These violets seem to cut and come again on my neighbours lawn. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they spread under the fence.
“I suggest that the essence of conservation lies in one simple word. No. Say no, mean no. Fight to retain the places we have.” William Bunting.
This little book published by The Sumach Press captures the sad story of Thorne Moors, a peat bog classified as a SSSI which supports 4000 species of plants and animals and is one of our rarest habitats in this country.
For many years man’s impact was minimal. Digging peat by hand created a variety of mini habitats which actually increased the diversity of the moors but then, through a series of, possibly illegal, manoeuvres by wealthy individuals, the moors stopped being common property and became owned by one company, which since 1963 was Fisons, a company which made Levington compost.
In the years prior to selling the moor to another horticulture company Fisons destroyed much of the areas wildlife value by draining, surface milling and putting roads through the moorland and all so people could grow larger tomatoes in its peat rich compost. This book tells a familiar tale of big business raping the countryside but also a great story of how one eccentric amateur expert William Bunting fought to have the wildlife value of the moor recognised and the area protected.
I’m not sure they make William Buntings any more. Born in 1916 this was the original eco warrior. He set up his own group of direct action protestors, Buntings Beavers, who set out each weekend to damn the drains that Fisons were cutting. Bunting also stalked the moors with an old revolver tearing down barriers placed across footpaths. He was by all accounts crotchety and didn’t suffer fools. I hope I have half his courage to fight for what is right.
William Bunting taught himself Latin and Middle English in order to fight Fisons through the courts. He managed to get footpaths re-instated and forced the company to allow some of his dams to remain in place. Fisons were forced to give a passing nod to conservation interests after bad publicity and eventually gave 8000 acres of peatland to Natural England. Thorne Moors is the story of how one man with enough determination can make a difference.
Like many people when I am angry about something which I care passionately about my views can become polarised. My opinions can be black and white about ‘them’ and ‘us.’ So when I see the continuous destruction of our countryside in the current rush of development there are only two types of Environmental Consultant, those on the light side and those on the dark. Those whose love and knowledge of wildlife is used to protect species and enhance the natural world and those who use their knowledge to aid companies who wish to cover our planet in concrete. I have often spoken of people who work for consultancies whose main work involves aiding development companies to remove wildlife and destroy habitat as soulless.
This spring, however, I have a man volunteering with me who works for one of the consultancy firms I see as being on the dark side. This man has a love of wildlife, he is a better birdwatcher than me and spends much of his free time surveying wildlife for free, should I really condemn him because he wants to work full time with wildlife and there aren’t enough jobs on the light side to go round? Like so many issues it is harder to shoot down the ‘enemy’ when you meet them and talk to them.
The problem is too many people are coming out of countryside management courses and off apprentice schemes and find that the only job available is ‘dark side’ consultancy work. Maybe some of these people begin thinking that what they are doing is ok. I myself have translocated species but only when the project will have an overall benefit for wildlife. Much of the work done by consultancies has no benefit for wildlife and is ill thought out and not followed through.
If development companies were forced to provide adequate compensatory habitat for that destroyed and pay for it’s long term management then maybe I would be more in favour of translocation. Maybe if developers were made to do this then they would be more willing to renovate some of our existing empty buildings and former industrial sites instead of building new ones on wildlife rich habitat. Instead companies move species to inappropriate locations already packed to the rafters with other translocated creatures and do no follow up monitoring to understand whether their work has been a success.
But could I personally do more to help people like my volunteer by taking on staff of my own? I potentially could if there didn’t seem to be so many barriers in the way of doing so. If the Government didn’t penalise small business’s wishing to offer people paid experience by making the whole business of taking someone on such a nightmare of legal constraints, tax issues and insurances. Giving people the sort of work a small business can manage seems to be frankly illegal and way, way too complicated to bother with.
My volunteer wishes to move on from doing work for developers. He wants to work for one of the good guys and I could give him the experience he needs to do so but, while the laws regarding small business’s are so top heavy and restrictive, he will have to continue to do so in his spare time for free and, like many others, will be tempted to stay in the dark.
Coltsfoot is easily missed in the rush of spring but it is one of the first bright patches of the year and beautiful in it’s own right.
Today I cycled out from Faversham and fell back in love with my country.
I sometimes forget how lovely England still is when I spend so much time seeing and despairing at the destruction of our countryside. At times it seems that we have become one big building site and ugliness both physical and ideological threatens to engulf us.
Today however I remembered all the good things as I weaved past the lively market and down to the boatyards of Iron Wharf where people clambered over their weekend projects with renewed enthusiasm because the sun was out and the days were getting longer. I then crossed a ever more rickety bridge over a creek and spun across Nagden Marshes.
Spring was everywhere, butterflies courting, birds singing, blackthorn spangled in lacey blossom.
Spring in England is a blessing which you can enjoy all the more after the gloom of a long winter and, even these days, when winter is not what it was, then I can revel in the first sun on bare skin. I fully subscribe to Robert Browning’s philosophy in his poem ‘O to be in England.’ and never wish to live full time in a country where the summer is endless. Like many things in life the joy of pleasure returning is all the sweeter when you’ve come through the dark days.
Away from the banks of Faversham Creek I swung down quiet lanes, passing farm workers, horseshows and stopped at St Bartholomew’s Church in Goodnestone run by the Churches Conservation Trust and stepped inside to discover it’s simplicity and cool whitewash. On, past quirkily named pubs and first pints of shandy back to town. The world had gone all John Betjeman and I was thankful for it.
Take a look at the new film to promote my forthcoming book, On the Marshes produced by Luke Gardener.
I am told time and time again that the rampant destruction of the countryside for housing must happen. People must have homes, I am told, big homes, homes with spare bedrooms and office space and just extra rooms for who knows what, not to mention second homes and holiday homes and homes that sit empty for all but a few weeks in the summer. All land must go to housing, I am told whether it is of value to wildlife or not. It is in the ‘National Interest.’
However, if this is true, why are we still granting planning permission to unnecessary developments, such as the massive Aldi supermarket currently under construction on the Isle of Sheppey? The massive Aldi supermarket which will sit next to the massive Morrison’s supermarket and the massive Macdonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Why, if land for housing is so desperately needed, are we saying yes to such waste of land? Is another supermarket and Macdonald’s really in the national interest?
But increasingly in our country it feels that there is no planning when it comes to planning permission. Developers can build what they like with no thought to how it fits in with the needs of existing communities. Ugly housing is thrown up around villages, housing estates developed on roads completely unsuited to increased traffic. Developers make quick money and have no need to build schools or hospitals and pay for the staff to run them or subsidise public transport for the communities they have flung up in locations which have none.
It seems that the needs of business to make money take precedence over the needs of people to live in attractive working communities and that is why the currently rash of development seems so piecemeal , so full of chancers, so unplanned, because the government is under the cosh of big business and big business doesn’t give a monkeys about our interests.
Are you feeling as overwhelmed as I am by the rate of destruction of wildlife rich sites around your town? Every day I seem to drive along a road and see a place which last year was full of song birds and slow worms and this year has been ripped apart by would be developers.
Last year these sites would have already been given planning permission and be ringed with reptile exclusion fencing this year things have changed. With the government brow beating local councils into providing land for housing then cowboy developers everywhere are seeing the main chance.
Suddenly it seems there is a flood of people ripping out scrub, tearing up meadows, turning over reptile sites with no planning permission, no surveys, no mitigation. In the last few weeks two sites near to my home have gone the way of the bulldozers with not a reptile exclusion fence in sight.
Presumably the landowners feel that in the present climate they can get away with it. After all, isn’t this what the Government wants? Not all this old scrub, bristling with bird song but land laid bare ready for bricks and mortar?
The terrible thing is that these developers are probably right. Natural England has already been stripped to their bones and wildlife officers in local councils have gone the way of the dinosaurs. And I? I can be angry at them all. I can rally and weep and rage against every destruction of meadow and scrubland, every reduction in my quality of life, every step my home makes away from the countryside and into suburbia but I cannot fight them all. The epidemic of destruction is simply too big.