Don't Ride Roughshod Over Local Opinion On Wicken Fen
PUBLISHED: 12:27 21 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:23 04 May 2010
NICK Champion s assertion that Geoffrey Woollard s recent letter was full of exaggerations is, in itself, an exaggeration. It is certainly true that most of those who spoke at the National Trust s recent series of public consultation meetings were critica
NICK Champion's assertion that Geoffrey Woollard's recent letter was full of exaggerations is, in itself, an exaggeration. It is certainly true that most of those who spoke at the National Trust's recent series of public consultation meetings were critical of, at least, some aspects of the proposals, for the expansion of Wicken Fen.
Like Mr Woollard, I attended five of the six meetings, missing only Fen Ditton. Of those who spoke, only one member of the public was wholeheartedly in favour, describing the project as 'a jolly good idea'. By his own admission, he has recently moved to the area. Many were against, or had reservations.
Mr Champion states that 85 per cent of responses to the consultation leaflet were in favour of the idea and that many people at the meetings were supportive. I can only say that these supporters were noticeable by their silence.
It was pointed out that to the National Trust area manager, Phillip Broadbent-Yale, at the first meeting in Swaffham Prior, that nobody in the village had received a leaflet. A promise was made to look into it. The last meeting, at Burwell, began with an apology for the fact that nobody had received a leaflet in that village either and a promise to print some more.
The National Trust has been handing out the consultation leaflet in the centres of Cambridge, Ely and local towns, to people who express an interest in the project, as well as to Wicken Fen visitors. If 85 per cent of responses have been in favour, it is because of the way the opinions of those most affected, the local villagers, have been avoided.
The details of the proposals have varied from one meeting to the next. At the last meeting, we learnt that the latest plan is to buy up arable land and convert it to commercial grazing - cattle, sheep etc. This is stretching the definition of a nature reserve, which the National Trust has received many grants from public funds to establish.
One grant, for £1 million, was specifically for improved access. However, away from the proposed 'spine route', linking the tea shop at Wicken Fen to the tea shop at Anglesey Abbey, many Rights of Way in the area have been fenced off, or obstructed with locked gates, where previously they had been open access for cyclists, horse riders and any other users. Many semi-mature trees at the Wicken Fen reserve have been cut down at a cost of £370,000, to improve access for grazing Koniks, a non-native species of wild pony, creating an eyesore of piles of dead wood from trees that previously enhanced the area. We are led to believe that this is a good use of public funds. This is typical of the way the National Trust stretches the meaning of plain English, to suit its propaganda driven process.
I conclude that the National Trust is so keen to return to its bosses, with the claim that the Wicken Fen Project has local support, that it is happy to ride roughshod over any kind of democratic process, or local opinion.