Countryman Diary - August 2009
Purely from an environmental point of view, improving the rail network in the countryside would seem very sensible. Taking all those cars off the road must be a good idea, surely?
Recently, the Association of Train Operating Companies produced a report for government and regional authorities to consider. In it the association proposes new stations on existing lines, reopening freight-only and disused lines to passengers again, and even introducing passenger services on heritage lines.
And the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) back the proposals, as they align well with their own document, ‘2026 – A Vision for the Countryside’, launched in May, which calls for a revitalisation of rural railways.
The CPRE is particularly keen for innovative schemes to be trialled to ensure even better value for money, such as: using ultra-light rail, which can run as a tram on roads to connect town centres and residential areas; reducing red tape on minor railway lines, rather than the one-size-fits-all approach to regulation that treats branch lines the same as main lines; and upgrading walking and cycling routes to stations and introducing new demand-responsive taxibus services to make stations accessible for those without cars and reduce the need for more car parking.
Putting aside the question of costs (and whether any private companies will be able to make a fat profit out of all this to get them interested) it all seems very commendable.
But is there a downside to rural rail development (or resurrection in some cases)? Could this be the thin end of a wedge many politicians and developers are looking for to gain access to land they desire for housing and industry, and the catalyst to property and ribbon development in the countryside?
Extending rural railways will certainly mean the expansion of commuter belts; more villages could become dormitories for city workers with locals being squeezed out.
Ralph Smyth, the CPRE’s senior transport campaigner, says:
“All the main political parties seem to be keen to improve trains and to shift power from the centre to local communities. But many local councillors prefer to fund old road schemes, claiming that it is just Network Rail’s responsibility to fund rail. We need joined-up government if we are ever going to have a joined-up transport system.”
Those local councillors, in considering the needs of rail users and the planet, should also make sure they are not opening the door to other, more unwelcome, developments.
Just capital in Devon
Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) has awarded the first of its capital works grants from its Working Wetlands project to a local landowner.
Lesley Prior, from Westcott Farm in the Rackenford area, is the recipient and has used the grant to install vital fencing to improve the management of her site.
The farm was selected as it fell within one of the project’s three target areas: Knowstone and Witheridge, Hollow Moor and Torridge and Tamar headwaters.
The fencing has enabled Lesley to create separate fields within a larger area, allowing better overall management of the site and helping to protect key habitats such as culm grassland. It is hoped that this will reduce over-grazing and help the rare habitat to spread along the farm’s valley bottom.
Lesley farms Cashmere goats for their luxury fibre which she turns into yarn. She explains:
“Goats are browsers and not grazers, and are able to keep down invasive species while allowing rare culm grassland treasures to flourish.
“The grant from DWT is helping us to help wildlife — what more can I ask?”
Devon Wildlife Trust’s Marie Butterfield oversaw the project. She says:
“Working Wetland’s priority is to ensure wildlife-rich habitats in the Culm Valley are well managed and this grant is a significant step towards this goal.
“Our small grants initiative is set to help landowners carry out capital works, enabling small, awkward sites to be managed more easily. This type of work is needed to save these sites from abandonment, scrub encroachment and ultimately losing the wildlife-rich grasslands to more
common secondary woodland.”
Working Wetlands has a total of £20,000 to give out each year. Landowners with holdings of culm grassland within one of the target areas and looking for support should contact the Working Wetlands team at the DWT’s Cookworthy office on 01409 221823.
Ospreys return to Kielder
Since mid-June I’ve been heading at regular intervals to Malham Cove, just a few miles from where I live, to witness the development of four peregrine falcon chicks. They’ve been putting on some fabulous and sometimes amusing aerial displays as they learn hunting skills.
Meanwhile, conservationists are delighted to announce that further north, at Kielder in Northumberland, ospreys have nested for the first time in around two hundred years. The pair have also produced chicks, but at the time of writing it wasn’t known if they had left the nest.
Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission ecologist, explains:
“Kielder Water and Forest Park has been on the flight path of migrating ospreys for some time. But in recent years birds have been seen more frequently, prompting us to erect nesting platforms. Our chief goal now is to help the birds rear their family as they are probably first-time parents. It will be tremendous if the young ospreys make it — the first born in Northumberland for centuries.”
Keeping a level head
Farmers, and northern farmers in particular, are not renowned for their over-exuberance. One morning a lady was out walking when she came upon an farmer mending a drystone wall. It was a glorious day. She nodded to the old chap and said, “Fine morning.” He gave her a glance of scorn and said witheringly, “Well, don’t let’s get into a lather about it.”
The winners of our Narrowboat Cruise competition in the May issue were Mr & Mrs John and Rachel Irven of Watchet in Somerset.