Nearby where I live are Hilsea Lines, a series fortifications, built to protect the northern approach to Portsmouth from attack. Constructed from 1858-1871, they were planned to be a defensive front for the whole of Portsea Island, on which the Naval Dockyard is situated. However, the lines had became obsolete before construction ended, since the invention of rifled artillery meant that city and dockyard could be shelled from Portsdown Hill without the need to assault Hilsea Lines, making them useless for their original role.
These days the Lines act as a green corridor separating Portsea Island from the mainland- a two-mile long structure of chalk and earth ramparts 9m high and 20m wide, with six bastions of bombproof casemates and a moat to the north.
Despite the site being managed and ‘conserved’ by Portsmouth City Council, the landscape continues with its own narrative, oblivious to human intervention. The human hand tries to preserve the structures, or to anoint it with graffiti. It erects the sign posts that instruct us what to do, and what not to do.
And yet leaves continue to fall. Roots continue the slow, inexorable breakdown of human-built structures, as they start to create structures of their own. The law of the woods tells us that the ground must be protected by a cover of vegetation, that the growth of the years must be returned to the ground to rot, and to build soil.If, at this micro level, we cannot ‘control’ and exercise dominion over the natural world, perhaps its time for a different manifesto.
“It is, it seems, our civilisation’s turn to experience the inrush of the savage and the unseen; our turn to be brought up short by contact with untamed reality. There is a fall coming. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us. After a quarter century of complacency, in which we were invited to believe in bubbles that would never burst, prices that would never fall, the end of history, the crude repackaging of the triumphalism of Conrad’s Victorian twilight — Hubris has been introduced to Nemesis. Now a familiar human story is being played out. It is the story of an empire corroding from within. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story”.
“Uncivilisation”. The Dark Mountain Manifesto