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Environment and History

The ‘English Lowlands’ and the North Sea Basin System: A History of Shared Risk

Greg Bankoff

Environment and History 19 (2013): 3-37. doi: 10.3197/096734013X13528328438992

The history of much of England is written in water. Water has not only shaped England’s prosperity and external relations but it has also been a significant factor in fashioning its internal fabric. In particular, large areas of the eastern coastline and its hinterland are close to or even below sea-level and represent an ‘English Lowlands’ comparable in many respects to the more aptly named region on the opposite mainland. Indeed, the Netherlands, the northwest coast of Germany and the western coast of Denmark form together with eastern England one vast North Sea Basin system continually shaped and reshaped by the processes of storm, flood and erosion. Over time, the people living along its shores have had to find ways of accommodating to this dynamic world and, in the process, have become equal partners in the construction of a very particular type of landscape of sea dykes, river embankments, drained marshes and reclaimed fields. In turn, the ceaseless activities required to maintain, repair and extend such works have given rise to their own variations of social cohesion, economic cooperation and political governance. A better appreciation of what this evolution in the past entails has important practical implications for understanding and improving flood management and land drainage in England and Wales today.

KEYWORDS: Flooding, risk management, England, North Sea


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