To write a single volume history of the British countryside, from pre-history to the present day, is an ambitious task, some would say an over ambitious task. Francis Pryor, who is probably best known for his books on prehistory and his appearances on Time Team, approaches this book with clear passion.
Pryor has organised the book chronologically, an historians approach, rather than on a regional or "habitat" basis. So, while the book is well supplied with sub-headings, if you wish to follow the fortunes of (for example) woodlands you need to read most of the book. Equally, reading the history of the Midlands or West Country may require frequent trips to Scotland and Northumbria.
The book itself has a number of central ideas - that things happened sooner than popular myth would have us believe, that revolutions are rare, that much change was important symbolically as well as economically or socially and that we need to pay close attention to the actual evidence to be able to "read" the country side.
The roots of the British countryside are very old, reaching back into the early Stone Age, and it is in these sections of the book that Pryor is in his element. As the book moves into more modern times and especially in the sections on post-war Britain the book begins to run out of steam. At one point the author admits that he will not attempt to summarize the development of town and country planning for fear of ridicule. While this is a sensible idea, it does show that the finer nuances of cause and effect in the modern countryside are not his real area of expertise. However, I do not think that the final sections are poor; they just lack the sparkle of the earlier chapters. Some of the pictures are a little too small to show much detail, and it would help if illustration intended for comparison were one facing pages - but these really are minor issue of layout rather than content.
What I do find difficult is that I was able to find mistakes in the book - not typos or the rather frustrating tendency to repeat definitions that have already been made, but errors of fact. The scree run below the Langdale Pikes axe factory site is identified as a waterfall, and the Stadium of Light, Sunderland FC's new home ground is apparently in Middlesbrough. Errors of omission are understandable, even in a book that already runs to 800 pages, but factual errors are another thing entirely. (While you may say that two mistakes is not a bad effort for a book of this size, most of the book contained details about landscapes and regions I have never been in - where I knew the landscape, I found mistakes - and please don't point out my typos - I'm not a professional).
The final section of the book is really a plea for a greater level of connection between people and their landscape - an idea which should clearly be applauded.
To conclude I will return to the first paragraph of my review. This is an ambitious book with a few issues (all of which could be sorted out in a second edition). As a starting point for study of the British landscape it really is very, very good - but you just may want to check on a few of the details!