Sunday, 13 November 2011

Man-made Landscapes

Wapley Hill, Herefordshire

It was just before daybreak that I parked the car at the base of Wapley Hill. It was surprisingly warm and after I had set off on my walk I soon had to return my coat to the car as I was overheating. Yesterday had been a beautiful warm sunny afternoon with the bright yellow mahonia fowers in my mother's garden covered in bees and even a comma and red admiral butterflies. Today was shrouded in mist and although it brightened up later in the day, I didn't get any views during my limited time on the hill. An area of conifers has been cleared on the northern side of the hill and when I was up here a few weeks ago I saw views I had never seen before. Today I sat for quite a while at the edge of a new clearing and watched what I could see of the landscape around me. Some blue tits, a wren and a goldcrest kept me company at one stage.

To facilitate timber extraction on this very steep side of the hill a new track had been bulldozed along the side of the hill for a good half mile or so. The ground must drop away at least at a 45 degree angle or more in places so a reasonable amount of the limestone/shaley soil had to be moved to create a level track. I noted how the track ran along side the lowest ancient ramparts of the Iron Age Hillfort thus creating a new 'rampart' lower down the hill. I wondered at the manpower time and energy expenditure in creating both of these earthworks. The bulldozer would have created in minutes what would have probably taken months or years to construct by hand.

What I also pondered was this. The Forestry Commission are probably within their rights to construct such a track without any need to get planning approval or to consult local residents etc. The track will substantially change forever the ecology and microclimate of this part of the hill. Possibly for the better as it will create more edge habitats and and introduce light onto the ground layer, thus encouraging a greater diversity of plants along its length. Whether the track will increase public use and access to this part of the hill I'm not sure. But if I walked along it, then others are bound to also. So this is a highly significant change to the landscape that is irrepairable and permanent (like the hillfort too). Will anyone be complaining about it? I doubt it. Even though possibly thousands on tons of soil and rock have been moved in its construction.

Now, consider a proposal to build a large wind turbine on the same hill. A structure with a minute ground footprint in comparison, only a few tons of soil displacement and with probably hardly any measurable ecological impact. I wonder what the public reaction to that would be...?

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