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Friday, May 24, 2024
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HomeCulture WarEco-zealots are ravaging the legacy of Victorian land improvers

Eco-zealots are ravaging the legacy of Victorian land improvers

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UNTIL 1878 the lowest part of the Vale of Lorton in West Cumbria consisted of about 220 acres of marshland, lying wet in winter, subject to regular flooding and growing little more than rushes. Then, largely at his own expense, William Alexander (of whom more in a later article), one of the great Victorian philanthropic landowners, employed 100 navvies to dig a complicated and ingenious drainage system that dried out the low-lying land and stopped the flooding.

At a dinner in 1910 to honour Alexander’s ninetieth birthday, his neighbour from across the river, John Dover Pearson, whose land and that of his neighbours benefited so much from the Lorton Main Drain, reminded his audience of ‘the state of the meadows at the low end of the valley in 1878 before Mr Alexander’s great drainage scheme was carried out’. He quoted Jonathan Swift’s aphorism that the man who makes two blades of grass to grow where one grew before is a greater benefactor to his country than all the race of politicians who have ever lived.

Contrast that with the recent activities of the West Cumbria Rivers Trust in the Vale of Lorton (and elsewhere). They are busy destroying or encouraging the decay of the work of William Alexander and the other Victorian improvers who created fertile productive farmland from marsh, rough grazing and scrub. They seem to have a particular animus against land drainage and dredging, without which none of the agricultural improvements would have been possible.

The West Cumbria Rivers Trust is one of the 63 rivers trusts that operate across Great Britain and Ireland. These are charities, supported and partly financed by their umbrella organisation, the Rivers Trust, based in Cornwall. Ostensibly discrete local organisations, concerned with fish and the quality of the water in the rivers and streams in their area of operation, they are in fact political organisations connected with European and global ‘conservation’ movements, largely funded by central and local government, big corporations and other eco-charities who cross-donate to support each other.

Over the last decade or so, they have gained a good deal of influence up and down the country, with the aim of gaining control of every river catchment in Britain. They are carrying out an increasing range of destruction: slowing the flow and altering the course of rivers and streams with ‘leaky dams’ and creating meanders, digging out culverted watercourses and field drains, removing weirs and levees and, of course, planting trees. They pay landowners and farmers more money than they can make out of farming or traditional land use, with the aim of creating ‘wild, healthy, natural rivers, valued by all’. Note the emphasis on wild and natural, meaning cleansed of human influence.

The Rivers Trust is ‘building nature-based solutions’; ‘reconnecting communities with healthy rivers’ and ‘transitioning to a regenerative climate-resilient economy’. They’re keen on ‘connectivity’ and ‘inclusivity’ and ‘working . . . toward positive impacts, resilience and regeneration’. They recently declared they aim to ‘address and promote equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)’ as a fundamental part of achieving their goal of giving ‘everyone equal access to enjoying and connecting with rivers and nature’.

They have no intention of including diversity of opinion or treating opposing views with equal respect. I doubt if there is room in their ethos for anyone who doesn’t believe that humans are bad and must yield to ‘nature’ that is good. It is unlikely that diversity would extend to people who don’t accept that messing with river systems and planting trees will have an effect on the weather, or doubt that the Trust’s activities are ‘helping to combat climate change’, or do not accept that CO2 has any effect on the climate, or that creating flooding over large areas of farmland reduces flooding further downstream. In this, of course, they are no different from every government and international ‘conservation’ organisation from the Environment Agency to DEFRA, Natural England to the Forestry Commission and every charity involved with the countryside, all of whom operate as if these articles of faith were true.

The West Cumbria Rivers Trust joined the Cumbrian River Restoration partnership comprising the Environment Agency, Natural England, South Cumbria Rivers Trust, Eden Rivers Trust, National Trust, RSPB, United Utilities and others, who in December 2022 were awarded the ‘European Riverprize’ for ‘reinstating natural river processes that benefit people and wildlife’ over 150 hectares of floodplain and 100 kilometres of river length. How creating flooding can reduce flood risk and benefit people and wildlife is hard to understand.

On their website on December 1 2022, the Environment Agency congratulated the partnership on winning the prize and praised their work in reversing the modification of rivers that was done, as they say, to ‘create space for farming practices’. They baldly claim that such past modification has made flooding worse in recent years, ignoring the fact that the flooding (especially in Cockermouth and Keswick) has coincided with a decades-long policy of refusing to dredge the rivers.

There you see what government policy really is. It is nothing more than encouraging a bid for control of land without buying it. It is not interested in farming or farmers. In fact, it celebrates whatever is against cultivation and husbandry and encourages the re-creation of wilderness. It will not countenance proper dredging of rivers to allow the water to flow to the sea as rapidly as possible, as had been done for centuries. Instead, they bamboozle us with Newspeak to make us believe that creating flooding prevents flooding. And if we dare challenge it, we’re told we’re not an expert and don’t understand that the flooding would be much worse if the river wasn’t caused to flood.

Few useful crops (except perhaps rice or watercress) grow if their roots are waterlogged and deprived of oxygen. Even after as short a time as five days productive grasses start to die. Causing widespread persistent flooding across productive farmland will severely damage soil organisms, not to mention destroying creatures such as earthworms, mice, voles and so on. But the Rivers Trust is not concerned with any of that, fixated as its supporters are on nonsense such as ‘Global emissions need to reduce by 45 per cent by 2030 to avoid catastrophic planetary changes’ and that dredging rivers will not protect people from flooding.

It would be interesting to know where the Rivers Trust and all their taxpayer-funded acolytes think we’re going to get our food from in future. Perhaps, unlike William Alexander, they don’t care.

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Philip Walling
Philip Walling
Philip Walling has written the Sunday Times bestseller Counting Sheep and Till the Cows Come Home.

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