The Darkness on the Land

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Friday 3rd December 1999

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storm over the wood THE STORM rips off the top of an old Ash. The bough, itself as big as a small tree, crashes down across the causey stone path blocking the entrance to the woods like some guardian angel.

It is a path that has been much-loved by local people for generations. It is shown on Victorian postcards. But, after more than a century, time is running out for this patch of meadow, grove and stream. Behind closed doors, our local council has made an agreement not to oppose a plan to build some ten houses, a road bridge and, according the submitted plans, a three-storey block of flats here. Thanks to this agreement, today's the day when it should be nodded through, unopposed, at the planning meeting.

heron A lone gull struggles to make progress against the gale. A Heron gets up from the beck and flaps across the field. It is as grey as this morning's sky. It may be a protected bird, but that doesn't seem to mean its habitat enjoys any protection.

wheelie bin It is bin collection day along the road into Wakefield. Full wheelie bins are blown over, dishing the dirt into the gutters. We're on our way to County Hall to sit in the public gallery for the planning meeting. We reckon the matter will be decided by noon. It feels like a day of reckoning.

But there are more than two hours of other applications before the time comes to consider the plan to build on the meadow, the last one on the list. There are extraordinary scenes. A local councillor, a Conservative, makes a heartfelt plea for the beauty of the wood and meadow, quoting our Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair;

'Wildlife conservation is an important element of Labour policy; it is part of our belief that we hold the environment that we live in in trust for future generations, and therefore it is part of our policy that should inform everything we do.'

entrance to the woods, c.1920 For once, Labour councillors agree with their Conservative colleague - a rare event in local politics!

There are shouts of 'blackmail!' when the legal agreement is mentioned. I've literally got a plane to catch and there's now just an hour before we're due to get on a train in the next town, but I'm transfixed by the proceedings. I need to know how it all turns out. Eventually there's a vote and, to my astonishment, the plan is turned down.

The scheme has now been turned down three times by the council and twice by Department of the Environment inspectors. Our M.P. has objected to it. But that isn't the end of the matter, the decision will now go to a third public enquiry on Tuesday. We will be in Paris, but we should be back for day two of the enquiry, if it gets that far.

Calder near Mirfield A neighbour rushes us back home, then to the station. We grab our suitcase and, ninety minutes after the vote, we're sitting on the trans-Pennine train, on our way to Manchester Airport. I haven't had anything to eat or drink since breakfast time, so I'm sitting with a cup of tea and a biscuit from the buffet, my sketchbook at the ready, trying to calm down and get in holiday mood.

At Mirfield the railway runs alongside the Calder, which is swollen after the storm. Near Marsden the hills are capped with a sprinkling of snow, which lends them a rugged grandeur that reminds me, on a much smaller scale, of the Cairngorms.

powdering of snow, near Marsden We are disorientated by our first visit to the drum-shaped terminal building at Charles de Gaulle Aiport, which boasts a bus stop on the first floor and a number of first floor lifts that don't go down to ground level. Eventually I decide to try out my French and ask a group of young people by the lift;

'Pardon, ou est l'autobus pour le gare R.E.R.?'

'C'est sur le toit!' (the bus stop is on the roof), says a helpful young man, and sends us up in the lift to the top floor!

Hmmm, the surreal French sense of humour! It's good to be back.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

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