Concerning post miners' strike makeovers of the former colliery spoil heaps of South and West Yorkshire. (Or how best destroy a profound, subversive historical memory and an abundance of wild life with it, including the threatened Dingy Skipper butterfly).
The numbered paragraphs that follow provide the basis for the voiceovers to several digital films we've made detailing the destruction of the increasingly rare Dingy Skipper butterfly on the former pit spoil heaps of South and West Yorkshire. This would never have occurred without huge subventions running into hundreds of millions by the UK State and the EEC. The aim has been to wipe out all memory of the region's subversive past taking with it much of the indigenous flora and fauna. All told it is a disaster of unparalleled magnitude.
The films are almost complete and are to be streamed on a separate website once a few technical difficulties are resolved. As usual, we've had to do everything ourselves with no help from anybody. Anyone can download them and use them as they so desire. Once these technical problems are resolved we will post the URL here.
So why get so het-up about a tiny, dingy, butterfly that really does live up to its vernacular name? Apart from anything else, little did we realize when we embarked on the project three or four years ago how we were going to be spat on from all directions - not least by the central committees of wildlife conservation groups, though not from individual members of these groups who were as appalled as we were though unfortunately too afraid to speak out. Mostly however, we were confronted with a hostile wall of silence and our efforts to publicise what was happening came to very little. After all there is a limit as to what two people can do when faced with such massed, overpowering obtuseness. We were as usual the butt of much sneering and derision. This went on behind our backs for had there ever been a stand-up fight we would have trounced the opposition, despite the overwhelming odds.
What we have tried to get across in these films is the present day sham of greenery. Honed by the language of advertising, a wasteland is being created in the name and image of greenery. And nowhere is this more blatantly obvious than on the former pit spoil heaps of South and West Yorkshire. It is to be fervently hoped that the dissenting voices will grow in number and rend the air with their mass cry of protest aimed not just at naked capitalism but those who seek to do the impossible and make capitalism ecologically responsible. This tendency has now become the dominant ideology and without it capitalism would be unable to function. We hope these modest films will help make that clear, especially the filmscript on Frickley colliery.
Though hostile to these destructive spoil heap makeovers, that doesn't mean we believe in leaving everything just as it is and letting nature take its course unhindered, though that obviously has a major part to play. Huge earth works could have a marvellous salutary effect on local flora and fauna especially in cities, and they could be an absolute delight to shove up. But this will never happen under capitalism. In a case like this the only effective guarantor of success is a liberatory peoples' assembly one that negates money and external power and scoops up in the newly conserving ladles of the JCBs' to throw on the new spoil heaps all hip horticulturalists, the legions of bought ecologists, landscape designers and earth-installation eco artists.
Stu' & Dave Wise. March 2007
The Great Kiveton Park Pit Makeover Disaster (A filmscript)
We stumbled on the Dingy Skipper in South Yorkshire purely by chance. We had gone to the funeral in Kiveton Park near Sheffield of our dear friend John Dennis, a former miner, who had died prematurely of drink and diabetes. On the day before his funeral in late May 2002 we had wandered dejectedly on to the spoil heap of Kiveton Park pit and to our delight had found masses of Dingy Skippers and, at a rough guess, a ten thousand strong colony of very variable Common Blues. It was like John had risen from the dead for he loved nature as did many another miner and had he known about these butterflies he would have cherished and protected them. He would have had no qualms about mounting a picket to protect the butterfly either for he knew only direct action was going to save the planet. Three years later there is not one Dingy Skipper to be seen at Kiveton and the Common Blues are reduced to a pitiful rump.
Over the following days we kept returning to the site to try and get an indication of its size. It was far larger than we first thought and the colony appeared to be concentrated around the old clock tower that formerly belonged to the colliery and pit baths, which have now acquired heritage status. However they were to be found in greater numbers on the wooded side of the spoil heap facing the road toward Harthill, particularly on the fringes and in the clearings not yet completely covered by the encroaching carr woodland. Our on-the-spot estimate indicated that there were about 300 to 400 Dingy Skippers on the wing at the height of the emergence.
Three years later there was not one Dingy Skipper to be seen at Kiveton and the Common Blues were reduced to a pitiful rump of about 20 or so adults. In the meantime a supposedly eco-conscious, very destructive amenity makeover, had finished off the former spoil heap's amazing bio-diversity.
What we have here are the elegiac first and last film clips of the Dingy Skipper at Kiveton. The film was shot on a blustery day in May 2004 mainly in carr woodland clearings and on the burnt shale path that climbed up the spoil heap. As we silently dwell on these historic shots for a while, listen to the buffeting wind and other ambient sounds.
Following the relentless 'dash for gas' programme that had provoked the great miners' strike of 1984/85, Kiveton Park colliery had closed in 1994 as a direct consequence of the brutal wholesale pit closures government directive of 1993. Prior to that some seeding and planting of trees had already taken place. Once the pithead winding gear came down and the shaft filled in the National Coal Board had been under some kind of legal obligation to make good the rest of the bare spoil heap. Heaps of trefoil, clover and kidney vetch seed were scattered over the 22 acres that comprised the spoil heap. It was like a desert had bloomed and the acres of kidney vetch were especially breathtaking. This cut price, haphazard, though ecologically very effective seeding must have considerably helped expand the Dingy Skipper and Common Blue populations, both forming major colonies in a fairly short space of time. On the North Downs in Surrey a flush of kidney vetch will prompt a search for the Small Blue butterfly. Here there were enchanting acres of the stuff and we were reminded the nearest colony of Small Blues was not far away in Derbyshire. In fact from the top of Kiveton spoil heap, the site was almost visible through the blue haze that bathed the Derbyshire Dales above the M1 motorway.
But this ecologically successful makeover was merely a stopgap measure, an unintended consequence of the real aim, which was to eventually sell off the land. This temporary greening of the abandoned spoil heaps was increasing the asset value of the NCB's land portfolio and making them less of a financial liability than if they been allowed to stay as they were. Besides, nature was poised to take their grim majesty back in any case.
The English Coalfield Regeneration Program was made up of 62 sites, the assorted spoil heaps being the largest portfolio of contaminated land in Europe covering 3,400 hectares or the equivalent in terms of space of 95,000 low-density homes. A land transfer of enormous proportion is the eventual aim, the transfer of land from public i.e. state ownership, to private ownership being presented as the key factor in generating development and wealth. The idea was that such a transfer would facilitate property development and thereby property led urban regeneration. This notion is very much of its time, the defeat of the 1984/85 miners' strike greatly speeding up the flotation of state owned companies, especially gas, electricity, and water on the stock exchange.
To attract investors, and ultimately a purchaser, the spoil heaps had first to undergo a facelift paid for by UK and European state agencies. And this is how Kiveton came to be designated an anodyne play and recreational area. The client body that now owns Kiveton, and nominally responsible for the makeover is Renaissance South Yorkshire, in fact a subsidiary body of the Whitehall appointed, Yorkshire Forward. A government-funded creation in its entirety, the Kiveton makeover cannot pretend to be a product of free enterprise, a fact which goes against the grain of the prevailing neoliberalism. So to be rid of that stigma, Renaissance South Yorkshire is now hoping to denationalise this land holding as quickly as possible by finding a buyer on the open market. Initially its exit strategy for the site had been the Land Reclamation Trust and British Waterways, though there appears to be absolutely nothing left of the Chesterfield canal, which once ran through the site.
At its centre are two fully lined, large fishing ponds easily accessible by that all-important piece of noxious junk on wheels, the car. There are also 11 kilometres of paths some of which are laughingly referred to as 'nature walks'. Several miles distant from Sheffield it has been spared the entertainment mega blitz that has been the fate of the Orgreave spoil heap on the perimeter of Sheffield also once a Dingy Skipper foothold and the site of a legendary battle during the miners' strike. Even so one of the advertised attractions of the remade Kiveton spoil heap is the proximity of Meadow Hall shopping centre or rather 'retail therapy centre' as it is referred to in the sickening post modernist language of the glossy spoiled heap brochures.
English Partnerships, an umbrella group comprising Yorkshire Forward and Renaissance South Yorkshire, which liases with local authorities as part of the 'value-added' towns programme, drew up the overall plan. 'Value added' always implies an increase in new build and home ownership and a momentous shift away from traditional industries toward concept, design, marketing and finance otherwise speciously referred to in the post miner New Britain as the 'creative industries'. The asinine myth of a work based creativity spreading out to encompass all of everyday life permits an increasingly de-industrialised Europe and America to believe they will forever maintain economic and cultural hegemony over China and India. It is also the ground on which a moribund installation art and an insipid ecology flourishes, the union of both becoming increasingly important to the post industrial capitalism of the developed world.
The cost of the Kiveton spoil heap makeover was put at £9.5 million. After the overall plan was drawn up for Kiveton the contracts were divided up between Cheetham Hill Construction, White, Young and Green and the Encia bio-remediation group. In this subcontracted world how many other subcontractors were involved is anybody's guess. The general idea was to link 'environmental quality with economic investment decisions' What that means is plain to see from the results obtaining at Kiveton, as is the usual predictable blurb about creating a 'prosperous and sustainable economy'.
More specifically there were regeneration budgets and land reclamation/derelict land grant programmes. Derelict land is defined for purposes of giving grants as 'land so damaged by industrial and other developments that it is incapable of beneficial use without treatment'. Though this sounds sensible and praiseworthy it hinges on what is meant by 'beneficial use' because the final result does not benefit nature at all and therefore cannot be said to benefit humans either.
Considerable emphasis has been given at Kiveton to 'land restoration' which is where the Encia Group comes in, 40 hectares of soil being cleansed of all hazardous waste. 'Soil amelioration', as the process is called, has become compulsory on industrially derelict sites since a European Union directive was enacted in July 2004. In fact most of the European Directives have to do with the environment, including landfill, hazardous waste, surface waters, pollution prevention and control and conservation of natural habitats. However once they reach Britain, the directives are mixed with a noxious eco neoliberalism and become the truth, the whole truth and nothing like the truth.
At Kiveton 'soil amelioration,' meant that all top 'contaminated' shale or other soil was removed on a massive scale to be aerated and sampled. Lime and other nutrients were added and finally the whole lot returned to the site. Encia insists that no new topsoil was ever brought in from elsewhere. This is sales pitch with a vengeance for tons upon tons have been freshly dumped on the site, utterly obliterating the spoil heaps top layer of burnt shale and tiny bits of coal which gave the spoil heaps their characteristic ochre and dark grey colour.
Certainly the imported soil was not cleansed of alien seeds as fat hen, sharlock, nettles and thistle are now to be seen in abundance, choking off the sparse original vegetation. This was followed up by a seeding in mechanically pricked out rows of rye grass - the living equivalent of astro-turf - giving the place the appearance of a permanent artificial spring. Cheetham Hill Construction Ltd should really be renamed Cheating Hill Destruction Ltd for their promotional statutes proudly proclaim (quote):
1.'We are committed to complying with environmental legislation and have specific site procedures to address waste management, silt pollution and working in proximity to protected species.
2. Due to our extensive environmental management system we have recently been awarded the prestigious Green Apple Award.'
The Rotten Apple Award would have been more appropriate. One of the other construction companies, Birse Civils, also received an award for its remedial destruction of the spoil heap's great promise. Orwellian newspeak is the rule on these pit spoil heap makeovers but just occasionally there are touches of humour, which leavens the grim progression of destruction. Perched on the top of the former Woolley colliery spoil heap one day, disconsolately watching the truck loads of alien soil being delivered to what is another ultra commercial makeover, we suddenly noticed that the firm responsible for the carting operation was called Wordsworth Excavations Ltd. You couldn't make this chance irony up!
The Health & Safety Executive is also in the grip of the pervading irrationality and cannot be questioned. Once so helpful in improving health and safety at work and safe guarding the lives of ordinary people, much contemporary legislation makes little sense and is arguably even harmful. The EU contaminated soil directive is a case in point - but it will help fill the order books of firms like Vertase and Encia that specialize in the cleaning up of industrially derelict sites, leaving behind insipid flower beds of pansies and primulas and a sign advertising their wares where once sparse grasses, trefoil, thistle and buddleia were allowed to run free. The spoil makeovers were also dummy runs for even more lucrative contracts for environmental consultancies on the Olympic park site in east London and in the Thames Gateway where there are very big prizes to be had.
Zero contamination becomes zero nature and gone are the rare plants, butterflies, insects and birds which thrived in this industrially generated wilderness. Gone are the Little Ringed Plover, the Dingy Skipper, Brown Argus, Common Blue and the different species of orchids. Doubtless there are many more species. The greater rationality has been buried with the contaminated soil in the binding legality of officially authorized landfill: if the present legislation was to become retrospective most of the Mendips would be cordoned off with razor wire and the inhabitants of Cornwall cleared off the land, their homes flattened because of radon gas contamination.
Whatever soil contamination there was at Kiveton it is doubtful if it even remotely compared with that found on many a great expanse of national park and area of outstanding natural beauty. This sums up the lunacy of much present day legislation and one can only wonder if the pit head winding gears and spoil heaps had been left as they were, and was the custom with abandoned industrial sites until the last three decades, they would they not over time have come to be as valued as the perilous granite wheel houses of the Cornish tin mines and the kaolin lunar landscape left behind by Cornwall's china clay industry?
The flashy fold-up propaganda sheets that were given away free in the local library and forewarned of the immanent makeovers are drenched in an ultra-democratic, consultative, ecologically mindful language all the more striking because so phoney. This fastidious, politically correct bigotry could turn out on occasion to be true: there is now a disability ramp that zigzags across both sides of the former Kiveton spoil heap incline, though we have yet to see it being used other than by cyclists.
However by far the biggest factor determining the outcome of the Kiveton spoil heap makeover horror has to be the large new private housing estate that lies on the flat land to the side of the pit baths and old colliery offices. We need look no further than this for an explanation: house price inflation has now become the motor of the economy as it is in America with the rest of Europe still trailing behind, though due to catch up as the neoliberal revolution pioneered in Britain and America begins to really bite.
Mildly eco-conscious, as most people are nowadays, the recent tenants of these new estates would have expressed regret if at a later date they were told the Dingy Skipper had now gone from the madeover spoil heaps. But if we had pointed out to residents in 2004-5 that the butterfly which then teemed on the Kiveton park spoil heap and would continue to do so only if the spoil heap was kept just as it was, then the initial enthusiasm of these same residents would have rapidly waned. For estate agents descriptions increasingly include outlook as a selling point and the difference between an unmodified and a madeover Kiveton Park or a Woolley spoil heap can add or subtract £10,000 easily from the value of a property. When put like this there is no contest, even if it does mean the loss of an endangered butterfly.
The joint venture spearheaded by Yorkshire Forward is nothing if not media savvy. The absence of even the most elementary democracy explains why this is so, the media substituting for the growing lack of basic democratic rights. Yorkshire Forward is one of nine Regional Development Agencies created during the late 1990s by the Labour government. They are appointed by and responsible to the Secretary of State and hence ruled directly from Westminster. Fearful there was too much coercion and not enough consent, these Regional Development Agencies were to become the basis of Regional Assemblies which were rejected by people in the north and west as just another irrelevant tier of bureaucracy they would end up paying through the nose for.
When housing became part of the Treasury, in addition to the creation of a ministerial post responsible for housing and communities, a sub department of the same ministry was set up dealing exclusively with the media and communications. The future of housing was henceforth the future of propaganda so it is not surprising to find that space for media centres has been given a top priority in the spoil heap makeovers. When the present Treasury minister, Ruth Kelly, opened Rainham Marshes in the Thames Gateway really the much publicised fanfare was a way of saying once nature becomes an object of virtual consumption, thanks to the increased media coverage it is receiving, then the highly selective images of natural abundance merely help disguise the fact nature is disappearing everywhere.
In 1983, a year before the miners' strike, a National Heritage Act was passed signifying a new and wider appreciation/commodification of the historical legacy that began in the late 1960s. An archaeological assessment was carried out both at Kiveton and Dinnington prior to redevelopment. The pit baths at Kiveton have been given heritage status and it also is set to become a media centre anticipating the direction presently indicated by the Treasury by three years. Proposals have been put forward for 'cinema/theatre, function suite, heritage interpretation area, (whatever that is!) multi-media training facilities, caf' and managed work places'.
We did everything required of us in terms of informing the authorities particularly bio-diversity groups and even worked hand-in-hand with one officially recognised eco-group, SK 58 birders included in the Kiveton master plan. Given we did not live in South Yorkshire we could have hardly been more hands on.
Though very sceptical from the outset it was a learning curve for us and at the end of the day we were shocked to find we stood virtually alone, two coffin dodgers confronting an unstoppable juggernaut. If we began disillusioned we are doubly so now particularly as our faces are now flattened through running into endless brick walls elsewhere. If what's left of the Dingy Skipper in South and West Yorkshire is to be saved different tactics to the strict legalism and procedures we adhered too will have to be deployed. We have long held that only direct action by a large number of people living close by as well as elsewhere will change things for the better and the saving of the Dingy Skipper is no exception to this rule.
And so these unofficial spoil heap wild life havens that had a long way to go before they reached their climax, are turned into featureless, denatured, development projects made up of housing and warehousing together with the occasional amenity park ' as Kiveton was to become - with scarcely a voice raised in protest. Ian Bramley of regeneration consultants Renaissance South Yorkshire had the bare faced cheek to say 'the reclamation program will transform a site which currently offers nothing to the community into one which provides a recreational area where people can enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits'. He also refers to the project as an 'investment' which 'will create the potential for associated developments'. And there we have it: these spoil heap reclamation schemes are a form of trading on the futures' market. This is easily as mercenary as the trade in dead stock, which never pretended to be anything other than that.
What's more it never presumed to cover itself in the mantle of maximum sensitivity to human needs, which is increasingly typical of today's sales pitch. A good friend of ours whose home backs onto the makeover said in an email: 'It has a look of Telly tubbi-land if you ask me. Maybe Po and La-la are endangered species. You tell me.' Yes the whole thing is Disney-like and Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse would not look out of place here.
A fanfare of publicity nowadays always attends proposed developments such as these, the Treasury's recent innovative use of the media using nature conservation as the pretext serving to underline the fact. Reclamation Scheme Masterplans are thrown open to the public and everyone can express an opinion from councillors, local residents to environmental interest groups teachers to schoolchildren. Nothing on paper could be more consultative, issue conscious and democratic with apparently exhaustive consultative procedures implemented in this instance by the Kiveton Park and Wales Community Development Trust and other bodies under the umbrella of English Partnerships. A Rotherham councillor Karl Barton had stressed that he wanted 'local people to have control over the development and would be pushing for as much local consultation as possible'. And yet always the result is tragically different to that intended by the fa'ade of a seemingly ever more inclusive democracy. If the pet gerbils of school children could speak they would assuredly be given a voice, only to then find that, instead of the cage door been thrown wide open, even their tread mill will now turn faster.
This is the bitter truth - an increasingly thin democracy falsely claiming to be all ears but which operates according to globally competitive criteria and which has to follow 'the growth agenda' (i.e. the maximisation of profit) or perish. This post modern neoliberalism is also characterised by an obsessive spiral of subcontracting which constantly verges on a bad, money-driven, 'anarchy' and the loss of anything like overall control.
The Cheetham Hill Construction Company, employed to do the job of covering up the spoil, prides itself on being a hollowed-out company, good at getting the business contracts in then subcontracting the dirty work out to other companies that then operate under its logo as if they were all one and the same company. At no point did the left hand ever know what the right hand was doing, a situation which applies across the board today. Although we clearly indicated the areas where the Dingy Skipper flourished, the instructions always managed to get lost as they were passed down the line, the buck stopping nowhere. The whole set up is so damned crazy it would be hilarious if it also weren't so tragic.
It rapidly became clear Yorkshire Forward and Renaissance South Yorkshire are autocratic bodies. They rarely have the decency to even reply to letters. Top management are absolutely against any ecological initiatives and want ecologists that get in the way out of the way. If they refuse to budge Yorkshire Forward and Renaissance South Yorkshire don't hesitate to turn their fire on them especially on awkward eco-groups like the SK 58 birders who had been included in the official regeneration plan. We collaborated with the latter and they were very helpful and did far more to save the Dingy Skipper than official butterfly conservation groups. Bird watching always has been a more popular pastime than the pursuit of butterflies and moths and this is reflected in the far greater willingness of birders to take on authority.
Rotherham Council is a little better but not much and did at least listen to SK 58. After much petitioning Rotherham Council was able to get Renaissance South Yorkshire to agree to leave the carr woodland on the slopes of Kiveton Spoil heap, which probably once was the main breeding ground of the butterfly, at least on the slopes, especially where the wood is thinned out. Renaissance South Yorkshire was in favour of completely chopping this area down because a job well done on the spoil heaps is one that leaves no trace of the past. And that is how the scrub woodland on the slope has come to be left. But to no avail because the indispensable bare spoil around the perimeter of the carr woodland the Dingy craves has been covered up and grassed over.
Worse than that however is the fact the birds foot trefoil, the foodplant of the Dingy Skipper and Common Blue, has been all but eliminated throughout the entire 40 hectares! And yet Yorkshire Forward had promised (though not in writing) to smother the makeover in trefoil!
There was one spot in particular we drew the developers' attention to. This lay to one side of the former course of the Chesterfield canal and in the early summer of 2004 we were fortunate enough to see the very remarkable sight of the Dingy Skipper and the Brown Argus (then a great rarity in South and West Yorkshire) flying side by side. Our recommendations were duly taken up and the area has been singled out for special treatment. It is now fenced-off and bisecting the rustic fencing is an expensive wooden style that leads nowhere, unless, of course, you are a botanist whose prime interest in life is the study of sharlock! There is not a patch of bare ground or trace of trefoil or dove's foot cranesbill to be seen anywhere. The ecological understanding of Yorkshire Forward was by now so wanting and crude they maybe thought the butterflies could switch eating habits at will and enjoy a takeaway from one of the new eateries on Kiveton High St!
This is no joking matter for it gets worse. When Mick Clay of SK 58 pointed out that the thick covering of topsoil would destroy the Dingers Skippers habitat, as the bare spoil was essential to them, it was seriously suggested that he collect all the eggs of the Dingy Skipper like they were the size of ostrich eggs and take them to a spot where they would thrive! Though Yorkshire Forward had promised to seed the site with trefoil it was Woolworth's all-purpose lawn grass that won the day which, except for skylarks, birds dislike. This fluorescent grass was sown right up to the outer edges of the scrapes and only succeeded in frightening off the waders the scrapes were designed to attract. Yorkshire Forward now has the cheek to say its pot of money is now empty and cannot afford to reinstate even some of the spoil by removing the 18 inches of clay and topsoil that has been the cause of all the damage. The bastards!
As a reward for their pains SK 58 birders was were not invited to the official opening because they were viewed as troublemakers. Stooping to black propaganda, the local press, prompted quite obviously by Yorkshire Forward, began to hound the birders, printing scurrilous articles about them. It was suggested that SK 58 had attempted to get a children's hospice, the Bluebell Wood at nearby Dinnington moved off the site in order to save the Little Ringed Plover. In reality, what was in dispute was not the hospice itself, though it had been made to appear that way, but the siting of the approach road which ran close to the nesting area of the Little Ringed Plover, through a Dingy Skipper colony and over the other unusual flora that could be found there, like the masses of bee orchids. Birders and Mick Clay especially of SK 58 began to get nervous walking through local streets and were afraid to go into local pubs for fear of attack because they were now viewed as evil people unwilling to provide for terminally ill children. In fact, the birders wanted another route that was already in existence but were overruled. Mud sticks and it stuck to the birders. Not invited to the opening any letter sent to the Bluebell Trust regarding ecological matters is now ignored. The scrapes at Kiveton have dried up and the Plovers have now gone. At the nearby Dinnington colliery development they are hanging on and only three chicks were hatched in 2006.
Moreover, as we and SK 58 birders rapidly found out, most of the ecologists employed by Yorkshire Forward and Renaissance South Yorkshire are ecologically illiterate and appear not to know a great deal generally about nature. They are very ineffective and probably given the job because they are so useless but also very adept at blanking letters and searching requests likely to expose their ignorance. Their inertia is a protection against the likelihood of this happening and the high salaries mean their continuing silence and compliance can be relied on.
We first heard that the Kiveton Park spoil heap was to be given a facelift sometime in the late 1990s from Jenny, the wife of the miner John Dennis mentioned at the beginning of this film. As British Waterways initially had shown an interest in developing the site, everyone assumed some kind of marina would be the likely outcome, as a branch of the Chesterfield Canal once ran through the colliery grounds.
Interestingly in the late 1970s Jenny had, as a Labour party councillor, overseen the development of the Rother Valley Country Park which, today hosts probably more than the one Dingy Skipper colony we definitely know is there. Jenny still has all the paperwork relating to the country park and one day we intend going through it, for it cost a mere fraction of the £9.6 million spent on the far smaller Kiveton Park makeover.
The Rother Valley Country Park was a spin off of the 1968 Countryside Act that gave local councils the authority to construct Country Parks. This had formerly been the province of the National Park Commission since the National Park and Countryside Act of 1949. Unlike National Parks they were not necessarily places of beauty but intended primarily for enjoyment. Though the conservancy function had been split off into various conservation councils, an amenity park like the Rother Valley became, within a few years, as good as many a formerly designated nature reserve. For certain the Kiveton amenity park can never hope to equal it.
When compared to the apparently exhaustive consultative procedures (in fact an authoritarian, state directed, con trick) of recent years the result at the Rother Valley Country Park was a million times better. Local consultation was miniscule but if objections were raised they were more likely to be listened to than today, for in the 1970s protest still counted for something. For instance had alien soil been brought in from outside a cry of protest would have gone up, not least, as Jenny made clear, from local mining communities.
A sensitively bulldozed amalgamation of the pit spoil heaps of Waleswood, Killamarsh and High Moor, there past outlines can still be traced under the covering of gorse, broom and sparse grass. Though Rother Valley Country Park is not a politically correct bit of landscaping, it does the job of conserving nature admirably, even if it is not as buggy or wheel chair user friendly.
Without a doubt the ground is to quote, 'contaminated' and children are asked not to swim in the attractive little lakes at the bottom of the valley because of heavy metal contamination, as a result of the upwelling of water from the mine workings below. All the soil dug from 300 metres below that wasn't coal created huge mounds of dead ground and after 300 million years of internment it certainly wasn't rich soil either. But leguminous seed was scattered far and wide, leading to a natural process of regeneration, for plants like clover, trefoil and vetch harbour a microbe in their root systems able to convert the nitrogen in the atmosphere into nitrate based fertilizer that overtime enriches these nutrient poor wastes, leading to a further natural succession of plant and animal life.
This is in complete contrast to the ground zero purification of the spoil and eradication of the former outline of the Kiveton Park spoil heap and which was also threatening on account of the historical memory it conjured up, especially that most traumatic and consequential conflict of modern times, the miners' strike of 1984/85. The mass manufacture of amnesia is central to the makeovers now taking place at Kiveton, Dinnington, Orgreave, Thurcroft, Woolley, Grimethorpe and elsewhere. As that must now include the nature that once existed there as well as miners it does suggests that authority is deeply fearful of a coming together of eco radicalism and social struggle, of wild nature and wild ex-miner, that is now long overdue.
Hanging on by a Thread: the Undefended Dingy Skippers of the
Dinnington Spoil Heap Makeover
Finding the Dingy Skipper at Kiveton caused us to look elsewhere. We quickly established it was on the spoil heap of the former pit in close-by Dinnington. We then found it at Orgreave in Sheffield, the site of a pitched battle during the year long miners' strike and at Waleswood at the top end of the Rother Valley Country Park where there is also a colony. Presumably we would have found the Dingy on old pit spoil heaps like those at Thurcroft and Markham just over the Derbyshire border and at the still working pit of Ireland just north of Markham. Given time we shall look for them over the next few years but should we find them here - as we doubtless will - their days will be numbered for Markham is being developed and there are dumper trucks everywhere and Thurcroft must be due for the chop once the open cast has ended.
This footage was shot between 2004/5 and shows the dumpers taking away contaminated spoil and returning with lorry loads of good soil contaminated with alien plant seeds and grasses.
Note the bare earth on both sides of the old concrete fence Isolated plants of bird's foot trefoil, the butterfly's food plant, cling on here and there.
More bare earth and, as you can see, the butterflies just love it........ The dumper trucks keep rolling in and out. We are looking at the end------
At Dinnington it was proposed that 30% of the site was to be set aside for mixed industrial and commercial development. The emphasis was on encouraging the expansion of local business and to bring in inward investment. Originally it was estimated the Dinnington Project when completed would attract over £70 million of investment and create 3000 jobs.
Though the spoil heap makeovers are part of the Coalfields Regeneration Programme they also qualify for EU aid. Objective 1 and Objective 2 are part of the aid package and come directly from the EU. The first is valued in ECUs and is related to the run down of the Common Market Agricultural Policy, an area qualifying for Objective 1 aid if its GDP is 25% below the EU average. The second - Objective 2 - is designed to facilitate the change over from former heavy industry, like coal mining and steel making, to modern ones like IT, Bio-science/Bio-medical healthcare industries and the growing number of eco industries to do with the environment and alternative energy technology. Append a deep bow before the 'creative industries' like fashion and 'retail therapy' and it is obvious the bullshit quotient is far higher in Objective 2 than in Objective 1, which is mainly concerned with rural diversification and branching out from farming. As Dinnington sits within the grandly named South Yorkshire Technology Corridor (an SEZ - a strategic economic zone) the prophecy should by now have come to pass and a Californian style hi-tech park arisen on the remains of the former pit heap. Instead what we do have is a business park dominated by a hulking magazine and newspaper distribution centre for much of this part of northern England. Despite a pot of gold, amounting, when all the subventions are totted up to near on two thirds of a billion quid, we are back at old time warehousing and distribution, low pay and job insecurity.
This neoliberal business vanguardism was able to sell itself that bit more effectively by cloaking itself on paper in an ecological disguise that was little more than bare faced lying in reality. The colliery spoil was to be planted with trees to produce a community woodland feature with over six acres of public open space footpaths and natural wildlife habitats to 'access and view migrant birds such as Snipe, Lapwing and Redshank enhanced further by a birdscrape to suit the rare Little Ringed Plover'. It was specifically suggested that, 'a wildlife meadow will be produced to enhance the site for wildlife particularly birds, butterflies and insects'. Furthermore; 'Natural heritage areas will be left untouched and provide a haven for wildlife' and an 'existing stream currently partly culverted will be opened up to enhance another habitat for wildlife'. In practise nothing was farther from the truth.
Part of the ground on the far side of the second colliery spoil heap near the main road between Todwick and Anston has in addition been turned into a willow coppicing grove. The promotional blurb says: 'short rotation willow coppice is an energy crop which is used to provide heat and/or electricity generally known as biomass and is a type of renewable energy' going on further to say 'It is intended to use energy gap to heat local community building such as school, community centre and local council building. The willow coppicing is intended to be relatively short term in nature though it will occupy land designated for future hard development'. This is just meaningless crap because there are no facilities, like a combined heat and power unit, in one school, community centre or council building to plug the energy gap by using coppiced willow instead of gas fired heating. Nothing could be more sensitive on paper and nothing more designed to pull the wool in reality. It is window dressing pure and simple.
(The following is a description behind film clips) Standing on the old 19th century spoil heap by the side of the new building site, we can see the newer spoil heap which was in use right up to the closure of the colliery in 1994.
This is how the terrain looked when the spoil heap was in the first stages of the makeover and now we look down to where the older business park from two decades or more ago was situated. Note well the new layer of clay that has been freshly deposited over the grey shale and the contrast between the spoil, the clay and the covering of topsoil.
Observe all the new paths and the new, imported vegetation, the sharlock and the rye grass. And there in the background peeking out over the new soil cover is the landmark steeple of Laughten church.
All this earth has been brought in and dumped on the old shale base that still grins through here and there in and among the typical old mottled ochre and grey mud pathways that criss-cross the spoil heap. And there in the distance, still in preparation, is the new, lined birdscrape for the Little Ringed Plover.
Unlike at nearby Kiveton there are two spoil heaps within half a mile of each other. One is a pre ecologically aware makeover dating from the 1970s and therefore wild life friendly without ever trying to be, the other a post modern, double-dealing eco makeover and therefore a wild life graveyard. The latter was the one in most recent use, the spoil being transported by rail from the pithead where the newspaper distribution centre now stands. The spoil underwent the same extensive remedial treatment as at Kiveton. Piled up in windrows, aerated then spiced with nutrients it was then transported back to the site. Thoroughly cleansed of all contaminants it had somehow managed, during intensive care, to pick up a botanical MRSA of rye grass, charlock, fat hen and nettles.
(The following is a description behind film clips) Here we are on the top of the new spoil heap once more, with the landmark Laughten church steeple in the background etc'' Most likely there was a Dingy Skipper colony hidden away somewhere in this huge area but we never found one as we were too late. And even if we had we could have done fuck all about it. At least we were spared that heartache.
However, it is on the other, much older spoil heap close to where the pit shaft winding gear once stood that the Dingy Skipper is now to be found. But for how long? Again SK 58 birders were given the exact grid references and the four small colonies clearly indicated on the lavishly produced development plan which was then passed on down the line, in theory at least, to the various development bodies. Bio-diversity officials on Rotherham Council certainly knew of their existence. All but one of these colonies were in areas not earmarked for development. Unsurprisingly, the colony on the flat terrain where the new business park has been located rapidly became a victim of development as did one of the nesting sites of the legally protected Little Ringed Plover.
It would be a brave, though perhaps foolhardy person, who would dare risk taking the developers to court. They would rapidly find themselves bankrupted by the bought lawyers of ecospeak, the contemporary equivalent of newspeak. Worse, that person could be judged responsible for the death of the bird, had up for dereliction of a personal obligation to act in a manner conducive to the Little Ringed Plover's well being. This is not as daft and as far-fetched as it sounds for we once berated for not going on to the Kiveton pit heap, shovel in hand, and personally removing the 18 inch layer of earth covering the spoil. This was no covering of dust to be brushed to one side of the breeding ground but a layer weighing 1000s of tonnes. We would have been done for malicious damage in any case.
The biggest Dingy Skipper colony, with about 50 on the wing at the height of the emergence, lies cheek-by-jowl with the development area. This was once separated from the pit proper by a typical wartime fencing of corroding, hockey stick, concrete posts which has now been replaced with an up to date, close mesh, security barrier that's impossible to get through - unlike the former which over the years had been breached in lots of places. This 19th century spoil heap like many of the older spoil heaps has for some time been an informal nature reserve and farming area, the top of the spoil heap now crowned by unattended hay meadows. A dispersed woodland of alder, birch and hawthorn planted three decades ago now surrounds three quarters of the base. This is criss-crossed by muddy, furrowed, recreational paths for local inhabitants, which fortunately are badly maintained by Rotherham Council. Even the hay meadows on the top have wooden seats dotted here and there and no one is ever in any danger of being shouted at by a local farmer.
We breathe a sigh of relief each year we verify the Dinnington Dingy Skipper is still there. But that comfort in the near future could be easily taken away and turn into a farewell cry. The bare earth essential to the Dingy Skippers' survival that borders the new business park, especially the magazine distribution business, has been planted with the usual low maintenance, exotic looking rubbish, the native fauna cannot yet adapt to. Also, the woodland is becoming too overgrown and is in urgent need of coppicing. Before long it will be time to say goodbye to the Dingies forever.
It cannot be stressed too often that Rotherham Council bio-diversity officials have been informed of the whereabouts of this threatened butterfly on this part of the spoil heap. However they will not, for certain, do a damn thing about it. An afternoon's work for two, we are tempted to bring in chainsaws and set about cutting back some of the trees. We would of course be accused of damaging council property and face instant arrest. An ad hoc, essential measure like this was far more likely to be tolerated even fifteen years ago than it is today. The unspoken rule is if officialdom refuses to lift a finger then for sure no one else will be allowed to do so, even if that bureaucratic inertia results in the death of an endangered butterfly. And when the butterfly has gone we fully expect the council to turn round and accuse us of not trying hard enough to awaken them from an ecological denial made ten times worse by the facade of ecological concern. Any excuse will do just so long as bio-diversity officials are left in peace to pick up their pay cheque at the end of the month.
The only colony that is, alas, likely to survive is the much smaller one at the very top of the spoil heap overlooking a Tesco's supermarket on one side and the site of the old colliery on the other, the hill lovingly represented in a naive painting of the colliery pithead and now hanging in the local library. The only other possible colony is a very precarious one indeed of little more than 4 or 5 adults scattered among what is locally known as 'The Hedges' at the very base of the spoil heap. Squashed between a road and a 1970s private estate, at one end there is a roundabout leading to the bus station and high street. Rotherham Council denies that there are plans to convert it into a skating rink but developers have obviously expressed an interest in the site because several roads flank it.
We now turn to the private estate, much of it of very recent origin, and built on the reclaimed lower slopes of the spoil heap. Advertised as an executive estate like all the other new build estates on former pit spoil heaps, the snob label and banqueting suite showhouse, mask the fact the most home owners have very modest jobs as low grade civil servants, butchers, plumbers, lorry drivers etc. Designed to encourage residents to believe they are a better class of person than they are, estates like these ostentatiously project a green image as part of their marketing strategy. Recycling crates appeared on the estate well before they did in the streets of neighbouring Sheffield.
The roads have names like Limelands and Broadoaks though one would be hard put to find an oak or a lime anywhere. Never has home building been so stamped with the sign of nature and for several years we have been compiling a list of modern estate names like The Sycamores, Teasel Bank, Hawthorn View, Fox Meadows and so on. Like many other towns, Dinnington has several streets named after the various English lakes and the romantic poets. This fashion has long gone and instead we have a nature that is not filtered through art but speaks for itself. And though the contemporary fashion is calculated to give the illusion of sustainability and living in harmony with nature, ultimately this reclassification of estate names on the basis of natural species is an oblique acknowledgement nature has burst through poetry and nature writing and now stands naked before our eyes. It is however so oblique it is also a dire illusion.
Something else has changed from 30 years ago and not just street names. House price inflation is now the motor of the economy here just as it is in America and there are disturbing signs the rest of Europe is now following suit. Far more than just a trifling economic fact it sums up a way of life. With rising house prices as collateral it is part of the buy now pay later, easy credit mechanism leading to unprecedented levels of personal debt calculated at an incredible £7.6 trillion which vastly outweighs the £7 billion pounds worth of household assets. This will include the garden but not the low maintenance, exotic, garden centre horticulture to match, or the disproportionate fashion for hard standing that is more and more unrelated to the need to double the size of car ports to accommodate the growing number of two and three car households. Combined with that fiction of greenery covering roundabouts, road medians and the new estates in general, the real aim is to repel rather than attract nature because this anti-nature looks more reassuring, neater and maintained than does nature left to grow up wild, free, and disruptive and therefore just asking for an anti social behaviour order.
One of the countries most active commercial developers, Priority Sites, was given the job of developing the hi-tech business units on part of the former Dinnington Colliery site. It is a joint venture company owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland and the national regeneration agency English Partnerships. Priority Sites is also responsible for the 'attractive landscaping a key feature reflecting the development's high profile location.' The ugly truth is that the landscaping has massively helped destroy the Dingy Skipper on this former colliery site.
People are pressurised into continually climbing up the housing ladder, for moving house spurs increased consumption. However we are not talking here merely of a new suite of furniture, fridge or 38 inch LCD TV costing £1500 but of the illusion of fulfilment and that promise of happiness without which the credit mechanism would breakdown. Increasingly nowadays this includes the consumption of images of nature whose manipulated greenwash end product spreads ever further and wider concealing the true state of affairs, which is one of unparalleled destruction.
It is all told a far more sophisticated form of indoctrination than any that has hitherto existed. It is dependent for its success upon growing atomisation and the loss of community, which is felt everywhere to a greater or lesser degree and not just amongst those over the age of thirty five in places like Dinnington. The more vacated social life becomes, the more the home grows in importance as an isolation cell, a hall of mirrors and a palace of illusions ruled over by an omniscient, in the main electronic media, whose final aim is the creation of a utopian parallel world that replaces the failures of this one and brings about the final victory of illusion over a liquefying reality: in short, a kind of quantum-spiritual overlay to a world governed by the brute reality of money.
These illusions have, of course, to be paid for and don't come cheap. If they did it would defeat the purpose of this exercise in mass control where buying into the high priced dream is the stakeholders' pledge of faith in the coming electronic utopia. However there will be no end of trouble in paradise: allied to this is the destruction of workplace organisations able to ameliorate the worst excesses of exploitation and a long hours work culture that has resulted in the UK becoming the most stressed and depressed country of the developed capitalist world.
The drastic decline of the Dingy Skipper in the south is not attributable to loss of habitat. The cause here is possibly atmospheric, increased amounts of nitrate particulates in the atmosphere from car exhausts and gas fired central heating, falling as liquid fertiliser when it rains, resulting in the eventual grassing over of the bare earth, essential to the butterfly's survival.
However in the north loss of habitat is the main issue and here the Dingy Skipper's entitlement to life is tied up in property. By the time the vast projected house-building programme comes to an end many 1000s of Dingy Skippers will have perished because of it. Building need not always be hostile to wild life but for that to happen we need changed people and a changed society that is not capitalist.
As it is the UK has become the warehouse of the world, tetra-pak, big box hangars dominating the high carbon economy of depots, deliveries and retail parks. This and the allied economics of the housing market will determine the future of the butterfly. The deflation and inflation of the butterfly's numbers will follow the rise and fall of house prices and land values. Deflation and negative equity in the housing market, if and when it happens, will, at least in the north, bring a halt to the declining numbers of Dingy Skipper. Who said that butterflies and political economy were separate? The fate of the Dingy Skipper shows how the entwined the destinies of both are.
A basic coming together, say to protest at the demise of the Dingy Skipper, grows ever more unlikely. Given the situation in South and West Yorkshire it would be striking at the very heart of contemporary society, bringing into question so much more than the survival of a threatened butterfly that had the misfortune to take up residence on a former industrial spoil heap earmarked for housing, that most crucial of all modern developments. And no tinkering like informing various bio-diversity groups and other authorities is going to alter this fundamental fact. Henceforth their chief concern will be one of obfuscation to stop the cat getting out the bag. What is really needed is the will to change the world and life because nothing else has a hope of succeeding. For the battle to save the Dingy Skipper is also now part of a wider battle to save humanity.
The greatest mistake would be to attribute this destruction of the Dingy Skipper to sheer malice equal to the deliberate massacre of hundreds of thousands of bison by Buffalo Bill. Rather we have to view it in terms of the yawning gap between reality and representation in which the representation of nature takes precedent over its reality on the ground. In the society of images, in today's society of the spectacle it is the image of nature that rules and nothing must be allowed to upset this imbalance. Subjected without let up to this corrupting, media driven, false optic we are effectively silenced from speaking out about the unprecedented destruction of nature and above all the anti-statist practical remedies that need to be taken like initially and crudely, just getting up of your arses and doing something!
D & S Wise 2007