“I love the fact you can look down a microscope and see something that is 8,000 years old, that no-one else has examined or ever will,” Ralph says. “A single grain of pollen can tell you so much about how a particular piece of land has adapted over time. Or a hazelnut from a peat core can still carry the scratch marks made by a mouse or squirrel thousands of years ago. That ability to take something so tangible and use it to reconstruct and read the past has always been, and still is, really powerful for me.”
I have always been fortunate in meeting people who gave me great advice and guidance,” Ralph says. “I have also been one of those people who feels that if I want to know something, or don’t understand it, I’ll ask. It’s something I have always encouraged my own students and young researchers to do. Having had such good advice myself, I guess you could say it’s something I want to pass on to the next generation.
“If you look at the Moors today, they seem wild – but, in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Ralph says. “At one time, there were more than 5,000 small settlements on Dartmoor. We also have records showing that, during the Bronze Age, people moved to and from the uplands over a period of several hundred years. So these are environments we have created and cultivated for our benefit over thousands of years. They form the perfect place to study how what we do now might impact landscapes in the future.”