The Friends of Thornborough Henges
Comments on the "Swale and Ure Washlands Project Draft Restoration Policy 2005"

Restoration - "The action of restoring to a former state or position... The action or process of restoring something to an unimpaired or perfect condition." The Oxford English Dictionary.

The SUWP restoration policy wrecks the natural landscape, destroys indigenous habitats, lays to waste our all-important best agricultural land and leaves an alien, water-filled landscape needing constant and on-going attention. These contravene established policies and guidelines as well as those emerging. The SUWP attempts to hide this behind the use of a series of false assumptions and 'greenish' obfuscation.

False assumption No. 1. That man is in charge of nature - and that there is some merit in him attempting to reverse evolution and to restore the ecology, habitats, or landscapes, to a by-gone time, in order to promote nominated species which used to be here, but have moved on elsewhere over a period of time.

What maxim might be used to determine the "ideal" age to restore or revert to? The SUWP claims that this datum might lie somewhere in the Mesolithic or Neolithic, but on no grounds other than their claim that the local landscape, at that time, looked like the water-filled landscape which will be left in this area if their plans for massive water-filled quarry after-use ever come into being. This approach does not stand up to scrutiny. Why not use the Permian period which underlies this area, or the time of the birth of Christ for example, - for this daft approach?

False assumption No. 2. That the North Yorkshire Plain was ever "washlands".

The soil here is underlain by sands, silts and gravels dumped when the glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago. Surfaces show braided channels ( visible from air photography,) due to the run-off of glacial melt-waters. These surfaces are flat to gently undulating so have since been covered, in part, by bogs, ings, marshes, carrs or mires, - all variations of the same thing - but these were rarely, and only locally, "washlands" in the normal application of the term, - that is - tracts of land subjected to seasonal inundation due to the bursting of river banks or to breaches in coastal strands.

The application of the term "washlands" to this area is therefore inappropriate and is deliberately misleading.

If these mires no longer exist, it is mainly due to man-made drainage installed in the last 200- 300 years. We know of no surge of public feeling to reverse this.

False assumption No. 3. That by quarrying beneath the water table, one is re-creating a longed-for landscape of massive water-filled holes.

In fact, these environments differ in most ways from our indigenous mires (- other than the presence of water being common to both,) - and also from washlands. All three environments are distinct and are not, under any pretext, interchangeable.

If there is any merit in replacing the mires, then one only has to block the man-made drainage at critical points - there is no need to dig big holes (quarries,) in order to do this.

False assumption No. 4. That not upsetting birds is more important than not upsetting the local people

False assumption No. 5. That there is merit in supporting species which are now rare here, or in replacing species which used to be here - especially when they are now common somewhere else.

False assumption No. 6. That "biodiversity" is a good reason to permit piecemeal quarrying.

Biodiversity is a term which issued from the Rio Earth Conference of 1992. This proposed (among other things,) replacing habitats destroyed by industry, with alternatives. Clever industry has now turned this on its head and uses "biodiversity" as an excuse to change good stable environments into others - on the false basis that the new man-made environment is somehow an improvement. Whilst this attitude may be prevalent, it should not be supported once this ploy has been recognised.

False assumption No. 7. That "return to agriculture" is no longer an option for quarrying after-use - that water-filled holes are the preferred, and indeed, are the only alternative.

Linking them up and making them bigger is therefore the "best worst" scenario. Let's have more Norfolk Broads.

We know of no legislature supporting the destruction of our best and most versatile agricultural land', other than in extremely unusual and rare circumstances. Yet the SUWP proposals would make this commonplace.

False assumption No. 8. That the Swale and Ure Washlands Project is improving a series of abandoned quarries which were badly restored and that this need will continue.

The public perception is that their projects are unacceptable. The SUWP use the old Nosterfield quarry - the Nature Reserve, as their primary example of success - yet it has the appearance of a bleak and unattractive abandoned quarry to which a cosmetic veneer has been applied. The bird-attendance figures have dropped since their sign went on the gate, despite the enormous promotional exercise and the self-presented awards.

The so-called nature reserve represents a nature conservancy sham, highlighted by the way the trustees shoot the birds there in the name of sport - but, of course, only in the season. "

They also spotlight their work at the Nicholson Quarry at Littlethorpe, Ripon, as being a project to be proud of, yet the common opinion is that it is just an abandoned quarry without landscaping to enhance it. It is not a site of beauty, from ground level or from the air. True, there are birds there - but not because of any input by the SUWP.

The SUWP trustees have made serious mistakes in environmental judgement with catastrophic results of which NYCC is well aware. They are amateurs, pretending to be conservationists. They are certainly not qualified to be formulating local government policies - and NYCC must always have been aware of this.

In conclusion, this pseudo-ecological, "hankering after the past" approach is just a smokescreen created jointly by industry and by local government, to allow them to avoid acceptable restoration and to circumnavigate national guidelines and policies. This proposed policy is no more than window-dressing around the cheapest possible afteruse. It does not represent restoration, conservation or the true purpose of biodiversity. Yet these emotive and generally well-supported terms and principles are used in an attempt to fool the public. In addition, the proposed afteruse burdens the tax-payer with safety risks and with maintainance costs into perpetuity.

The need for "partnerships of convenience" like the Swale and Ure Washlands Project (local government plus mining companies plus government agencies,) is brought about through the lack of a coordinated national minerals extraction policy. The current policy is resulting in a pock-marked landscape of water-filled holes which NYCC decided had to be disguised by SUWP green-wash'. North Yorkshire deserves better than this.

The industry too, deserves a better framework in which to operate.

North Yorkshire County Council must accept that the Swale and Ure Washlands Project was conceived for a time which has passed, that its very purpose and assumptions are flawed, and consequently its recommendations require deep scrutiny.

John Lowry,
Chairman, 31 11 05.