Just when we thought there might be a twinkling of renewed engagement with the community, in the wake of the still ongoing otter debacle, the ongoing hedgerow debacle kicks in again.
Back on 17 May, we were led to understand that the final section of hedgerow, along the roadside perimeter of the proposed ‘Strawberry Grange’, would be given a stay of execution until the end of the breeding season due to clear evidence of nesting birds. Just like the otters, our wild birds – and their nests – are protected by law.
Sadly, I was out of the area all day on Thursday 2 June, so didn’t witness the arrival of the hedge mowers. But, fortunately for the birds, others were on hand. As my fellow blogger SuscoGroup2013 later reported, the swiftly gathered campaigners heard that the ecologist had rechecked the hedge and there were no nests present. Odd, because we knew otherwise.
Once again, the police were called. One section (maybe twelve foot) had already been dismantled but Peter Skillen was quickly able to identify five active bird’s nests in the remaining hedgerow, including a blackbird with young chicks, a song thrush with eggs and a wren.
Having witnessed for themselves the presence of nests – and allowed the recording of photographic evidence – the police officers on scene were able to halt progress. Not for the first time this year, this stretch of hedgerow gathered an incident log number.
‘To his credit’, says Jack Abernethy, ‘the subcontractor who had been instructed by Story Construction to remove that section of hedgerow also clearly recognised that active nests were present. He accepted that the removal of the hedgerow when he knew that active bird’s nests were present was an offence and therefore stopped work and left the site.
‘After speaking to PC 1309, the representative from Story Construction accepted the evidence presented of active nests being present and agreed that no further work could go ahead until the matter had been resolved between Envirotech and Story Homes’.
Had that section of hedgerow been removed as instructed, those active bird’s nests would have been destroyed.
Clearly I’m not a builder. Nor do I run a multi-million pound company which trades on its reputation of ‘doing the right thing’ and having ‘a positive effect’ on the communities it works within. So I don’t know how these things work (I feel sure someone will put me straight, somewhere). I understand that the field has to be stripped of its top soil before work can commence. But, surely to God, that one remaining stretch of hedgerow – in the furthest corner of a very big field – could somehow be left in place until the breeding season is done, without preventing this stripping-out operation? In the name of community relations?
Or is this about something else? The erection of hoardings perhaps, so we can gaze out of our windows for the next however many months and know exactly who’s boss around here?
Fly-free? I don’t think so
And so to this month’s ‘Countryfile‘ magazine, where Sara Maitland (based in Dumfries and Galloway) discusses how we rail against change yet our countryside adapts and moves on. And she’s got a point. History is littered with stories of people resisting that which they now wholeheartedly embrace. And, she reckons, some of the new norms are ‘more agreeable’ – like the apparent absence of flies in ‘any modern kitchen’. At which point, we most definitely part company.
According to Sara, we no longer see ‘that twisted brown sticky paper that hung in every home’ when she was a child. Now she’d be ‘shocked if there were enough flies to justify catching them that way in any modern kitchen’. Fly-free interiors, she concludes, are the ‘new normal’.
Where is this halcyon place, I wonder? Two days before reading Sara’s piece, I’d made a specific trip into town for – guess what – some of that twisted brown sticky paper (stocks of which I note are pretty high in all of Cockermouth’s various hardware and household outlets, so clearly there is a demand!) There’s only so much you can do with a fly swat and no sooner does one of the little blighters bite the work surface, another two of its mates will swiftly appear. As if from nowhere.
Last summer, our neighbour’s lawn and adjacent shrubs were a seething mass of bluebottles. One evening the climbing gremlin and I retired to bed only to find that a good thirty of them had made themselves at home on our bedroom ceiling. Cue a great deal of frantic swatting and swearing!
We’ve never discovered the source of these pests – God willing there’s nothing buried under the patio, and it can’t just be down to the joys of living in the countryside (all that muck), or Sara too would surely be bugged by flies. Unless the magnificent Scottish midges somehow halt their progress north of Hadrian’s Wall?
So no. Fly-free interiors are not the new normal. Not in this corner of Cumbria at least.