This week I visited Dr Vish, in the woodland home shared with his partner and experienced home envy once again.
I was envious at the woodland turning to autumn and the deer coming to visit. Envious at the pattern on the canvas sides as I sat on the bed made of pallets and foam and Vish obligingly danced around outside showering the tent with handfuls of leaves and a kaleidoscope of woodland life played across the walls and made me laugh. Envious that that they had found a spot to live this life and I had not.
I was envious of their youth and energy. That they could hack three months in a tent, chop wood, cycle miles to work, survive on a diet of foraged apples and, in Vish’s own words, “crotch washes.”
Mostly I was envious that they were doing it, living a life close to nature in the woods. That he had dreamed it up one weekend on a camping trip in Devon, had a partner who wanted it too, had asked around, taken the risk, made it a reality.
Over green tea and satsumas we dreamed some more, of owning land, of creating a place of peace where others could connect back with the earth. Our own personal dreams feeding off each other.
Vish said my life in the caravan had inspired them, that he and his girlfriend Prag had hope in the fact that someone almost 20 years older than them had not succumbed to expectations but still attempted to live a life true to their values but really the admiration was all mine.
Their youth, their energy, their ideals, their dreams made mine a bit closer to being fulfilled.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have miles to go before I can sleep easy over this one.
Great news yesterday that the planning application which proposed 5000 houses on one of the best nightingale sites in the countryside has been withdrawn.
Lodge Hill, a SSSI woodland and former MOD site is a fabulous local resource for wildlife and people. Purple emperor butterflies have recently been discovered breeding there and early purple orchids grow along the damp shady paths.
Despite all of this the site was earmarked for development. A position championed by Medway Council. 12,000 people protested, spearheaded by the RSPB’s Save Lodge Hill campaign and now the developer, if not the council, has listened to local people and withdrawn its plans.
This is great news but we all know the way these things go. Tomorrow I fear will come another application and then another and another. One ‘No’ is never enough. Developers attempt to wear people down. Planners have no fight left in them even when they know developments are wrong and the government does nothing of any real worth to protect our countryside and resolve the housing issues by capping prices in London and making sure all new developments are 100% affordable.
Shame on Simon Jones Medway Council’s leader for condemning the developer for pulling out. For once common sense has prevailed and today at least Lodge Hill is safe.
August was a busy month with river surveys for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board.
The Board manages a huge variety of channels from small natural wooded streams, to wide drainage channels across former marshland to urban rivers.
Some of the channels offer ample opportunity for enhancements such as at Buxford Dyke in Ashford, a channel which traditionally supported white clawed crayfish. Fencing cattle from streams, removing weirs and installing cobbles in the channel could all help manage silt and provide hiding spots for crayfish.
cattle can cause issues with silt downstream
Sometimes the easy part is knowing what could be done to benefit the river. The harder task is persuading authorities and landowners that the work will be beneficial and not increase flood risk.
Traditional management practices sometimes involved drastic measure such as setting fire to channel banks and widening channels by dredging. These practices often were disastrous for wildlife and stored up issues for the future as widening narrow streams allows more silt to drop out in the centre of the channel creating a fertile ground for weed growth which blocks channels and may lead to flooding. More work needs to be done to show river managers and landowners that natural management techniques, such as allowing woody debris to remain in the channel can be beneficial.
Urban channels have different issues and Pumping Station Dyke, also in Ashford, suffers from fly tipping, invasive species and terrible bankside management by local businesses. Surveying a channel such as this it is easy to despair at the disregard many people show to their local areas and the low status of rivers in towns. With a channel such as this joined up thinking is needed for local bodies to work together to tackle issues such as fly tipping and misconnected sewers.
The month ended with a visit to Bourne Dyke, a beautiful channel set amid wet woodland with some fantastic old pollarded trees. Here the landowner has shown an interest in making improvements for wildlife and it is easy to get enthusiastic at the opportunity this could provide for restoring the natural wetland areas of this valley.
looking to the future
New Nature is an online magazine aimed at people under thirty who care about wildlife and the countryside. This is exactly the audience I would most like to connect with and be read by (although I’m delighted to be read by everyone) but I do place all my hope in what follows me. Many thanks to Ben Eagle for his great review which you can read here
photo: Simon Houstoun
Great night at Waterstones in Canterbury on Wednesday. Many thanks to Martin for a great interview and all the staff who looked after me. Thanks also to everyone who came and to those who bought a book.
photo: Simon Houstoun