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Peterborough's Flag Fen archaeologist warns of climate change




Experts looking after a Bronze Age site said we must adapt to climate change and learn to live with flooded landscapes the way our ancient ancestors did.


In 1982 Time Team archaeologist Dr Francis Pryor discovered the Flag Fen causeway, near Peterborough, which dates back about 3,500 years.

He said he could see a time when the Fens were once again engulfed by water.

He said we should learn from the past and "live in harmony" with nature.

Flag Fen has been described as one of the most important Bronze Age archaeological sites in Britain, and its centrepiece is the remains of a stilted wooden causeway that was built over the marshy landscape.


Excavation of the causeway began in 1982 when millions of preserved timbers covering more than half a mile (0.8km) of Fenland were found.


The Bronze Age site's manager, Jacqueline Mooney, said: "I think Flag Fen is the perfect example of what climate change is doing to the Fens.

"The very, very dry summers are drying out the peat - we're losing the vegetation so we lose the wildlife that needs the vegetation.


"In the winter when it becomes extremely wet it prohibits the grass from growing again and we get a shorter time each year for the ground to recover, so it limits wildlife opportunities and our visitor opportunities.


"Because we've had such a deluge of rain - the wettest February on record - we're just starting to disappear under the water."

Ms Mooney added: "This site would have been much more lake than land 3,500 years ago, and the humans that lived here really had to adapt, building huge causeways and huge platforms in order to keep a living and raise their animals.

"We're now starting to find ourselves in a similar situation because our climate is changing - and we are not yet set up for that."


Dr Pryor said the Bronze Age people working at Flag Fen "lived in harmony with their environment".


"That's the important thing - they did not abuse the environment," he said.

"So, yes, they built houses, they felled lots of trees, they grew crops. They did all that sort of thing, but they didn't pump fumes into the atmosphere.

"It was all done in a manageable way - nature could cope with it."


'Surge floods'


Climate change had been "a long-term process", Dr Pryor said, "and as an archaeologist I notice [the] change is happening really quite rapidly.

"Water levels are rising, you're having Fenland flooding but it's still sort of under control, thanks to all the drainage dykes.

"But there are long-term effects that really worry me.

"I think we're likely to see water levels rising and really substantial changes in the Fens. Certainly within the next 100 years, but I think more likely the next 50 years

"We're probably going to have some pretty nasty events a bit sooner than that.


"The worst-case scenario would be a North Sea tidal surge, as which happened in 1947, and the waves coming down the east coast and flooding the Fens.


"The Fens are a million acres, and if a surge floods the Fens it's not going to flood London.

"I can foresee terrible circumstances where the Fens have to be allowed to flood to preserve areas further south.

"I think what we should learn from our prehistoric ancestors is to live in harmony with the Fenland environment as much as we can."

He added: "Changes will happen, but you don't want catastrophes, you want manageable change.


"That's what they understood in the Bronze Age, and it's something we've got to understand today."


A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "We recognise the threat from climate change and rising sea levels, which is why we are investing a record £5.2bn over six years in flood and coastal erosion schemes to better protect properties across England.

"We have also set out a clear five-year adaptation plan to increase the country's resilience to the effects of climate change and protect people, homes and businesses against risks such as flooding, drought and heatwaves."





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