Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A meeting or a mad hatter's tea party?

Lewis Carroll and Sir John Tenniell could not have invented it nor drawn it.

I attended a meeting at Wicken Fen last evening and, though many of my friends were present, there were times when I thought of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Sir John's illustration thereof, such was the unbelievable fare being served up and the almost unbelievable unreality and complacency of those on the serving side.

The get-together was intended as a 'Joint National Trust & Parish Councils Meeting' and was chaired by Mrs Liz Houghton, who is also chairman of Wicken Parish Council and, as is only too evident, she is becoming more and more concerned at the activities of the National Trust in connection with its so-called 'Wicken Vision' so far as they affect the villagers of Wicken itself. Some time was spent at the beginning with Liz in verbal conflict with Mr Chris Soans of the Trust, the former complaining about the latter's literally making a mess of what has hitherto been a quiet haven for wildlife. Such is the general level of activity, such is the effect of the Konik horses (those originally from Poland) and the Highland cattle (those originally from Scotland), and such is the effect of the Trust's work traffic, that even cyclists who have up to recent times been able to use and survey what is supposed to be a National Nature Reserve cannot now get around, such is the muddy condition of once passed as paths.

I remarked that the higher level of activity, the higher numbers of visitors drawn by 'attractions' and the large number of grazing animals were and are making a mockery of Wicken Fen claiming to be the quiet nature reserve which many remember it as.

We then went on to hear about 'progress' on driving a 'spine route' through all of our Fens. Construction of the huge bridge over the lovely and peaceful Reach Lode has started and plans are being drawn up for an even 'huger' bridge over Burwell Lode. This, apparently, is to be a dual track affair with a livestock lane and a public lane. God only knows what the cost will be and God only knows what further disturbance to the wildlife and the local people is to be. Amongst others, my friend Mr John Covill, of Swaffham Prior Parish Council, expressed both concern and ridicule.

There was also discussion, initiated by my friend, Mr Loder Bevington, of Swaffham Bulbeck Parish Council, as to the areas of 'open water' that are to form part of the so-called 'Wicken Vision.' The Trust's officers at last admitted that there will be some 80 hectares (getting on for 200 acres in 'old money') in Burwell Fen and, presumably, more in other Fens. I had with me some maps produced by the Trust prior to the year 2000. These show large areas of 'open water' (the new code for flooded farmland), but, try how I may, I could not obtain a precise total of how much of our Fens are to be flooded as well as 're-wetted' (Is this not a similar state?). Of course, almost all of the area will be lost to food-growing in the conventional Fen sense. This is a disaster on a national scale.

Finally, for me, there was the matter of travellers. I put three specific and written questions to the Trust's officers, namely:

What is the policy of the National Trust towards settlements of travellers who do not travel?

What is the policy of the National Trust towards travellers who have dogs and horses on the National Trust's land?

What will the National Trust do if the travellers presently on and near Hightown Drove decide to cross the new Reach Lode Bridge to other National Trust land?

These questions were unexpected by the Trust's officers and so were the photographs of the travellers and their horses, etc., that I had recently taken and showed to the meeting. These were taken away for discussion by Burwell Parish Council by one of its members, Mrs Fay Whitehouse, who was extremely interested and very helpful.

It was alarmingly clear that the Trust has done nothing about the travellers' settlement and is doing nothing about the horses, etc., on the Trust's land. I expressed fears for the future of all of our Fens and said that I foresaw the so-called 'Wicken Vision' area becoming not an enlarged nature reserve but a paradise for travelling people - most of whom don't travel at all - and their horses, dogs, etc. This would be the absolute antithesis of what a nature reserve should be. I had backing from Mr Bevington, Mr Covill, Mr Bill Watts, of Stow cum Quy Parish Council, Mr Michael Aves of Reach Parish Council, and several others, as well as hearing some unrepeatable and very politically-incorrect remarks after the meeting from Mr Peter Fuller of Wicken Parish Council.

Between us all, we rattled the National Trust's people, which was the intention.

One pleasurable interlude for me was afforded by a discussion with Mr Adrian Wright, of Waterbeach Parish Council, about mutual interests of ours, Denny Abbey and the famous Farmland Museum which is housed there. Mr Peter Johnson, a South Cambridgeshire District Councillor and also of Waterbeach Parish Council, remarked on my canvassing and how my leaflets, etc., are getting round. I am so fortunate in having so many friends.

Like the Cheshire Cat, I smiled.

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