Without fear of contradiction we can say that WyeWeb has been supportive of agriculture and the farmers who tend their cattle and till the soil. But, from time to time we have voiced criticism and today is such an occasion. We are fortunate to have examples of all kinds of farming practice – large scale industrial farming, conservative organic farming, specialist growers of flowers, fruit and vegetables. But farmers should be on their guard of falling prey to practice that would generally attract not only their own anger but the community at large.
In the accompanying image, fortunately not accompanied by the awful acrid, chemical smell, we see pollution of the worst kind perpetrated in set-aside. Is it possible to remedy the damage done? We do not know, perhaps the area of contamination is small, perhaps the sub-soil has been irretrievably damaged, perhaps insects and birds have already had their breeding cycle destroyed, at least for this year. Whoever carelessly did this damage should immediately rectify it.
The other day, crossing Wye Bridge, I saw a father and son fishing. The boy had that bright inquiring look so familiar to those who live along Olanteigh Road and, between casts, I heard him ask his father the following questions.
“Dad, what is it that makes that kayak float?”
Dad replied, “Good question, son, but I really don’t know.”
A few minutes later came the second question. “Dad, how is it possible for fish to breathe under water?”
Dad answered, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
A short time later the boy asked, “Dad, why is the sky blue?”
Dad answered, “I don’t know, son.”
Then the boy commented “Dad, I hope you don’t mind me asking all those questions.”
The Dad, looked seriously at his son and said, “Not at all, son. If you don’t ask questions, how on earth are you going to learn anything.”
Several years ago the recently deceased Bert Chittenden took delivery of a brand-new motorized mower. You will recollect that those were the days when Bert led the way in keeping his (several) allotments neat and tidy and, to boot, would mow both major and minor paths. But enough of reminiscing about the ‘good old days’, after all for some they were good and for others less so. Anyway Bert took delivery of his bright red motor on an evening just before the weekend. He awoke next morning to find that thieves had stolen his new machine. As we learned rural thefts of farm vehicles and machinery was a growing hazard for working in the countryside.
However, this tongue-in-cheek look at the issue as seen from the other side of the pond, raised a wry smile.
A significant beneficiary of the presence of agricultural research at Wye College has been Biological Crop Protection. Far from the modern, technological architecture beloved by Imperial College in its grand visions, BCP took over both glasshouses and the old building that once housed the soft-fruit harvests from the nearby fields. There will be many of you remember those fields of strawberries and raspberries protected by signs warning that they had been sprayed with deadly pesticides – yes, we were all fooled by that!
For more than a year the staff of BCP have been made redundant or moved leaving just a skeleton crew to clear up as the grand departure was prepared. WyeWeb tried its best, on behalf of those who regret the loss of all local agricultural activities, to raise an awareness of the incipient tragedy of another loss to employment possibilities in Wye.
It appears that, by the indication that you can pick up for free office furniture items, the final departure is imminent. We wish all the staff who were working in Wye and who lived among us the best of luck in finding new employment. We hear that Wye Bugs, presently occupying the former greenhouses of Wye College, may be taking over the BCP site. Mike Copland and his staff are a reminders of both the status and considerable benefit of biological methods of crop protection.
Congratulations are in order, we think, to Telereal Trillium – we hear that, instead of demolishing the college house in Occupation Road they will refurbish them and let them to tenants. Some of our long-standing Wye College employees have lived in those properties and although things have moved on so that we have no longer ‘Wye College employees’ there are many essential people who still need housing in our village. Telereal Trillium would do themselves as well as us a favour by making inexpensive accommodation for rent to local families. Still, as we said, congratulations are in order if the rumour is correct!
I was recently given a book about the place where I was born – it was unrecognizable as the place of my childhood. Recent residents focused on imagined improvements that will ensure that they will inhabit a chocolate box fantasy world. As the southeast is destined, it seems, for increased housing development the wish to fantasize appears to increase in proportion to the amount of concrete. Here in Wye we have suffered serious challenges to our perception of our place. It has been summarized by some as ‘Wye is a dormitory village’, a sentiment that may seem justified if you are around the station waiting to commute or looking at the road damage caused by 4X4s along the back roads. But, is this melancholy outlook justified?
Wye was, despite the many agricultural students, an aging rural village. Twenty years ago the primary school had very few children born in the village and had a very wide catchment area. Today we see streams of children and their parents dissipating into the houses – new and old. There is, at present, a dearth of enthusiasm for ‘community projects’ but that will surely change as the children become teenagers and parents engage along with their children.
However, there are issues that should concern us about the local developments. This has been recently drawn to attention by the objections raised to the Telereal Trillium plans to develop the Wolfson House site. Parishioners will remember that this building was a student residence built through the charitable donation of the Wolfson Trust. The abject failure of Imperial College to revive the fortunes of Wye College led to the sale of the College real estate that included the Wolfson House site. The Telereal Trillium proposals are for modest sized houses, squeezed onto the available land (see the site plan above). The reports which they commissioned lack any sincere sensitivity to either the village or the original site and its educational purpose, giving the impression of a developer’s ‘quick fix’. Nevertheless, in the real-politik of today something has to be done to the derelict sites left by the former owners. One hopes that these houses will still be affordable as well as sympathetic to young local people who will need to be housed as they commit themselves to the area and the community.
Surface water and sewage – always a problem for old villages
Finally, although the site has a higher elevation than most of the village, the sewerage system has frequently revealed its antiquity and incapacity to carry the increased volume of foul-water already issuing from the modernized village. The optimism or should we say disregard of the commissioned reports does not auger well for the village’s residents nearer then river, or indeed, the rest of the village!
The deficiencies in the reports may be exemplified in, for example, the foul-water assessment which states:
“Soakage testing has not been carried out at the site. Surface water runoff from the existing site is assumed to be discharged to soakaways. Soakaways and other concentrated infiltration devices need to be positioned at least 5m from buildings or roads in accordance with the requirements of the Building Regulations. There is space available for soakaways either side of the development….”
“A 150mm diameter public foul water sewer runs from north to south along Upper Bridge Street to its junction with Cherry Garden Lane. From here a 225mm diameter foul sewer runs east to west along Upper Bridge Street, Figure 5.
The existing buildings are connected to the public foul sewer. There are no surface water sewers in the immediate vicinity of the site.
“The existing development provided student accommodation with 24 single rooms. The proposed development is for six, 2-bedroom houses an equivalent population of 18 people. The proposed development will therefore reduce foul water flows when compared to the previous use.”
We, on the other hand note that in general student residents were visitors who were not in occupation for the whole year!
The government has come in for considerable criticism about its decision to abandon the Dub’s amendment on the number of children refugees/migrants. The consequence of this decision has been a large number of protests across the country and not only in centres with a high density of ethnic minorities. Although we have not seen street demonstrations in Wye conversations have revealed some passionate opinions on the matter. One of the arguments that has been raised is that each child/teenager will cost in the region of £5000 per year to provide for the living costs alone. There are, of course, other costs such as the time taken to protect, nurture, integrate and generally care for these children. Wye residents have pointed out the ways that migrants have contributed to our society by taking up the opportunities for education and training. Indeed, these same residents have long collected shoes and clothing for the refugee camp in Calais. Surely they could go that extra mile and open up their homes, pay for an extra mouth and expend that milk of human kindness?
Perhaps one sort of solution is that those who feel so strongly about homing the children might set up a fund among themselves to ensure that monies are available beyond the Treasury. Indeed, it appears that a number of charities are already prepared to find homes and foster parents for these children. Such an act of personal sacrifice and generosity would be in keeping with the long-standing attitude of individuals in this country. When the government has to continually make decisions on its expenditures – on behalf of the whole nation – surely the freedom to act in resonance with one’s own values is the greatest testimony to that freedom?