We Need To Work With The National Trust on Wicken Vision
MOST of us fear change. An anticipated change to our landscape is no different. The landscape in which we live holds memories and history. But change is a feature of our countryside – and most often that change is caused by farming practices as they respo
MOST of us fear change. An anticipated change to our landscape is no different. The landscape in which we live holds memories and history. But change is a feature of our countryside - and most often that change is caused by farming practices as they respond to consumer demand, prices or government subsidies. Sadly, for wildlife many of those changes have been negative, as field consolidation, mechanisation and increased use of fertilizers and pesticides have removed valuable habitat and landscape features such as hedgerows, and reduced biodiversity. Farmers, who are closer to the environment than any of us and whose operations are a legitimate response to economic and social pressures, aren't to blame. The National Trust's Wicken Fen Vision project can be seen as but one more chapter in the history of the changing fens. To me this change is exciting and positive. Here is a chance to create a place of national and international significance, a place where a lost heritage is brought back to life. I have to say a brief word on the arguments regarding wheat prices that have been made in some previous articles and correspondence in your pages. Land shortage is not the issue here. Wheat production last year fell as a result of drought in Canada, high temperatures in Australia, bad weather in the Black Sea, floods and drought in China. Demand for bio fuels has also had an impact, as has speculation on commodities' markets. But land comes under many competing demands - for forestry, housing, dams - and of course for recreation and wildlife conservation. Of course, feeding ourselves is important - but so is time spent recovering from the stress of work, enjoying fresh air, exercising and appreciating wildlife. There is a need for open spaces that provide this service to our communities. Most of the fenlands serve as food-factories (or produce turf, daffodils, and a variety of other products). Dedicating a few thousand hectares to wildlife and enjoyment of the outdoors will do nothing to affect the price of bread, but has the potential to do much to enrich and improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of the lives of people in our villages and the wider region. It should come as no surprise if people react strongly to the proposals being made to re-create marsh, woodland and wet grassland where there are now familiar fields of sugar-beet, turf, daffodils and leeks. Nevertheless, the situation described in the local press recently (Ely Standard 26/4) was not one that I recognised at a public meeting between the National Trust and residents of Reach. Whilst there was a vocal minority who seemed determined to oppose the proposals whatever, on the most part there was a civil discussion. True, residents raised a number of very legitimate concerns - regarding parking and access, suitability of the trails for horse-riders, and erosion of the lode banks for example. It is the nature of such meetings that such issues are raised and discussed. Yet far from not taking any notice of these concerns, the Trust's spokesperson seemed at pains to understand what these concerns are, provide information where people were uninformed (or misinformed) and seek forums through which solutions can be found (such as the Fenland Bridleways Association) and regular meetings with the parish councils. I sensed that most people's concern wasn't with the broad, overall vision, but with the detail - and the process. This is an important distinction. I for one believe that if local residents can work constructively with the National Trust, then there is an opportunity to create and be a part of something really exciting and far-sighted.