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The New Stone Age

Between 4000 BC and 2000 BC people following the Neolithic (New Stone Age) way of life - farming of crops and animals and use of pottery - brought about a reduction in trees, particularly elm which might also have suffered from a disease.  By 3000 BC, in the Somerset levels at least, people had learnt how to crop trees to grow rods suitable for making track surface hurdles 1  Wood was used for surfacing soft ground at various locations near the Rivers Thames and Lea but appears to have grown naturally 2.  

In some parts of Britain, but not the southeast, the people of the late Stone and Bronze Ages moulded the landscape into a form has survived to this day with earthworks and huge stones.  Burial mounds, ‘barrows’, were a feature of level areas as well as chalk uplands, but they were later ploughed out 3.  It is in this period (and even earlier in the Mesolithic era) that people start to clear some of the tree cover.  The result on acid gravels like Leyton and Wanstead Flats is to reduce the fertility of the soil permanently, creating heathland 4.  

1  ‘The History of the Countryside’ by Oliver Rackham

2  talk by Jane Sidell, Inspector of Ancient Monuments London, English Heritage, to the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society on 13th October 2009; ‘Excavations at Belmarsh West, Woolwich’ by Dicon Hart in London Archaeologist Spring 2010; Kevin Ritchie and others ‘Environment and Land Use in the Lower Lea Valley c 12,500 BC - c AD 600: Innova Park and the former Royal Ordnance Factory, Enfield’ LAMAS Transactions 2008

3  The Tribes of Britain by David Miles p80

4  Hampstead Heath, The Walker’s Guide by David McDowall and Deborah Wolton (page 18 of 2006 edition)

intro the terrain Bronze Age 1