IN AT THE DEEP END

A Sample from one of our books

 

Excerpt from the book Lavenham to Leigh-on-Sea

            (Country Ways : Coastal Waters)

I’m not an economist, environmentalist or even a naturalist - at least, not in the professional sense of the word. I’m just a poet, a poet who writes almost entirely about nature. I’ve been obsessed with the natural world ever since I left the bombsites in the East End in 1951 and moved to Pitsea in Essex. Pitsea was then a typical Essex marshland village. Subsequently it has been swallowed up by the brick and concrete maws of a Topsy-like Basildon New Town. In those far off post-war days that would seem like a history lesson to today’s ‘touch screen’ and ‘Gameboy’ generation the natural world had a far greater diversity and abundance than it does nowadays. This was before the ravages of Dutch elm disease and other infective agents and disruptive alien species imported through an increasingly global environment. It was also before the post-war directives towards home grown self-sufficiency for the UK finally kicked in and started to make their inherent environmental lunacies existentially apparent. Encouraged through subsidies and other bureaucratically nefarious means the intensive and industrialised farmscapes - or green factories as I prefer to call them - that we know today, took root - so to speak. The consequent dearth of traditional flora and fauna due to the indiscriminate decimations of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and artificial fertilisers and the removal of hedgerows, the drainage of wetlands, water abstraction, the wholesale dredging of rivers etc. etc. is a national disgrace. In the last 50 years we’ve lost some 50% of our wildlife. All this to perpetuate a system of monocultures which increases the need for ever greater applications of the abovementioned environmental toxins continues to march on regardless of the obvious detriment to any form of natural balance and harmony between mankind and the planet we inhabit.

All the while the soil is being stripped of nutrients and sluiced back into the drainage system - polluting rivers in the bargain and denuding the landscape of its only growing medium. We are over populated and our, and the rest of the world’s population, is increasing exponentially and yet all we can talk about is continual economic growth. Will we ever learn? In my non-professional and humble opinion the way the world operates at the present time is just not sustainable. All the well-meaning and welcome ‘green’ talk about sustainability doesn’t appear to have produced any really worthwhile measurable results either. For all the political manoeuvrings and sound bites from the international conferences on climate change things are getting worse year by year, decade by decade, and nowadays almost minute by minute as far as I can determine. Governments and ultimately all of us are just too needy - perhaps ‘greedy’ might be a better word.  Consumer desires, short term profits, throw away attitudes, seem to predominate. There are more than enough resources to go round even at this environmentally depleted ‘eleventh hour, but the smallest percentage of the global population own and control the vast majority of its material and financial potentiality. No-one, well almost no-one, would begrudge the poorest nations their slice of the existential cake. To see the wretched and the starving living a life less on the edge of survival and more fulfilled, not just materially but culturally as well, could only be seem as a blessing. But - and it’s a big ‘but’. This means more growth, ever-increasing populations, more pollution, more carbon emissions and more and more environmental degradation. This of course leading to more extinctions of the world’s flora and fauna and, a rats in a cage, jam-packed, urban and industrialised squalid existence for the majority of earth’s human inhabitants.

 

You ask me - so what can we do about it? And my answer sadly, is I have not got a clue. What’s happened since I was a child in the 1950s when diversity and abundance was taken for granted up until today’s plethora of worldwide natural disasters is beyond any sense of credibility. To me it has literally gone beyond the ‘eleventh hour’. Apocalypse looms in all its terrifying and imminent reality. We can neither turn back the clock nor the exponentially cataclysmic increases in population. Hunter gathering, small scale tribal farming, and even the rural economy, as hard as it was for the labouring classes but rich in diversity and at least before the enclosure acts tolerable for the labourer cum smallholder with their access to common land just a few short generations ago - is impossible to envisage ever happening again. There may well be those with answers and I sincerely hope that that will be the case in the not too distant future. But for me at seventy years of age I despair for the future of our children and our children’s children. If, that is, there is anywhere left on the planet that’s environmentally safe for them to inhabit.

 

Nature and the poetry of nature is my raison d’etre. Right here, right now, sitting beside Brundon Mill Pool in Sudbury, Suffolk, I am listening to a song thrush that is “wisely singing its song twice over”, as the illustrious Robert Browning once said in his famous poem: ‘Home thoughts from Abroad’. This is a sign of hope perhaps, after years of decline in the song thrush population? Let’s pray that it’s true. I can also hear a great tit ringing the winter’s changes with its tiny, two-note, chiming ‘bell’. A robin and a wren are joining in with the chorus and the black-headed gulls - or mews - are screeching discordantly. Snowdrops are spilling out of the copse planted to celebrate the present queen’s coronation in 1953 when I was seven years old and the world - not through the auspices of rose-tinted spectacles - was vibrant, vital and far wilder than it is today. Are we to lose all that and even the limited residues of birdsong and floral beauty that are left? How sad would that be? Would life be worth living at all? You tell me.

 

Some things take the edge off of my despair. Perhaps the consolations of art and poetry are all that there is left to hang on to - I hope not, I still have some fight left in me. Driving through Wormingford in Essex yesterday, down towards the River Stour and the Suffolk border, I came across a meadow full of ewes and their new-born lambs and this before the end of February. Also on either side of the lane, pendulous in the hedgerows, hung the ever-proliferating masses of ‘lamb’s tails’ - hazel catkins to use the more species specific designation. The catkins in themselves are beautiful but it’s always worth a closer examination of the hazel just to admire the tiny, delicate, red and filamentous structure of the female flower. Something else of note was the ‘old man’s beard’ (wild clematis). It is usually as grey as my own autumnal ‘chops’ at this time of year but mysteriously - to me at least - it was as pristinely white as a little egret on some bushes but retained its normally drab grey colour on others. Pheasants were particularly abundant in the surrounding fields. Do they know that the pheasant shooting season ends on February the first? 

 

The ‘Wetlands’ on Wallasea Island opposite Burnham on Crouch in Essex are a relatively new nature reserve created by the RSBP with help from DEFRA, ‘Crossrail’ and the local farmer. The seawall has been purposefully breached in a number of places to allow the tides to come back in across the once ‘inned’ land. This it is said will not only increase the island’s wildlife potential but also help with the problems of rising sea levels as a consequence of global warming. The spoil from the ‘Crossrail’ project in London is being shipped into the River Crouch and being used to create new areas of saltings and lagoons for the overwintering flocks of waders and wildfowl and as nesting sites for residents and summer visitors. Along with the birdlife such attractive and interesting creatures as foxes, rabbits, various reptiles and amphibians, butterflies, beetles and other invertebrates, and especially the brown hares, frequent and live on the island. When I think of my childhood in Pitsea in Essex creatures such as lizards, adders, grass snakes, slowworms, newts, frogs and toads, were unbelievably prolific. Not so nowadays I’m afraid. I must stop this nostalgic approach to wildlife - it’s far too depressing. Last Sunday on the most blue and beautiful February afternoon I drove down to the reserve and as is my wont made the acquaintance of the local - and not so local - ‘birders’. Not, as I’ve mentioned before, being a professional naturalist, or ornithologist for that matter; ‘birders’, ‘twitchers’, ornithological obsessives, call them what you will, are invaluable to the non-professional classes - moi included! On this particular afternoon, thanks to their courteous and friendly guidance, I saw a female marsh harrier, a short-eared owl, lapwings and golden plovers, and was informed of an earlier sighting of a merlin being mobbed by crows. And as if this was not enough, after being told about a male hen harrier being spotted a few hours earlier, just before dusk as the distended red and recumbent sun sank slowly in the west, a female (ringtail) hen harrier ‘floated’ in a low and leisurely way along the length of a distant reed-fringed dyke before it too was mobbed and driven off by crows. It was the first hen harrier I’d ever seen - or more probably ever identified. And it made, as they say, in less than truly adequate terms, my day - perhaps even my seventy year’s tenure on planet earth.

 

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