Seperating Fact from Fiction
I am sometimes asked if I don’t tend to exaggerate certain plot elements in the Wyrde Woods novels. My usual response is to ask what these elements are. Quite frankly, the more far-fetched it seems, the more likely that I based it on true story which I actually toned down a bit.
Take Catherine Malheur, the end-boss baddie in Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd. We don’t really meet her much at all but her shadow is present throughout the novels. This does seem to make her appear as a rather one-dimensional character, a stereotypical Cruella determined to realise her ambitions at any cost. Some feedback suggested it was all too ‘convenient’, this member of the aristocracy having her fingers in all the pies and so blatantly destructive of a landscape many people consider to be more or less inviolate (the Sussex Weald).
I truly wish it wasn’t, truly. However, Britain’s natural legacy is under sustained attack, driven by a very simple motivation: Greed. While we dither –convinced that nobody could truly be that rotten in their souls– they are happily dividing the spoils.
The Grand Plan
The Mayfield Market Towns Limited plans for a housing development (10,000 houses) in the rural countryside in West Sussex is a prime example of this. I was highly surprised to be accused of political campaigning when I tried to bring the plan to attention somewhere recently. To me, the destruction of the remnants of once ample natural habitat rises above politics. The levels of self-interest and manipulation of influence for self-enrichment are downright indecent. One of the paid directors and shareholders of Mayfield is also a peer in the House of Lords, ‘entrusted’ with the responsibility of reviewing nationwide planning procedures.
The project is flawed to the extreme. The housing project is miles away from the nearest railway station, there is no infrastructure, the site is one of ecological importance and there is no logical local need for houses at that location.
Opponents would say: Yes there is, there is a shortage of housing. This is true, but the housing project doesn’t cater to the low-income of those in need of homes. The two nearby local towns had sound plans of their own to meet those needs but their plans are actively blockaded by Mayfield which is also using its Westminster influence to consider overriding local regional planning altogether. What would locals know about anything anyway?
Is it political to be opposed to this? Rubbish. It is Preservational, in many different ways.
A sound place to build houses. Really?
Consider the natural habitat that would be destroyed. Warnings about possible extinction have been around for a long time but note how these are now being turned into actual confirmations. Bees are dying out at an alarming rate – as usual corporate ‘researchers’ try to muddle the picture with ‘research’ suggesting otherwise but it is more or less clear that our use of chemicals to control the land around us is at the base of a very pressing problem. If bees cease to exist and thus end their pollination processes the knock-on-effects will be gargantuan in scope and the speed with which a lot of natural dominos start to fall is likely to take us by surprise – despite the warnings.
Can a small area of natural interest in West Sussex make a difference for a problem on a global scale? Yes, it can. It might be just a drop but many such drops make an ocean and it really needs to be made clear that the rapidly diminishing natural habitats left to us need to be preserved for future generations: Not sacrificed to make very wealthy people even wealthier.
Consider some losses. The area immediately effected by the housing project (read: destroyed) is home to more than 24 nightingale territories. The song of a nightingale has been celebrated as an integral part of ecological culture for centuries and it is truly remarkable. Just read the magic of it on a child’s face on a first encounter with that evening song. The numbers of nightingales in Britain dropped by a whopping 91% between 1966 and 2006. There were less than 6000 of them left in 2012. They have disappeared altogether in the Wales and the North and in much of the Midlands and the South-West as well. From that perspective, 24 territories in the planned area of construction – and many more nearby – suddenly becomes very significant. Should all be sacrificed in the name of progress? Many of the creatures we share this land with have already yielded most of their territory up – do we really want to steal their last habitats from them? In a decade or so, it might well be that the only place for a first encounter with a nightingale’s song is YouTube. Will that be our legacy for future generations?
On the edge of extinction: The nightingale
It is not just animals which opposition to Mayfield is concerned about. Experts have examined the consequences of a 10,000 house project at the top of the River Adur flood plain and pronounced that the river simply cannot cope with additional structures. They warned that the entire river valley would be subjected to the scenes we saw unfold in Somerset last year. The local communities which Mayfield claims to be catering to would see homes and business flooded on a regular basis.
I visited those Somerset scenes in the winter of ’14 and it has left an indelible impression on me. It is one thing to see it on television, another to stand by a house -somebody’s home- and watch raw sewage drifting in and out. The following consist of the impressions of the sort of England Mayfield wants to turn parts of West Sussex into.
Desolation in Somerset
OBSERVATIONS FROM SOMERSET (winter 2014)
All seems reasonably normal driving along the A39 towards Glastonbury over an extended ridge, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Glastonbury Tor up ahead and casting looks towards the right where the flat Somerset Levels seem peaceful enough, the brown winter fields broken by the grey steel reflection of a long extended lake or an inland sea. Logic tells the brain that it isn’t a lake, the water ought not to be there, but it looks peaceful enough and not necessarily out of place.
Taking a right turn towards the village of Moorlinch the water is out of sight for a while until it suddenly appears again, close enough now to see that the surface of the water is broken by lines or clumps of trees, the occasional shed roof. A distinctly uncomfortable feeling now replaces the earlier serenity. After the village the road starts to fall towards the levels and once we are on the A361 heading southwards the atmosphere becomes positively ominous. As far as the eye can see the fields on either side of the road are flooded and the wind stirs the waters so that small waves lap at the sides of the road, twelve inches below the road surface, then ten, then eight, then seven. We pass a large farm, all of the outbuildings are in the flood zone, heavy equipment stands forlornly in the water, sometimes tilted, half sunk into the mud. The farmhouse itself is dry, surrounded by a wall of sandbags, the driveway is dry in that there is no visible water, just churned mud through which a forlorn Border Collie, its black and white coat smeared with dirty brown, trudges dejectedly towards the open door of a partially submerged shed.
We drive into the hamlet of Barrow Mump, silent now, wary even as instinct warns of danger, though we have been told that the worst has probably passed. The road ahead is blocked and we pull up into the car park just below the Barrow Mump itself. Time to get out of the car. The ground is muddy and the far end of the car park is flooded. A small farm track dips down there, right into a huge lake which sends small waves past the useless gate. We decide not to climb the Barrow, there is an obstacle of mud before the sloping hill becomes green again and people coming down tell us it’s very slippery all the way to the top.
Circumventing the Barrow Mump we walk into the minute village and it is here that the full impact of the 2014 winter floods strikes home. The scene has familiar images, a bridge crossing a river surrounded by half-a-score of houses, a red phone box, a small pub called The King Alfred. Familiarity ends there though, for it seems we have walked straight into a war zone. There is a heavy police presence, officers manning a mobile police station as well as police vehicles arriving and departing in considerable hurry. There are also numerous distinctive vehicles coloured dark green. The army is here, soldiers lounging about in the back of a four-wheel-drive, others engaged in various mysterious tasks. Protest banners line the bridge, the river Parret seems impossibly high and flows by fast. Pallets of bottled drinking water have been dumped in front of the pub. Piles of sandbags, shovels, wheelbarrows, bright-yellow coats and other signs of hasty emergency work are piled up willy-nilly, indicating there wasn’t much time to organize everything neatly here when the materials were being used.
I cross the bridge, seemingly into a kind of twilight zone, even though there is much activity behind me. Nobody stops me and I walk along the road until it simply disappears beneath the waters of yet another enormous lake. There are two houses to my right. One seems dry, protected by neatly piled sandbags, boats moored to a wall. Another house is twenty yards further out and has been abandoned, it looks like it has flooded. Ahead of me, road signs poke out of the water, indicating that there are villages out there, somewhere in that vast expanse of muddy filthy flood water. I will go no further. I stand at the edge of a disaster, in awe of the sights around me, subdued by slow realization of what exactly has passed in Somerset over the last few weeks.
Sussex Wunt be Druv
Let’s learn from Somerset. Let’s not actively seek to recreate the watery desolation of the Somerset Levels in Sussex.
By Oak, Ash and Thorn: Stop this madness. It is nearly too late.
(Link to local Mayfield protest: http://lambs.org.uk/)