
Display Designer: F. H. K. Henrion

What is the reason for this extraordinary variety in the British landscape? Why is it impossible to find a photograph or a view that makes you say, “That sums up the whole of the British countryside!” while there are many that could have obviously been taken nowhere else? Part of the answer has been given in “The Land of Britain” Pavilion; for the rest we must look into the private lives of the animals and plants which together clothe the surface of this land.

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Most of our wild animals and plants have colonised the island much as man did – from across the Channel and the North Sea. They have moved at different rates, have chosen different places in which to live and multiply, and different sets of neighbours. Always there has been at peculiar sympathy between us and this untamed living world around us, which nowadays shows itself as a desire to know its secrets. In this Pavilion some of them are displayed.

Life in fresh water

The Lake District, the New Forest and the estuary of the River Stour are three areas that have come in for particular study recently. In all these districts, water as well as land provides the environment; so aquaria are being used for watching the behaviour of the plants and animals more closely.

Through having recreated the real conditions in this way, we now know, for instance, how the fish of the Luke District are dependent for their food on the microscopic plant life of the water, and how this life, in turn, exists at different depths, depending on the penetrating power of the different elements in the sun’s light rays.

The wild lands of Britain

Nothing, however, can so well illustrate the great variety of our natural scene as a rapid journey between some of the most distinctive areas. Nine more scenes, all widely different, are shown in this Pavilion.

We begin in the extreme west, on the island of St. Kilda, which is cut from volcanic rock, way out in the Atlantic, far remote from the Scottish coast. For centuries man has struggled for a foothold here and failed. The island remains the breeding place of seals and myriads of birds.

The Scottish Cairngorm mountains, high and cold, are another remote area, but one that is on the mainland. Here is a fastness of rare animals, and the small plants are those that can tolerate acid, peaty soils.

But height and cold are only two of the factors that may limit the abundance of plant and animal life. In parts of the Pennine Hills the country rock is limestone. This is a rock whose structure encourages the water to tunnel underground rather than flow in normal fashion on the surface. On these dry heights plants do not grow large and thick. They are short tufted and give little cover to protect insect life from the upland winds. This means less food for birds, which by consequence are rarer here than on moors, where heather and the like provide shelter for this smaller life.

The downlands

In the North Downs is the scenery so often spoken of as “typically” British. The word implies that here, at least, is permanence; in fact, the animals and plants are on the move, actively re-colonising the land. Much of the downland was once cultivated or grazed by sheep: but for over a century now the slopes have been abandoned by the farmers for the richer soils of the lower-lying land. Now these chalk downs are in the process of acquiring a new natural vegetation cover.

A new natural scene

Except in the most wild regions, then, man is the most important single factor in determining the natural scene, and giving the signal for its change. His presence alone may not be intolerable to wild animals and plants; but his works will upset their earlier agreed associations and bring about communities that are new. The natural history of contemporary London shows this clearly.

Birds, trees and grasses

There is, however, in these islands another wealth of great variety – the large numbers of different species of animals and plants that are not peculiar to one area, but are spread throughout the country. Such a plant is grass, yet to many of us it is nothing more. But examples of nearly forty different forms of grass are not difficult to find, and this by no means exhausts the British list. Think, too, of the number of different shapes of leaves that make up the verdure of the country scene, of the repertoire of bird-songs that provide accompaniment, and of the butterflies that, for a season, lend moving colour to its décor.

The twelve examples shown in this Pavilion of widely different landscapes derive from the natural scene on which our forebears got to work when they started to herd stock and till the land.

How they have farmed this primeval land with conscious intention is related in the next chapter of this story of the British isles.

The Land

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Theme Convener: Penrose Angwin, M.B.E.
Display Designers: Stefan Buzas and Ronald Sandiford

In shaping Britain and nurturing her, nature has been peculiarly moderate. We have no extremes of climate; our driest places are not deserts, our waterways are modest and our mountains would be lost in the shadows of the Andes. Yet, by some persistent anomaly, the British have always been lured to discovery and exploration by those very regions of the world where nature has been most extravagant or most severe – Livingstone by the jungles and lakes of Africa, Scott by the icy Antarctic, Sturt by Australia’s barren heart, Mallory by the supreme isolation of Everest.

The footsloggers

This urge is within all of us to some degree. So, when we recall how much of the present world our forebears have made known, we do not experience wonder so much as admiration of their courage in accepting the challenge we all have felt and of the endurance it drew from them. Their discovery has lcd to exploration, and exploration to development of new lands by those skills we learned at home. Thus have we served whole continents.

This is the theme of the opening section of the Dome. Apart from a brief glance-back to the past, its setting is the intensive exploration and development of the present time.

Survey

Inseparable from exploration nowadays is accurate surveying and making maps without which development is impossible. The British have surveyed vast areas of the globe, steadily improving methods and evolving better instruments as part of this achievement. Nor is this work done yet; yearly, standards are getting higher and the scope is widening as aircraft, for example, and new physical devices are added to the equipment. These new methods are illustrated in the displays.

Water controlled

In developing the land, control of water is one of the first essentials. Without control it floods and destroys at random; its absence means aridity and useless soils. Properly constrained it brings fertility; harnessed, it gives up a mighty power. A great river is like a living thing, for all its parts are related together in behaviour and change in one will bring about change in the rest. So, any permanent alteration in its course or habit must be made with due regard to the whole of its catchment area.

Even in the mild land of Britain we have our river problems, and the way we are dealing with one of them – the Great Ouse – is illustrated in this section. But it is in overseas lands, where the scales are vastly larger, that British achievements in water engineering can be seen at their peak – damming, irrigating and delivering the hydro-electric power essential for the advancement of primitive or undeveloped territories.

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Agriculture

Of the world’s exports, the Commonwealth countries provide two-thirds of its butter, half its cheese, much of its wheat, nearly half its tinned meat and, in addition, provide about half the worlds wool supply. The tropical areas contribute a very large percentage of the worlds supply of sisal, sugar, cocoa, palm oil, rubber and tea. But even all this is not enough, for, viewed as a whole, the world is grievously short of food. The modern trend, therefore, is even further development of overseas producing areas, but with a vastly increasing application of scientific knowledge which is already saving bitter years of trial and error. Some examples of this are shown in the displays. Our own Kew Gardens plays a vital part in all this, for it is here that new crop plants are tried out and, if successful, distributed to new growing areas. It was Kew, in fact, that reared wild rubber plants from Brazil, reproduced them, and sent the seedlings out to found a new and great industry in Malaya.

An essential factor in the success of all these agricultural operations is the interchange of ideas and information. This is provided by the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, a unique service for the collection, abstraction and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge.

Pest control

Science, too, is ensuring that we make the best of what we have already by providing the most suitable weapons to fight the pests and diseases which are inevitably mans rivals in bidding for the yield of food. Among other instances, we show that even the locust, one of the oldest enemies of agriculture, is slowly being brought under control.

Tropical medicine

But, if these new lands are to continue producing the food and raw materials the world so sorely needs, they must be fit for man to live and work in. Tropical disease is a many-headed horror which the British have been particularly eager to seek out and kill. Sleeping sickness and malaria they have already subdued in many areas by a combined assault of doctors, scientists and administrators; now one of the targets for attack is leprosy. For the last five thousand years it has been a scourge and, even now, its victims number seven million, but at last new drugs have been found that promise to bring its ravages to an end.

Commonwealth links

The great witness of British exploration by land is the Commonwealth of Nations. By now its strongest binding force is common ideas and ideals, and visual evidence of this is the vast communications system which came into being as a result of British enterprise-sea lanes, air routes, railways, cables and, now, radio. Speech is the most intimate of all ways of communicating. Our sons and daughters have left Britain and set up their own homes overseas, our adopted children are coming into their own estates. But we can still speak to them – and do so every day, using 44 languages, some of which the visitor can hear – on a radio system which itself is part of our contribution to the welfare of mankind.