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A Sideways View...
Blobby Logic (AKA Eric Young)
“According to today’s newspaper Noel Edmonds will soon be telling
you that wind turbines are excessively noisy, unreliable,
inefficient, won’t reduce pollution, waste land, don’t create jobs,
cause house prices to fall, deter tourists, kill birds, and frighten
horses. (Haven’t we heard that somewhere before?) Noel Edmonds might
also tell you that Mr Blobby is funny. Should we believe
anything he says? The evidence is stacked against him!
Videos of “Noel’s House Party” will end one argument and a quick scan
of the impartially researched information on renewable energies
will expose the other claims as nonsense.
Well-designed, suitably positioned wind turbines aren’t noisy. Visit
one and listen for yourself.
The Scottish Executive discovered that only 1% of people living near
wind turbines thought that they were noisy. And I bet that 1%
was Sean Connery making one of his rare tax-free visits. Any
claim of inefficiency conveniently ignores the fact that the fuel for
wind energy is free and clean. Unlike inefficient, dirty coal
and gas-fired power stations, where much of the energy is wasted as
heat, there is no comparable “waste” if some of the wind is not
Noel Edmonds might point out that wind farms only produce around 30%
of their theoretical capacity but this should not be confused
with inefficiency. The wind supply does not allow turbines to work
non-stop throughout the course of a year, and the energy outputs
of wind turbines are calculated for them working at 30% of their
capacity. Unlike gas and coal powered electricity, wind power
will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the
atmosphere. Wind turbines offer the cheapest available and most
developed renewable energy to deliver carbon cuts on a large scale.
A wind farm will only use approximately 1% of the land on which it is
sited. The remainder could be used for farming or be protected
as wildlife habitats. The RSPB supports sensitively sited wind farms
because it recognises that wind turbines are less of a danger to
birds than electricity cables. The British Horse Society is also not
opposed to wind farms, it has found no conclusive evidence that
turbines frighten horses. The UK’s first wind farm was actually built
next to a stud farm and horse riding school! Have you ever
spotted any sheep or cows too scared to graze around wind turbines?
Wind energy creates jobs too. The New York State Energy office has
concluded that wind power creates 66% more jobs than coal fired
electricity generation. Wind farms can also provide an important
source of income for local people. They are a longstanding
tourist attraction! A Cornish wind farm had 350,000 visitors in its
first 8 years of operation, and a MORI poll in Scotland reported
that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting a wind farm!
And there is no evidence that house prices fall due to their proximity
to a wind farm! Used together with other renewable energies and
wholesale energy efficiency measures wind power offers us the
opportunity of a more sustainable future. The UK has the
greatest wind resource in Europe. Even if you don’t like the look of
them (and are partial to lurid, multi-coloured sweaters) I believe you
should open your eyes to their environmental benefits that are far too
great for us to lose.
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Support your local shop
I recognise the pitiful state that our society is in. I walk amongst
you on Market Street with my head down wondering what is to be
done about the puddles near bus stops.
I am appalled by the selfish and unsocial attitudes foisted upon
us by much of the media. I rage silently against the amount of
vehicles driving along the canal towpath. I am not stimulated
into action by politicians because I am not convinced of the worth of
their political system. I wonder what sort of award a mill
conversion could possibly deserve after making its neighbours lives
unbearable for weeks on end.
But I’m not apathetic. I know that there is something I can do over
which I have a very strong control. I know that every penny of
every pound I spend (and save!) encourages activity.
I can influence what goes on around me. I am determined that my
spending power will encourage as much positive and useful activity as
it can in my local community and beyond. I am thinking globally
and acting locally. I have discovered a powerful tool.
For too long I have consumed without thought, wasting time
journeying long distances to drop money into far off tills, needlessly
exploiting workers and supporting slave labour, foolishly donating
money to animal abusers and environment polluters. My money will
win battles. It will talk to the selfish in a language they
I’m becoming an ethical consumer. If it can, it will be bought
locally. I’ll be sourcing sustainable businesses that don’t exploit or
pollute. No genetically modified organisms here. I’m actively
seeking out the Fairtrade labels (and there’s loads in the Co-Op!).
I’m purchasing cruelty-free products from companies that don’t
test other products on animals.
I’m sending a message of support to sustainable and responsible
business people and denying my custom to those who are slowly
destroying the fabric of our society.
I’m avoiding those who didn’t support the results of the traffic
I’m joining the 52% of people who say that they are actively
boycotting at least one product. I’m challenging my long held ideas
and attitudes about shopping and consumerism and I’m loving it.
I’m part of a movement that cost the enemy £2.6 billion in lost sales
Come and join me, support your local shop, the WTO is wobbling.
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I’m sure that there must be a law of economics written somewhere to
tell us that if you give something a zero price there will always
be an excess demand for it.
Such a law was obviously written way before the advent of the
daily free newspapers that flutter around our bus and train stations
and ITV One but the basic truth just about still holds firm.
Similarly it seems that unless there is a realistic and enforced
monetary deterrent to many unwelcome activities then there will be
an excess amount of these activities taking place.
Surely there can’t be many people who would flinch at the prospect of
housing developers and members of Council planning committees
facing financial ruin and being prohibited from ever setting foot in
town again if they flagrantly flouted planning laws or showed
little respect for the wishes of local residents?
The 2001 Census revealed that only 15% of the people traveling to work
in England use public transport, whilst 61% use a car. In
London, where the percentage of those using public transport is much
higher, the huge volume of vehicles using the roads for work, as
well as getting to work led to the introduction of the notorious
congestion charge - a £5 financial deterrent on most vehicle users,
attempting to reduce the amount of unwelcome traffic entering the
centre of London. According to Transport For London, less than
four months after the inception of congestion charging, traffic levels
are already down by 20% and even Jeremy Clarkson has admitted he
was wrong to suggest that it couldn’t work! Bus passengers are not
all smiles however…it seems that their favoured modes of
transport are now almost racing around the non-gridlocked town and are
unable to respect their old slow timetables!
A road charging scheme in Trondheim, Norway had a similar effect on
its traffic levels so what’s stopping Hebden Bridge? Let’s start
by charging £5 (or £3 and 2Favours) for driving through St George’s
Square, with all proceeds going to its ultimate pedestrianisation,
and then before we know it we could set up a couple of toll booths at
each end of town, another one or two on Heights Road and we’d
soon be able to finance our very own local, pollution free tram
service with a chair lift or water balanced cliff railway serving all
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Someone told me they’d recently seen a dog pooh with a tiny
paper American flag on a cocktail stick standing up in it.
Instead of the usual red stripes, which represent the original
13 colonies who rose against the British in 1775, it bore the
legend “U.S Foreign Policy”. That’s the type of considered
political comment I’d normally warm to, but after repeatedly
watching those American Marines making such a good job of yanking down
that statue in Baghdad I realise that they could now be carrying
out an equally important task here in the Calder Valley.
Attaching a few ropes to the mobile telephone mast on Heights Road
above Mytholmroyd and pulling it down, whilst ensuring that
they’ve got a few locals around to attack the fallen tower with
assorted footwear, in front of an array of international
television camera crews, would surely help cement the so-called
“special relationship”. And should the U.S ever consider invading
our green and pleasant land, the removal of this mast would be a
classic pre-emptive strike.
It was discovered during the Kosovo War that mobile telephone towers
have the ability to detect the American’s radar-invisible
Stealth Bombers and Cruise missiles because they continuously emit
energy pulses that are disrupted by anything crossing them. It was
claimed that one of the £1.4 billion bargain bombers was actually shot
down by Serbian forces using this technology.
Armed with this knowledge perhaps we could remove the need for the
proposed American Missile Defence System, also known as Star
Wars, at RAF Menwith Hill and Fylingdales by simply surrounding our
coastline with mobile telephone masts.
Forget the facts that I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually wants
one of these towers near their homes, that the jury is still out on
their potential health hazards, that it might encourage even
more people to use mobile telephones and talk loudly about inane
things in public places, that security authorities are able to track
anyone with a mobile telephone by using these masts, or that
they might cause homing pigeons to lose their way home, and I think
that we are on to a winner!
And if that’s pie in the sky to some of you then I’m all for creating
government legislation that forces all major educational institutes
to develop specific departments of pie in the sky. Such departments
would be expected to introduce unpopular ideas and inventions that
are beyond the accepted scientific “rules”, for discussion amongst the
masses without fear of ridicule in the nation’s media. Anyone for
compulsory National Environmental Service?
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Be hip, resist, be ecological!
Being “older” gives you the advantage of being able to look both
forward and further back. When I look at the world I
inhabit today, my town of Hebden Bridge, and back to my
childhood in an equally small stone-built town, I see huge
As a child I bought sugar and flour weighed out in brown paper
bags from the wee corner shop a few steps from my front door. My mam
never went shopping in a car and always carried her shopping
home on foot. I roamed the town, its park and surrounding countryside,
and walked or sometimes rode my bicycle to school, often on my own.
My world was much more local – quieter, cleaner, slower, much less
polluted, and less anxious – but also had much less choice, was
more prejudiced and more limited. I doubt if it really was much safer.
I suspect people had a different attitude to risk then and were
less influenced by fear inducing media crime and “bad news”
It seems to me that fear is behind many of the great threats to the
environment we have today. There are the fears of nations, fed
by old rivalries and power struggles, propaganda and arms sellers, and
those of individuals. The relentless march of technology, and
the need for profits, constantly upgrades the latest type of gun,
bomb, mine, missile or even weapon of mass destruction and cause
us all huge fears and huge world problems as nations fail to agree on
their control, removal and eventual safe (?) disposal. And yet there
appears to be little consideration of the total waste of money on
these weapons when we face climate change, decreasing natural
resources, increasing pollution and an evermore unreliable public
Given the choice what would benefit your quality of life most!
Fear seems to make many people happier to go out by car rather than
foot, especially at night. Women, men, children, reclaim the
streets! Shop locally! Join the queues at the Picture House! Hang
around on street corners non-threateningly! People take their children
to school in a car because the roads are too dangerous to cross…see
Make time! Walk whenever possible, get fit cheaply and stop you and
your children becoming couch (and car) potatoes.
Let’s have one less exhaust pipe blowing out fumes in the school
run traffic jam or by the traffic lights. Don’t be afraid of the
cold! Cars are rushing everywhere. People rush too, they compete
because of the fear that if they don’t do things quick enough
something nasty will happen. Perhaps their jobs will go or there
just won’t be enough time…for what?
Some expensive leisure activity or just slumping in the chair
exhausted? Our consumer society today plays on our fears as well as
Be hip, resist, be ecological.
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It's an uncomfortable time for every company and individual with
responsibility for our ailing railway network. Stephen Byers, for one,
may have cause to regret his hasty invitation to the electorate: to vote the
government out at the next election if there isn't a tangible improvement
to the system. Genuine improvements - as opposed to cosmetic, vote-winning
gimmicks - will probably take a generation to implement, not
merely the remainder of this parliament.
From the start I had no confidence in rail privatisation. It seemed to
be designed to benefit shareholders more than passengers. And
now, with terrible irony, Railtrack shareholders are every bit as
aggrieved as the passengers who are waiting for their dirty and
overcrowded trains to turn up. The fact that pundits are harking
back to a golden age of British Rail indicates just how far the
service has degenerated.
The founding of our railway system, a century and a half ago, owed
little to government and much to entrepreneurial energy. During the
'railway mania' of the 1840s, investors ploughed their money into what
they believed to be the transport system of the future. By 1867
the lines were being run by no fewer than 476 rail companies, a number
that gradually declined as the smaller companies merged. By 1923
our railway was in the hands of just four companies, which combined in
1948 to form British Railways. Instead of the alphabet soup of
tiny companies - competing, inefficiently, against each other - we had
one nationalised body to run the show. And that, I reckon, was
about the last sensible decision to be taken over our railway
In 1963 Dr Beeching wielded his infamous axe - closing half our lines
and two thousand stations. He recommended that the remaining
rail lines should be upgraded, though the government of the day was
keener on saving money than spending it. We waved goodbye to our
branch-lines and, embarrassingly, the Advanced Passenger Train.
Designed to lean into corners at high speeds, it just made
passengers sick. By the time British Rail was broken up, and sold off
to the highest bidders, a once great transport system had been reduced
to a skeleton service.
While this government looks no further than the next election, our
railway system will continue to atrophy. There was never any need
for privatisation. Then, as now, what was needed was a properly funded
British Rail. I would love to believe that 2001 represents a real
turning point. I sincerely hope that the Strategic Rail
Authority's master plan will have the desired effect. And I'd like to
believe in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy too.
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Predicting the future is a notoriously difficult business. Those with
vested interests in maintaining the status quo find it more
difficult still. Sir Bernard Ingham, for example, who is paid to
polish the tarnished image of the nuclear industry. A favorable
view of alternative sources of energy, from the pen of our very own
Purley King, is about as likely as turkeys voting for Christmas.
Sir Bernard is welcome to his recently aired opinions about nuclear
power. I can only echo those high-principled words of Voltaire,
who declared "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the
death your right to say it". In Sir Bernard's case, though, I
sincerely hope it won't come to that.
It's depressing to hear the green alternatives being rubbished. With
nuclear power largely discredited, fossil fuels running out and
the internal combustion engine threatening to take over the planet,
only a fool would refuse to look for new ways to create and
harness energy. OK, even the most enthusiastic proponent of wind and
wave energy would admit that these technologies are still in
their infancy. There's a long, long way to go, but at least we've made
The nuclear lobby spends huge amounts of money to promote their cause.
If a proportion of that sum could be diverted into the research
and development of new, sustainable technologies, who knows what we
might achieve in ten, twenty, fifty years? It's all too easy to
shoot new ideas down in flames. We should support green initiatives,
if only on the basis that we have nothing to lose and much -
potentially - to gain.
Here are a few choice quotes from people who shared Sir Bernard's
short-sighted view of what the future might hold. In terms of
misreading the runes, he's in excellent company...
"Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?
You're crazy." Drillers who Edwin Drake tried to enlist to his
project to drill for oil in 1859.
"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered
as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no
value to us." Western Union internal memo, 1876.
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." Lord Kelvin,
president of the Royal Society, 1895.
"Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Charles Duell,
Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” HM Warner, Warner Brothers,
“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Thomas
Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken
Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment
“We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” Decca
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BANNING FOX-HUNTING IS TO LABOUR WHAT HOUSEWORK IS TO ME. We know
these things have to be done, but there always seem to be more
important things to do first. For the government that means being
beastly to foreigners and driving another nail into the coffin
of the NHS. For me that means going to the pub.
Every time fox-hunting gets onto the parliamentary agenda, more
important issues take precedence. And, as issues go, maybe hunting
isn’t quite as critical as, say, war in Afghanistan, or the imminence
of war in the Middle East. Even within the animal welfare
movement there are more pressing issues. Why cut up rough about
fox-hunting, which kills only a few foxes, when we mistreat animals on
a truly industrial scale, in our farms and laboratories and abattoirs?
Well, I feel this cruel and anachronistic ‘sport’ does need tackling,
and there’s no time like the present.
For years the government has promised to ban fox-hunting. Then someone
pointed out that a person who could dress up in a pink jacket
and ride around the country was perfectly capable of putting a cross
on a ballot paper. So instead of an outright ban, we’re now being
sold the idea of licensing fox hunts. What a cowardly cop-out. A
humane fox hunt is an absurd oxymoron. What are we going to have:
an ‘acceptable’ level of brutality? It makes no more sense than
getting cannibals to eat with a knife and fork. Where I was born
and raised, near Otley, the hunt was a familiar and colourful
spectacle. But even as a young lad I realised there was more to
it than just chasing a fox. These people were riding roughshod - in
the most literal sense - over the countryside. Even gardens like
ours (my dad used to get apoplectic about the hoofmarks in his lawn).
Fences were no barrier. The message was unequivocal: “The countryside
belongs to us”...
What particularly grates - with me, anyway - is the dishonesty of the
hunting lobby. On the one hand they insist that hunting with hounds is
the most efficient and humane way to cull foxes. On the other hand
they try to mollify the animal lovers by suggesting that most foxes
get away. Hunters can’t have it both ways. If what they say is
true, then they aren’t merely bloodthirsty... they’re bloodthirsty and
inefficient. Could anyone devise a less effective method of
culling wild animals than riding over hill and dale, with a pack of
hounds? It’s a nonsense.
The apologists for hunting say they are engaging in a dance of death
with a worthy quarry. In regarding the fox as an adversary - not
just vermin, like a rat - they are trying to elevate the whole sordid
business into a noble contest. They paint a picture of hunting as a
cohesive social activity that binds country people together. “If
these animals weren’t hunted”, they insist, “the delicate ecological
balance would be upset. We are conservationists. We love
foxes...” Come on guys, let’s have the truth. “...And the way we
express our love for these fascinating animals is by hunting them down
and killing them.” Ah, that’s more like it. “OK, it’s a fair cop.
We are bloodthirsty people. It is our delight, at weekends, to chase
small mammals to the point of exhaustion, then let the dogs tear them
limb from limb. That’s the bit we like best, not the riding, or
the stirrup cup at the Fox and Hounds”.
Fox hunting is not a suitable pastime, in the year 2002, for sentient
adults who still have their frontal lobes intact. Let’s be in no
doubt: there are many other kinds of hunting for horsey folk to
enjoy, that do not have the death of an animal at their heart. It
would be good for the morale of flagging Labour supporters, like
me, to see the government grasp this particular nettle. Not merely on
the basis of whether or not it’s a vote-winner... but simply because
it’s the right thing to do.
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Walking past the Calderdale Way to the future
If you see a rather unfit, bearded man labouring over the tops, it'll
be me. I'm taking a springtime saunter along the Calderdale Way.
This is the perfect time of year for walking, I reckon. The colour is
returning to the landscape. It's neither too hot, nor too cold. And,
while the swallows are returning to their summer haunts, the
more unpleasant insects have yet to muster in numbers.
The Calderdale Way loops around Todmorden and Halifax, taking in some
splendid countryside in between. It's familiar territory, of course -
though too often glimpsed through a car windscreen as a greenish
blur. Walking offers different perspectives, and a chance to slow
down. As a world-class dawdler I take every opportunity to
admire the views, and catch my breath. From the hills that overlook
the valley, you could write the story of Calderdale. And what a
story it is, even if we consider merely the most recent history
of the textile trade.
If anywhere can be called the 'cradle of industry' (and there are
plenty of candidates), the milltowns of West Yorkshire have as
good a claim as anywhere. We've gone from cottage industry to the
economy of the mill and (for writers, website designers and
Reichian therapists, at least) almost back to cottage industry again.
What struck me, as I gazed down from the hilltops, was the speed of
change. The signs of industry are ubiquitous: the causeways,
canal, railway and roads; the mills and the towns that sprang up
around them. When the valley was helping to meet the world's
needs for wool and cotton, it must have seemed as though the trade
would last for ever. But when decline came, it came quickly. The
manufacture of textiles round here, on a truly industrial scale,
lasted little more than a century: a mere blip in the history
The relics of industrial architecture are everywhere to be seen, but
already you need to 'read' the landscape to understand exactly
what it is you are looking at. All along the Calderdale Way I saw old
mills mouldering away in side-valleys; all that remained of some
mills was a solitary chimney. A hillside quarry - like a bite taken
out of a breadcake - is gradually becoming less of an eyesore as
trees and grass and moss soften its harsh outlines. Mill-dams and
convoluted watercourses are quietly 'going back to nature'. You
can almost see the land 'healing' itself, like new skin growing where
a wound had been. Given time, the uglier traces of our
industrial past will simply disappear beneath the soil. A
hundred years hence, Calderdale Wayfarers will no doubt still be
enjoying the panoramic views down over Hebden Bridge. But what
will they actually see? A tourist brochure of 2102 may supply the
answer. "Before the new-age industries went into terminal
decline, due to the sudden and disastrous resurgence of common sense,
Hebden Bridge was know as an important centre for fortune tellers and
tarot card readers. They should have seen the end coming... but,
alas, they didn't."
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Food packaging wasn't always the problem it is today. There was a
time, not so long ago, when market stallholders would tip the fruit
and veg straight into our shopping bags. Now we stand in the
supermarket aisle, rubbing a plastic bag between finger and thumb,
trying in vain to get the damn thing open. Or maybe that's just me.
Our infatuation with purpose-free packaging is reaching bizarre new
heights. On those blissfully rare occasions that I need to call in at
a motorway service station, I see oranges on sale. They aren't
sold by the pound, not even by the kilo. Each orange is individually
wrapped in a clear plastic bubble, with a little label for the hard of
thinking. 'Citrus Snack' it reads... and there's me thinking it's
just an orange. There are bananas too, snug in their own little
banana-shaped plastic sheaths. Since bananas and oranges already come
with their own wrapping - elegant, easy to peel and biodegradable -
any further packaging is unnecessary. A new kind of pizza made a
brief appearance in local shops. The base was pre-smeared with
tomato paste, but all the other ingredients were separately
shrink-wrapped. This, in short, was a pizza you built yourself. You
could add the little slices of cheese, mushroom and ham in the exact
proportions you preferred. Maybe, if you weren't thinking too
clearly, you could kid yourself that this was home cooking.
The supermarkets seem to be in the vanguard of this trend, as they
continue to add what they call 'value' to the humblest of foodstuffs.
So it's goodbye to the turnip, and hello to some shrinkwrapped
concoction called 'Turnip Surprise' ('tiny baby turnips marinated in a
spicy Chinese-style sauce, ready to microwave in seconds').
You'll find a dollop of unappetising gunk in a plastic tray, sealed
with film, and slid into a cardboard sleeve emblazoned with heating
instructions, list of ingredients, serving suggestions... and a
fullcolour photograph of something very different to what you'll
tip onto your plate once the microwave has gone 'ping'. All at a price
per pound that would make a saint blush. 'Serves two'? I don't think
The manufacturer adds any two magic words from the lexicon of food
labelling: fresh, pure, natural, prime, farmhouse, farm-fresh,
free-range, organic, authentic, country-style, wild, homemade,
traditional, heritage... While some of these epithets have a specific
definition, the truth can be stretched imaginatively in a way that
Bill Clinton would immediately understand. 'Natural' is a good
one in this context - vague, with a host of pleasant associations, but
In an Alice in Wonderland kind of way, these flowery words can mean
whatever we want them to mean. My favourite description, found on a
packet of vile, frozen, 'Mexican' enchiladas, is 'Authentic style'. If
you think about this combination of words for long enough - and what
they might actually mean - you'll come to the conclusion that
either the world has gone crazy, or you have.
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I had my wrist slapped some time ago for suggesting that we could
create a pedestrian oasis in Hebden Bridge by banning cars from
St George’s Square. The square could be extended by banning traffic
along Bridge Gate from St George’s Bridge to the packhorse
bridge. It’s impossible, I was told. It couldn’t work. Lorries
wouldn’t be able to negotiate the bend around Hope Street. Or
something. But my own view (and call me naive, if you will) is
that we should make the most of the best things we’ve got. Instead of
being a car-park for about ten cars, and a two-way road that’s
too narrow for two cars to pass, St George’s Square could be the
bustling hub of this little town.
Some of us give our time selflessly on sunny afternoons, to sit
outside the Shoulder of Mutton and monitor the traffic flow. We
watch in amazement at the unhappy conjugation of cars and pedestrians
in and around the square. What’s amazing is that accidents don’t
happen on a weekly basis. But they will. Some day soon a driver will
reverse into Bridge Gate and knock a child over. Or a pedestrian
crossing the top of Crown Street will forget that cars can come from
every conceivable direction, and get swept up by the bull-bars
of some 4x4 off-road monstrosity. As for the juggernauts that
lumber across St George’s Bridge, I fear we will see a major tragedy.
It seems odd to dismiss ideas out of hand as being unworkable -
especially in the Calder Valley, of all places, which prospered
on the can-do spirit of textile entrepreneurs. So let me get this
straight: we can get to the moon and back, we can build huge
skyscrapers... but bringing some order to the traffic chaos of a small
South Pennine town is beyond us.
Pedestrianisation can be made to work, of course it can... if the
people of Hebden Bridge want it badly enough. And instead of
finding more convenient ways to route the juggernauts through our
narrow streets, shouldn’t we be planning for a future when they
no longer need to do so? Businesses that are regularly serviced by
vehicles of this size could surely be helped to relocate to out-oftown
brownfield sites. There is a solution to a very real parking
problem, and it’s even closer to home than recently reprieved Calder
Holmes Park. Build a three-storey car-park in the scruffy area
that surrounds Garden Street. One wall of the car-park is already in
place: the huge retaining wall that supports Commercial Street.
Cars coming from the Halifax direction could enter the top story of
the car-park from Commercial Street, with other traffic entering
at ground level (perhaps from the town end of Garden Street). The exit
would be into Albert Street, towards its junction with New Road.
Offer the site to a developer, and sweeten the deal with planning
permission to include a few apartments in the scheme. The
car-park could be large enough to meet forseeable needs and, because
of its position, could be almost inconspicuous.
The idea is not mine; it was explained to me by one of our
ex-councillors. But the more I think about it, the more sense it
makes. Isn’t it time to stop pratting about with half-baked,
make do and mend schemes? Instead of mortgaging our squares and green
spaces to the infernal combustion engine, let’s solve our
parking problems once and for all. In twenty years time we should be
able to look back, with a degree of pride, knowing that we took
the long view. It’s a great little town, but we could still make it
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Whenever the traffic threatens to grind to a shuddering halt (and that seems
to be every other day here in sunny West Yorkshire) the cry goes up to build
more roads. Or, as now, to widen the roads we already have - with the M1 and
M62 the latest candidates for expansion. It's a hugely expensive option;
worse, it fails to address our underlying transport problems. It's like
trying to cure obesity by letting our belts out by a few more notches.
In the good old days, roads used to go from place to place. Now, to ensure
the smooth flow of traffic, roads go wherever places aren't. Instead of
being slim ribbons of tarmac, motorways gobble up the greenery on either
side of them. They soon become bloated with roundabouts, slip roads and
cloverleaf junctions: a spider's web of concrete and tarmac spreading across
Businesses sprout up alongside the motorways as they did around the railways
150 years ago. Little Eaters, Happy Chefs, filling stations, distribution
centres, car auctioneers and out-of-town shopping malls, conveniently sited
in the middle of nowhere. Huge tracts of land are swallowed up in this way,
just to keep the traffic moving.
It wouldn't make much sense anywhere in the world; in an island as small as
ours it's utter madness. It is a salutary experience to stand on a bridge
spanning one of our motorways, to watch lorries filled with corn-flakes,
underarm deodorants and other staples of life in the 21st century heading
north... and different lorries filled with cornflakes, underarm deodorants
and other staples of life in the 21st century heading south. I wonder, in my
simplistic way, whether all these journeys are strictly necessary. If we
weren't quite so insistent about moving goods around the country, maybe we
wouldn't need to build so many new roads and mortgage our precious
landscapes to the internal combustion engine.
It's amazing how accepting we are. If any other major system worked as
inefficiently as motor traffic - with 25 million road deaths in a single
century, appalling pollution, depletion of finite fossil fuels, huge
increases in needless journeys and the number of vehicles - we wouldn't even
entertain the idea. But we still cling to the much-vaunted 'personal
freedom' a car is supposed to give us, like shipwrecked sailors clutching at
Talking of shipwrecks, I am not the kind of person who gloats at others'
misfortunes. So it gives me no pleasure to learn that MacDonalds and the
nuclear power industry (two outfits close to Sir Bernard Ingham's heart and
wallet) are having a few troubles. No pleasure whatsoever. Cheers, drinks
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I’ve read that we Britons use about eight billion plastic bags every year.
That’s rubbish: there must be twice that number stuffed into the cupboard
under my stairs. And I hardly dare open the cellar door any more. I can hear
them rustling. Yes, these bags are everywhere: a tidal wave of tat,
threatening to overwhem us. Eight billion: that’s 135 bags per person per
year. They blow down our city streets like tumbleweed. When they catch in
tree branches, they look like Tibetan prayer flags. Except they’re not
prayer flags; they’re the flotsam and jetsam of a selfish and secular age.
Plastic bags are a global problem. If they’re not the worst environmental
problem we have to face, they’re certainly one of the most visible. With a
nice sense of irony, South Africans dub them the "national flower". Turtles
eat bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. The holy cows of India eat them too,
as they forage for food; the beasts either choke to death or starve.
Discarded bags block drains in Bangladesh, probably contributing to the
floods that have devastated the country in recent years. Bags are a bugbear
wherever they occur.
The humble plastic bag is an interesting creation. It’s flimsy. You’re lucky
to get home before it splits asunder and deposits your groceries all over
the floor. Yet, for all its flimsiness, it’s damn near indestructible. The
experts can’t agree whether it will last 300 years, 1,000 years, or even
longer, before rotting away to mulch. But they can agree on one thing: we’re
creating major headaches for the waste management industries of the future.
What a tawdry legacy we’re leaving. Bangladesh has banned polythene bags;
Taiwan and Singapore may follow suit. And closer to home, the Republic of
Ireland has levied a tax on plastic bags, which has reduced the number of
bags in circulation by a staggering 90%. Shoppers have to pay 15 (Euro)
cents per bag - that’s about 9p - with the extra revenue being earmarked for
a variety of environmental projects. The tax provides a good incentive for
re-using bags, instead of letting them pile up at home.
The fact that we hoard these bags is a sure sign of a guilty conscience. We
know we shouldn’t throw them away, yet we usually forget to pocket a few
when we go shopping. It’s time our own government grasped this particular
nettle. A 9p charge might be just enough to change our wasteful habit of
reaching for new bags whenever we visit the supermarket. The ladies at the
checkouts open the bags for me, look me up and down and ask “Would you like
any help in packing?” Do they say this to everyone, or is it just old
dodderers like me? The packing I can manage (even though hand-eye
co-ordination is not what it was, thanks to years of recreational drinking).
It’s paying that’s the problem. Perhaps we could have an amnesty for all
those billions of bags already in circulation. I’d be happy to redeem my own
collection for a nominal sum. Even at a penny a bag, I reckon I’m sitting on
a small fortune.
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The Right to Roam legislation is making some farmers and landowners a bit
twitchy. To hear them talk you’d imagine that hordes of rampaging ramblers
were planning to lay waste to their land in a frenzied re-run of the
Harrying of the North. It’s mildly intriguing to hear from certain quarters
that you (yes, mild-mannered you...) are a member of a group that is doing
untold damage to the countryside. Landowners are trying to update the
Country Code. They’re taking out the deadwood, all that guff about shutting
gates and taking litter home, and thus reducing the code to this simple,
easily remembered injunction... 1: Is your visit to our land really
necessary? 2: It’s not, is it? 3: So bugger off smartish, before I set the
dogs on you.
But of all the problems that hill farmers face (and that’s a hell of a lot
right now), woolly- hatted ramblers would seem to be among the more benign.
There are, after all, comparatively few walkers who want to stride out
across the moor-tops, where paths are few. The landowners’ fears, that those
empty upland acres will be over-run with walkers, are largely unfounded. The
Right to Roam is not a pressing issue for the majority of walkers. They are
happy to do some undemanding ramble featured in a slim volume entitled
‘Twenty Five More South Pennine Walks From Pubs With Warm Beer, Vegetarian
Food and a Relaxed Dress Code’. Carrying an open book as they walk, they
look like strolling Shakespearean players rehearsing a soliloquy. Attached
to their cars by an invisible umbilical cord, and unable to read a map,
their greatest fear is getting lost.
It’s good to escape the crowds and the Tarmacadam tourniquets that strangle
our cities. Walking in the countryside is good for us in ways we are only
beginning to understand. At those times when our little island seems
unbearably crowded, a view from the breezy tops can provide some much-needed
perspective. People sometime talk as though our countryside was already
beyond redemption. "It’s doomed... doomed", as that wild-eyed Scottish loon
used to say in Dad’s Army. The hedgerows are disappearing, we hear, and
greedy developers keep bulldozing ancient woodlands, just so they can build
another accursed out-of-town shopping complex. And, God knows, there are a
lot of people who seem to dedicate themselves to leaving the countryside
more battered and bruised than when they found it. It’s easy to get
So we need to see the bigger picture once in a while. To stand on a hilltop,
drink in the view and reassure ourselves that this little island isn’t
irredeemably knackered after all. I’m not suggesting we should become
complacent... but just acknowledge that we have some wonderfully diverse
landscapes. They haven’t all disappeared. We still have so much to
celebrate. And the best protection for our treasured landscapes is for as
many people as possible to love them and visit them.
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The late and largely unlamented Millennium has been and gone. Even those
pedants like me who were under the impression that a new century begins with
'01' rather than '00' have welcomed in the 'Noughties' with a muted cheer
and a bottle of the finest Armenian wine that small change can buy. I don't
know about you, but I'm happy to get back to what passes for normality in a
small Pennine milltown. I'll be happier still if I never hear the accursed
We are told - mostly by Railtrack publicists, with their fingers crossed -
that the trains, too, will soon be back to normal. I'll believe that when I
see it. In a few short months the company has achieved the seemingly
impossible: making us nostalgic for the good old days of British Rail and
their sandwiches. The lines require a rolling programme of maintenance and
repair, year in, year out. But it seems that the custodians of our railway
network can only react to crisis.
A maintenance schedule should not need kick-starting by a tragic event such
as the rail-crash at Hatfield. It's depressing that people have to queue up,
after a day's work, waiting for a train that may or may not arrive. It's
even more depressing that shareholders seem to be at the front of the queue,
and rail travellers somewhere near the back.
But Railtrack is guilty of much worse than this kind of routine
incompetence. They're doing something truly unforgivable: driving people off
the trains in droves, and back into their cars. Once we get behind the
wheel, we'll do anything - absolutely anything - to keep on driving. To
occupy those few square metres of Tarmac, we'll sell our souls to the devil
(or at least discuss some kind of time-share option). Never mind that city
traffic now moves at an average speed that would make the Hansom cab of
Victorian London seem break-neck by comparison. Never mind that petrol
prices keep on rising, or that fossil fuels are a finite resource. We'd
rather do without the inessentials (food, clothes, shoes for the kids) than
give up our cars. It's a love affair of epic proportions.
In our imaginations, of course, the car represents freedom. We've all
watched the adverts. We're driving along a deserted alpine road in a red
sports car - the hood down, the wind in our hair, a gorgeous member of the
opposite sex in the passenger seat, lost in admiration of our driving
skills. In reality, of course, we're just joining a line of traffic
stuttering slowly towards oblivion - car and driver fuming in unison. One
day we'll look back at the internal combustion engine and see it for what it
was: an experiment that didn't work. In the meantime wouldn't it be good if
we could cut down on non-essential car journeys? Yes, if there were fewer
vehicles cluttering up the roads there'd be a bit more room for me and my
car to get around.
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THE FOOT & MOUTH CRISIS IS BUT THE LATEST BROKEN LINK in an increasingly
fragile food chain. As we lurch from one crisis to another, it seems that
our cheap food will cost us dear. And not just us; future generations too
will be paying for all our mistakes. E-Coli, GM, BSE, CJD: the whole
alphabet soup of our livestock mismanagement, and our meddling with the
building blocks of life.
After World War II the Holy Grail of food production was good, cheap,
plentiful food for those who lived in a land fit for heroes. The motives
were good, even if some practices became unacceptable. Cooping chickens up
in battery cages. Confining veal calves in darkness to ensure pale meat.
And, perhaps most cynical of all, forcing herbivorous animals to become not
just carnivores... but cannibals. That’s a sin of almost Biblical
proportions; what on earth were we thinking of? Yes, some of the indignities
visited on animals in the name of producing good, cheap food should make us
hang our heads in shame. It’s not as though we’ve succeeded in our aim.
Good, cheap food is still a distant prospect - in that the good food isn’t
cheap, and the cheap food tends not to be very good. Worse, the gap between
cheap and good is actually getting wider. The supermarkets are hastening
this process, by operating a two-tier system of selling processed
foodstuffs. On the one hand they have their cheap ‘n’ cheerful, no-frills,
budget brands (24 beef burgers for 99p anyone?). On the other hand they sell
sleek, seductive, overpackaged ‘premium’ products. By rolling an
undistinguished cut of meat in peppercorns, or marinating it in ‘Indian’
sauce, the supermarkets can charge double the price. Imagine - trying to
reduce the cuisine of a whole subconti- nent to a single glutinous,
glow-in-the-dark sauce. What would ‘English’ sauce be, I wonder? Thin gravy,
probably. And what will the supermarkets think of next? Separate checkout
tills for paupers, with their fluffy white bread and their loss-leader tins
of baked beans?
Iceland, the frozen food stores, tried to gain ground on their competitors
by ensuring that all their produce was both organic and GM-free. The result,
perhaps predictably, was a drop in profits. What sector of the market were
they aiming at? After all, the people who want organic produce are not the
same folk who like their food frozen solid and shaped like cartoon
characters. It’s unsettling to see food production divide up into good
quality for the wealthy and fastidious, and cheap rubbish for those whose
budgets do not stretch so far. But that’s the way it seems to be going. We
know what’s in those 99p burgers, don’t we? It’s just something we’d prefer
not to think about. Value-added foods are taking over the freezers and
cook-chill cabinet. Instead of searching for expensive new taste sensations,
to titillate our jaded palates, maybe it’s time to stop bombarding
over-processed ready meals with microwaves and get back to some proper
cooking. What were they called, those things we used to throw into a
casserole, before bunging it in the oven for a couple of hours? Oh yes, I
remember now: they were called ‘ingredients’...
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NOT SO MANY YEARS AGO, we were told that the paperless office was just
around the corner. Imagine: no more memos, no more file copies, no more
faxes, no more invoices, no more delivery notes, no more statements, no more
bumph. It sounded rather splendid. Unfortunately, we’ll have to keep on
imagining it, because it never happened. And it probably never will. Paper
will continue to have its uses. As vulnerable as it seems, at least it
doesnt disappear into the ether by mistakenly pressing the delete button on
a computer keyboard.
The society that stores its accumulated wisdom on computer discs is a
society that will soon have no history at all. We can still save huge
quantities of paper, though, and outlawing junk mail would make a good
start. It only takes one fool to open a letter and think he might already be
a winner to encourage Readers Digest to send out another million unwanted
If theres one thing more irritating than junk mail, its junk faxes. I used
to get two or three every day, usually in the night. When I got up each
morning, paper had issued from the fax machine, snaked across the desk and -
on a bad day - reached the floor. What bugged me most was that I was paying
to get them. I was buying rolls of fax paper so that unseen hands could keep
sending me unwanted faxes. They asked me to consider car leasing and mobile
phone ring-tones, printer cartridges and baldness remedies. Most of these
services I could do without (apart from the last one, of course) but still
the faxes came. And if I wanted to stop receiving them, it would cost me
even more money. The small print at the bottom of each fax informed me that
if I had received this fax in error (Please accept our apologies, yeah
right...), I could fax the page back and be removed from the companys
database. And, in even smaller print, I saw that this would cost me 1.50 per
minute, and that faxing the sheet back would take no longer than two
minutes. Yes, I would have had to stump up 3 to stop receiving something I
didnt want in the first place. Aaaargh...
There was, of course, no phone number; no-one at the end of a phone who I
could bellow at in rage and indignation. Then a new kind of fax started to
appear. Are you totally fed up with junk faxes? they asked, in all
innocence, as though they werent being sent by exactly the same companies
that had been bombarding me with junk faxes for months. I had to admit a
grudging admiration for such bare-faced cheek. It was like creating a
disease with one hand and offering a cure with the other. Thankfully there
is a genuine cure to this irritating problem. You too can stem the tide of
junk faxes - and save a few more trees in the process - by phoning the Fax
Preference Service on 020-7766 4420 and opting out. Hooray...
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'It's not easy being green', as Kermit used to sing. Well, he was a frog, so
he knew what he was talking about. Society in general - and Hebden Bridge in
particular - is full of people who feel much the same. They would like to be
'green', but every time there's a conflict between pragmatism and
idealism... it's pragmatism that wins out. "I need my car", they say. "How
else can I get the kids to school, or do the weekly shop at the
supermarket?" Even a simple definition is elusive, conjuring up more
questions than answers.
Being green is not about subscribing to every principle in some mythical
charter. It is, I trust, a broad church, not a rule-bound clique. There
should be room for many shades of green, various degrees of commitment. What
about meat-eating cyclists? Vegetarians who smoke? Vegetarians who,
bafflingly, reckon it's OK to eat chicken and bacon? People who drive five
miles to the bottle bank and drive five miles back? What about people who
sort their rubbish into bags, but then never take it anywhere? Can they join
the green club, even if only as associate members? What about me, with my
cartload of good intentions and my principled procrastination: could I be a
Friend of a Friend of the Earth?
The world faces ecological problems of such magnitude that it's hard to know
where to begin. Deforestation, climate change, acid rain, third world
debt... the list is depressingly long. We'd like to do more, we really
would, but we can't all devote our lives to environmental activism. Most of
us don't have the time, the energy, the inclination (or, let's face it, the
bottle) to bob around in an inflatable dinghy, interposing ourselves between
the whales and the harpoons. There seems such a huge gap between who we are
and who we would like to be. When the gap grows too wide, disillusion sets
in. We're tempted to close our eyes, cross our fingers, burrow under the
duvet and hope the problems will go away.
So I doff my hat to whoever it was who first coined the motto 'Think
globally, act locally'. We hear it so often that it's in danger of becoming
just another cliché. Yet these four well-chosen words achieve the
nearimpossible: they bridge that yawning gap between thinking and doing,
between the ideal and the pragmatic. Our contributions, however small, are
important. Every little bit helps - whether it's planting a tree, buying
FairTrade products or giving a few quid to Greenpeace. At the very least, we
can make a simple audit. We're either adding - however minutely - to the sum
of human happiness, or we're subtracting from it. OK, it may be a close-run
thing, but as long as we're on the right side of the equation, then surely
we can afford a little smile. Not a smile of complacency or
self-satisfaction, but just the warm feeling of contentment we get from
seeing, say, a Ferrari with its wheels clamped, or Michael Portillo's face
when the votes were announced at the 1997 election.
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THE SUMMER OF 2001 IS NOT ONE THAT WALKERS WILL REMEMBER WITH ANY GREAT
AFFECTION. We did the decent thing and obeyed the footpath restrictions. We
stayed away from livestock because we understood the farmers’ plight.
Selfdenial seemed a small price to pay, if it helped to eradicate foot &
It’s been a tough time for hill farmers, there’s no doubt about it. I read
some while ago that the hill farmers of the northern counties are to the
Labour government what the miners were to the Tories. Which, if true, is not
good news for the hill farmers.
As the government has been learning, rural tourism is more important - in
purely financial terms, at least - than farming. The hill farmers have our
sympathies. It must have been traumatic to stand by and watch as their
animals were slaughtered: like witnessing the death of a much-loved member
of the family. Or - perhaps more accurately - a much-loved member of the
family who had a one-way ticket to the abattoir. It’s been frustrating for
walkers to watch the landscape change from spring to high summer, without
being able to get out and enjoy it. I’ve hardly crossed a contour line since
All that nonsense about the countryside being ‘open for business’ only made
matters worse. There are still a few intrepid souls around who want more
from a day out than just driving to some honey-pot village, parking in the
pay & display and mooching listlessly around the gift shops. We want to
enjoy the freedom of the hills, not just buy a tea towel emblazoned with
Yorkshire beauty spots. Like everyone else, I was glued to the news
bulletins on TV, gob-smacked by the scale of the foot & mouth epidemic.
Seeing animals being bulldozed into pits, thousands at a time, or burnt on
huge pyres, created some very uncomfortable associations. This wasn’t the
rural Arcadia committed to canvas by John Constable or T h o m a s
Gainsborough. No, this was an apocalyptic vision conjured from the feverish
imagination of Hieronymous Bosch.
With so much of the countryside off-limits, I tried a few town walks. But,
since I don’t like passing any pub without sampling the beer, an intimate
exploration of Haworth took eight hours - of which the last two were just a
blur. I tried to climb the precipitous north face of the Tourist Information
Centre, followed up by a lateral traverse of the Branwell Brontë Massage
Parlour and Tea Room (rated as ‘severe’ in a brand new book, Teashop Climbs
in West Yorkshire, published by the Opportunist Press). But I was forced to
give up. Partly due to the lack of foot-holds, but mostly because armed
police were shouting at me through a loudhailer.
So let’s throw our woolly hats in the air, and offer heartfelt thanks that
the footpaths are now being reopened. Of course, the landowners haven’t let
the grass grow under their feet while we’ve been away. A lot of them have
seen their land free of ramblers, and they’ve come to prefer it that way.
Most of the foot & mouth notices may have been taken down, but I’ve seen
some disturbing new signs going up in their place. ‘Keep strictly to the
waymarked footpath through the estate. We maintain this so-called right of
way under protest, and begrudge every second that you are on our land. Yes,
that means YOU... and the rest of the rambling riff-raff. Woody Guthrie was
right: it’s not your land... it’s OUR land, and don’t you forget it. So
clear off sharpish, before the gamekeeper sets his dogs on you’.
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Endangered species are an emotive subject, though it all depends on which
species we're talking about. People are prepared to put their hands in their
pockets to save giant pandas, baby seals and other appealing animals. But
when the time comes to bolster the numbers of some rare leech or lamprey,
people don't usually feel quite so generous. What bothers me most isn't the
extinction of a super-rare creature. I confess I find it hard to get worked
up about the demise of an animal I wasn't aware of in the first place. No,
what concerns me is finding so many familiar species in decline.
Birds in particular. Twenty years ago song thrushes were an ever-present
feature of the garden. Now their numbers are way down. Lapwings tumbled and
dived - like demented black and white butterflies - over every field. They
were so common that they never even got a mention in my nature diary (or
'nature dairy', as mine was called, confusingly, until I learned how to
spell). Why bother mentioning a bird you saw every day? Skylarks, too, were
everywhere. That lovely liquid song was the soundtrack to my childhood
adventures. Now, whenever I hear one, I stop and listen - wondering when and
where I will hear the next one. Redpolls, linnets, yellowhammers the colour
of butter toffee, whitethroats and their scratchy summer song: these are
just some of the birds that are disappearing from our heaths and hedgerows.
Even the once ubiquitous house sparrow is strangely absent from many of its
former haunts. And if the sparrow (the Arthur Daly of the bird world) is
unable to thrive, what hope is there for more retiring birds such as the
dunnock and garden warbler?
These observations are not the ramblings of some old buffer who harks back
to a golden age - when winters were warmer, young people respected their
elders and beer was thruppence a quart. Well, not just that, anyway. The
statistics back me up; our common birds are just not so common any more.
It's depressing to think that the summers to come will be filled with the
noise of traffic, radios and the banshee howl of unattended car alarms...
but not much birdsong. This, thankfully, is just one possible future. By
looking at the evidence of the recent past, we can be cautiously optimistic.
For example, the hard winter of 1962-3 decimated the bird population.
Millions of birds died of cold or starvation. Wrens, I recall, were hit
especially hard. But within five years the bird populations were back almost
to what they were before the big freeze. Today, bucking the trend, wrens are
thriving once again.
The year 1962 was, coincidentally, when Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was
published. The book brought the wanton misuse of agrichemicals to a wider
audience, and offered dire warnings about what would happen to the planet's
wildlife if we continued to pollute the land with pesticides. At the time it
sounded like scaremongering; in retrospect the book seems measured and
understated. We learned some of the lessons: at least farmers don't spray
DDT on their crops any longer. But the biggest lesson is that the loss of
our garden birds is neither inevitable nor irreversible. When we stop
poisoning the birds, or grubbing up the hedgerows where they nest, their
numbers will recover.
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