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Climate and Ecological Emergency: Archives & Special Collections

Highlighting resources available via the University of Exeter

Special Collections manages the University of Exeter's collections of unique and rare materials, which include archives, manuscripts, and rare books. Material in our collections is available for everyone - students, staff and external researchers - to access in our reading room. Our collections cover a wide range of subjects, including Arab and Islamic Studies; Art History and Visual Culture; Business Studies; Drama; English; Geography; History; Local Studies; Modern Languages; Politics; and Theology and Religion.​ You can find out more about all the collections we look after on the Special Collections webpages and our Special Collections LibGuide.

Archives in our collections relating to climate, the environment and sustainability include the administrative archive of the arts and environmental charity Common Ground, and the extensive collection of research papers and Omani manuscripts of John Craven Wilkinson.

Special Collections Contact Information

Special Collections Enquiries:


Phone: 01392 72 2097​

Opening Hours: Please see our Visiting Heritage Collections page for details


Digital Collections:

Twitter: @UoEHeritageColl


General Library Enquiries:



Catalogues and Resources

Common Ground archive

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity, which was founded in the UK in 1982. From the beginning, Common Ground's two main objectives have been: 'to promote the importance of our common cultural heritage - common plants and animals, familiar and local places, local distinctiveness and our links with the past; and to explore the emotional and spiritual value these things have for us by forging practical and philosophical links between the arts and the conservation of nature and landscapes' ('Holding Your Ground: An Action Guide to Local Conservation', 1985).

Common Ground has pioneered many innovative projects, raising awareness of environmental issues through the organisation of cultural activities in order to inspire people to become more engaged in local conservation. These projects have often included collaboration with well-known writers, poets, artists, sculptors, photographers and composers. Many of the projects - in particular, 'Parish Maps', the 'Campaign for Local Distinctiveness' and 'Apple Day' - have proven to be highly sustainable, and their impact has continued long after Common Ground's active involvement in them ceased. The output from the projects has included publications, artistic commissions, exhibitions and events.

The Common Ground archive comprises a range of material created and collected by the charity in the course of its activities between 1983 and 2013. It includes: correspondence, notes, financial papers, reports, press clippings, research material, photographs, audio recordings, sheet music, publications, and promotional material. Material in the archive is mainly organised into sections according to project, reflecting its original order and use by the team at Common Ground. The projects are: 'Second Nature', 'Holding your Ground', 'New Milestones', 'Trees, Woods and the Green Man', 'Parish Maps', 'Orchards' including 'Save Our Orchards' and 'Community Orchards', 'Flora Britannica', 'Apple Day', 'The Campaign for Local Distinctiveness', 'Gardening and Local Distinctiveness', 'Field Days', 'Rhynes, Rivers and Running Brooks', 'Confluence', 'England in Particular', and 'Producing the Goods'.

The Common Ground archive has rich potential for interdisciplinary research on a wide range of areas, including geography, literature, the visual arts, and business studies. Some possible areas of research are listed below.

  • Environmental issues in the UK - Research material relating to a range of environmental issues - including the climate emergency, pollution, deforestation, flooding, droughts, natural disasters, the use of pesticides, and habitat loss - can be found within the archive. The archive also includes a variety of responses to these issues such as ideas for and examples of local conservation, as well as reports, policies and strategies by the British Government and environmental organisations. 
  • Project planning - The archive contains project planning papers for each of its projects, from the early 1980s to 2013. This material includes planning notes, project proposals, grant applications, meeting minutes, correspondence, and project reports. These records can be used to understand how arts and environmental are planned and organised, as well as provide insight into Common Ground's practices in particular.
  • Sustainability - Common Ground has pioneered several projects that were designed to be sustainable and encourage long-term local action without extra support from the charity, in particular, the ‘Parish Maps' project and ‘Apple Day’ The success of the sustainability of Common Ground projects can be researched through reports, correspondence, and press clippings in the archive.
  • Relationship between nature and culture - Common Ground believes that the combination of nature and culture makes each place unique, and this forms the basis of its work to stimulate public interest and enthusiasm for the commonplace in our localities. Research into archive material relating to the different projects can shed light on how Common Ground explored the links between nature and culture, especially through its commissioning of artwork, prose, music, and poetry, and organisation of cultural events.
  • Sense of place -  Sense of place has been explored by Common Ground through the concept of 'Local Distinctiveness', a term developed by the charity in the early 1980s to examine the relationship between places, people, nature and identity. Correspondence, notes, essays and promotional material relating to the 'Campaign for Local Distinctiveness' can provide more insight into the development of this concept.
  • British culture and landscape - In its mission to raise awareness of what makes our everyday places distinctive and unique, Common Ground collected a vast amount of research material on British landscapes, wildlife, buildings, art, music, literature, customs, history, heritage, and folklore. Research material, promotional material, correspondence and more in the archive, which was arranged by Common Ground alphabetically by subject, can be used to research contemporary Britain.

This Common Ground archive is currently in the process of being catalogued. You can search the archive in our online archives catalogue as the project progresses, or find out more about the archive and the cataloguing project in our project blog.

Middle East Collections

Material specific to Oman includes the personal papers and photographs of John Shebbeare (1919-2004), British advisor to the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, and the extensive collection of research papers and Omani manuscripts of John Craven Wilkinson, including a rare manuscript notebook (left) relating to water holdings and tribal settlements at al-Falaj al-Malki near Izki, one of Oman's oldest irrigation systems, containing names and holdings of the owners of the water shares over a period of approximately 50 years (ca.1825-75). The 500-page manuscript has been digitized and can be accessed hereThere are also several documents and reports relating to Oman among Sir William Luce's papers.


Read more about the John Craven Wilkinson Collection in the Special Collections blog post: 
Where oil and water mix: the Omani papers of John Craven Wilkinson (EUL MS 119)


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