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Geoscientist Online

Evolution of a Breckland Landscape - chalkland under a cold climate in the area of Beachamwell, Norfolk

West

In many journals there is a restriction on space so that published evidence is limited. Here it has been possible to record the meticulous details of recent fieldwork and to make them readily available to future researchers. These details are followed up with careful discussions leading to interpretations that fit comfortably.

Surprisingly, given the title, Professor West doesn’t start out by explaining what is meant by 'Breckland'. But this doesn’t detract from the book’s value as, to a large extent, the characteristics of this landscape type will be absorbed from the text supported by 40 pages of photographs.

The author shows that the presence of the Chalk close to surface was fundamental to the evolution of the Breckland, with its unique characteristics. He also reminds us of the properties of different chalk lithologies in terms of weathering and hydrology and he relates these differences to the erosion and other processes that produced some of the larger features here, such as scarps and dry valleys.

In piecing together of the evidence in respect of post-Anglian history he shows that a Wolstonian ice-damned lake was very significant in the study area.

As many landscape features are subtle and their clarity fluctuates, the aerial photos are especially helpful in demonstrating the existence and appearance of the poorly understood and somewhat neglected ground patterns (eg polygons, stripes) and other features (eg  pingoes).  West describes the geometries of these features and the arrangements of lithologies within the features.  From this he outlines how the lithologies control soil characteristics (acidity/alkalinity and water retention) and in turn what we see, zones of different vegetation. Importantly, he relates the origin of the features to the effects of permafrost, topography and run-off. West also considers if subtle features formed in the cold Wolstonian period could have and survived and been over-printed or added to when subjected to the later next (the Devensian) cold period. 

Richard West will be 90 next year and this book gives testament to his enduring enthusiasm and remarkable abilities. The book is more than the detailed geology of a particular area; it provides interpretations of mid to late Pleistocene geology without the need for the debated 'River Bytham'.  It also expands our knowledge on periglacial processes and on the poorly known Wolstonian Period in the UK.

One little irritation - the figures sometimes require flipping from one key to another.

Reviewed by Howard Mottram

EVOLUTION OF A BRECKLAND LANDSCAPE: CHALKLAND UNDER A COLD CLIMATE IN THE AREA OF BEACHAMWELL, NORFOLK by RICHARD WEST, 2015. Published by: The Suffolk Naturalists Society 110pp (sbk): List Price £10.00. W: www.sns.org.uk