Publications

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Links here to project publications and other related materials.

1. Brown, A.G., Lespez, L., Sear, D.A., Macaire, J-J., Houben, P., Klimek, K., Brazier, R.E., Van Oost, K. and Pears, B. 2018, ‘Natural vs anthropogenic streams in Europe: history, ecology and implications for restoration, river-rewilding and riverine ecosystem services’Earth Sciences Review (on-line publication)
In Europe and North America the prevailing model of “natural” lowland streams is incised-meandering channels with silt-clay floodplains, and this is the typical template for stream restoration. Using both published and new unpublished geological and historical data from Europe we critically review this model, show how it is inappropriate for the European context, and examine the implications for carbon sequestration and Riverine Ecosystem Services (RES) including river rewilding. This paper brings together for the first time, all the pertinent strands of evidence we now have on the long-term trajectories of floodplain system from sediment-based dating to sedaDNA. Floodplain chronostratigraphy shows that early Holocene streams were predominantly multi-channel (anabranching) systems, often choked with vegetation and relatively rarely single-channel actively meandering systems. Floodplains were either non-existent or limited to adjacent organic-filled palaeochannels, spring/valley mires and flushes. This applied to many, if not most, small to medium rivers but also major sections of the larger rivers such as the Thames, Seine, Rhône, Lower Rhine, Vistula and Danube. As shown by radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating during the mid-late Holocene c. 4–2 ka BP, overbank silt-clay deposition transformed European floodplains, covering former wetlands and silting-up secondary channels. This was followed by direct intervention in the Medieval period incorporating weir and mill-based systems – part of a deep engagement with rivers and floodplains which is even reflected in river and floodplain settlement place names. The final transformation was the “industrialisation of channels” through hard-engineering – part of the Anthropocene great acceleration. The primary causative factor in transforming pristine floodplains was accelerated soil erosion caused by deforestation and arable farming, but with effective sediment delivery also reflecting climatic fluctuations. Later floodplain modifications built on these transformed floodplain topographies. So, unlike North America where channel-floodplain transformation was rapid, the transformation of European streams occurred over a much longer time-period with considerable spatial diversity regarding timing and kind of modification. This has had implications for the evolution of RES including reduced carbon sequestration over the past millennia. Due to the multi-faceted combination of catchment controls, ecological change and cultural legacy, it is impractical, if not impossible, to identify an originally natural condition and thus restore European rivers to their pre-transformation state (naturalisation). Nevertheless, attempts to restore to historical (pre-industrial) states allowing for natural floodplain processes can have both ecological and carbon offset benefits, as well as additional abiotic benefits such as flood attenuation and water quality improvements. This includes rewilding using beaver reintroduction which has overall positive benefits on river corridor ecology. New developments, particularly biomolecular methods offer the potential of unifying modern ecological monitoring with reconstruction of past ecosystems and their trajectories. The sustainable restoration of rivers and floodplains designed to maximise desirable RES and natural capital must be predicated on the awareness that Anthropocene rivers are still largely imprisoned in the banks of their history and this requires acceptance of an increased complexity for the achievement and maintenance of desirable restoration goals.
2. S. Kilby, ‘Divining medieval water: the field-names of Flintham in Nottinghamshire’, Journal of the English Place-Name Society (forthcoming).

Early field-names and minor landscape names are beginning to be recognised by scholars as an important source for the reconstruction of both medieval landscapes and medieval communities’ perceptions of their environment. This study is situated within this emerging scholarly context and assesses microtoponyms alongside additional documentary sources to develop a clear sense of how the inhabitants of Flintham in Nottinghamshire observed their surroundings, and to understand which landscape features were considered foremost. Flintham is located within the catchment of three rivers: the Trent, the Devon and the Smite, and extant material from a range of texts emphasises that flooding was a persistent problem from at least the fourteenth century, continuing into the modern period. The survival of a large quantity of medieval field-names leaves us in no doubt that water loomed large within the collective consciousness of the community of peasants that named this landscape. A large percentage of these names relate to water, and this suggests that localised flooding and problems with excessive water more generally predated the Norman Conquest. A lack of suitable etymological evidence at settlement level has led onomasts to define Flintham as OE hām – ‘homestead’, rather than OE hamm – ‘land hemmed in by water or marsh’. However, mapping the settlement’s watery minor landscape names in conjunction with an assessment of those parts of the landscape designated as most likely to flood strongly supports a reinterpretation weighted in favour of hamm.

3. R. Jones and S. Kilby, ‘Mitigating riverine flood risk in medieval England’, in P. Brown et al. (eds), Waiting for the End of the World: Perceptions of Disaster and Risk in Medieval Europe, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph (forthcoming)

This paper traces, as far as it is possible, various strategies used to mitigate the threat of river flooding in England from the early to later medieval period. With an emphasis on how communities in flood-prone areas dealt with the issue of localized and recurrent flooding, it offers an alternative perspective on a natural phenomenon that is usually examined historically in the context of large-scale and extraordinary events. It draws on toponymic evidence from across the period and, in the later period, from manorial documents revealing how water was managed. In doing so, the paper explores both how the threat of flooding was communicated through names in the landscape and what practical steps were taken by local communities to limit its impact.

4. R. Jones, R. Gregory, S. Kilby and B. Pears, ‘Living with a trespasser: riparian names and medieval settlement on the River Trent floodplain’European Journal of Post-Classical Archaeologies (2017)

The Trent is England’s third longest river. Its propensity to flood has long been recognised. Indeed it is this distinguishing trait that appears to have given the river its name. In this paper, we examine how this mercurial and potentially dangerous river was understood and how its floodplain was settled in the middle ages. Drawing on toponomastic and palaeoecological evidence we examine the relationship between archaeologically attested medieval riparian settlements and the river; how the names given to these places served to highlight the hydrological characteristics of the river along its whole course; and how individual communities bestowed an array of minor names to parts of their fields and meadows to create detailed maps of the Trent’s floodplain environment. These themes are examined against the twin backgrounds of climate and anthropogenic landscape change which ensured that England’s floodplains were some of the most dynamic, and thus complex, spaces in which medieval people chose to live.

5. R. Jones, ‘Responding to modern flooding: Old English place-names as a repository of Traditional Ecological Knowledge’Journal of Ecological Anthropology 18.1 (2016)

Place-names are used to communicate Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) by all indigenous, aboriginal and First Nations people. Here and for the first time, English place-names are examined through a TEK lens. Specifically, place-names formed in Old English—the language of the Anglo-Saxon—and coined between c. 550 and c. 1100 A.D., are explored. This naming horizon provides the basic name stock for the majority of English towns and villages still occupied today. While modern English place-names now simply function as convenient geographical tags Old English toponymy is shown here to exhibit close semantic parallels with many other indigenous place-names around the world. Seeing Old English place-names as a hitherto unrecognised and unexploited repository of TEK may have exciting and important consequences. By identifying the climatic and meteorological correspondences that can be drawn between the period of place-naming and the present day, this paper explores how early medieval water and woodland names might offer new perspectives on, and perhaps solutions to, flooding, the most serious environmental threat currently facing the UK.

6. R. Jones, ‘Water out of place’Leverhulme Trust Newsletter (May 2016), p. 10.

7. E. Kintisch, ‘The science hidden in your town name:how place names encode environmental change’Nautilus 30 (2015)

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