(An activity where every wild child of whatever age is welcome)
“The outside butterflies are only trying to rejoin the inside butterflies: don’t replace, in yourself, a single pane of the street lamp if it should happen to get broken.” (Line from a Surrealist Manifesto)
Frederich Nietzsche or a Grasshopper on an old pneumatic tyre on the Lanolin site adjacent to the Bradford Beck, Shipley, West Yorks and surely the most insect-rich site in Bradford? What follows is a brief overview of interventions in landscapes of industrial dereliction that can have revolutionary possibilities providing we more or less clearly embark on a subversive path, a path which any of you out there can immediately take up. For us it’s a path we can clandestinely keep permanently altering at the same time remaining respectful of what is there, ever ready to acknowledge we are hardly going to be allowed to continue doing what we would like. We will be stopped at some point or another by some officious organisation or authority figure because we are taking matters into our own hands added to which we are ignoring officially recognised eco organisations which we regard as nigh on useless. Through bitter experience we are now wary of delegating tasks we clearly know we must do ourselves; an ad infinitum of wilding that anybody can engage in if so determined, one which ignores the idiotic niceties of law regarding who owns what. In short, something like an imitation of nature’s own wayward behaviour in this regard. What we have outlined in the following pages is an emerging project gatecrashing through original aims. It’s a project which developed on the hoof spontaneously, only later becoming aware it had a history involving John Ruskin, stones, geology and especially the old heyday of the Bradford Canal which over-lapped with the stupidities of a proposed official re-vamp courtesy of Will Alsop’s neo-Archigram architectural project, itself part and parcel of a free-market oriented, equally stupid mad cap scheme called the Aire Valley Regeneration Plan.
In fact unbeknown to ourselves for years we had been treading the route of the former Bradford Canal in Shipley instantly realizing where it had not been tarmaced were potential dream sites for the Common Blue and other butterflies. It was only when consulting maps in the library that we became conscious the fairy steps we had taken from the Leeds Road to the Valley Road Bridge near enough to the city centre followed the route of the former canal. Reading up on the canal, we quickly became fully aware that the recently proposed 3rd opening was going to be the centre piece of a resurgent Bradford, this ill conceived and matchless folly an example of civic hubris that is truly breathtaking in its consequences. And yet such is the scale of this disaster, it is becoming a defining image of the future, a hollowed-out city centre that can only be reclaimed by nature. What happens to Bradford once the impossible illusion of retail regeneration is finally laid to rest is of relevance to every other major city in the developed or ‘developing’ world.
Are their parallels? Obviously, the example of Detroit, Michigan immediately comes to mind especially the city’s natural ‘greening’ recolonisation by nature augmented by a large amount of ‘gardening’ which has taken place in and among its former huge factory belt but there differences end. Bradford so far has not been plagued by a vicious youth gang culture and, if anything its fuckhead episode in the early noughties was brief indeed unable to sustain the illusions inherent in a territorial wildcard street capitalisation based on the sale of hard drugs bolstered by gangsta rap; a culture we rapidly came into heavy conflict with especially the homophobia. We weren’t the only ones as others, particularly working class women of all races – whilst not forgetting the contribution of Sikh males – determinedly took spontaneously organised collective action to stop this feral brutality. Nowadays most of the former adherents of this deadly culture have been forced into poorly paid casual work and / or – often at one and the same time - becoming relatively enlightened alternatives some of whom we are matey with. On the other hand it must not be forgotten that a pared down inter-gang violence throughout South and West Yorkshire over the spoils of drugs money is as nasty as ever.
As for Detroit it is now an urban prairie beset with calamitous breakdown amidst burgeoning oases of subsistence allotment agriculture, which, in itself seems to be well managed and often locally collectivised. Although this often-excellent experiment is about basic survival it also can be a food for free project and has been described as a “neighbourhood level, leftist utopianism” finding its place within the umbrella of the Occupy movement in autumn 2011. Furthermore, due to a catastrophic collapse in property prices, city-living in central Detroit is cheaper than a lot of places in America attracting a marginalized population of artistically inclined folk who aesthetically valorise this fascinating collapse picking out visual memorabilia which end up in coffee table books or art exhibitions for the passive intellectual consumer. It could be characterised as a form of neo-psychogeographical decay chic which one local Afro-American old timer bitterly described as “Detroit’s abstract art project.” Indeed the city administration of Detroit not so long ago appointed a Minister of Tourism who organises official sight seeing trips covering both urban farmers / community gardeners and the ‘ruin’ installation art though mostly catering for the latter day media-hyped neo-bohemian paradise at the heart of it. Once a few decades ago this artistic cum alternative colonisation was a prelude to wholesale regeneration accompanied by a boom in property prices. Before the great banking crash of 2008, Detroit had in fact got in on this very act and tried to reinvent Motown as the new capital of artistic innovation dabbling in cultural bubble economics. This experiment came to nought and nowadays by enlarge that’s the last prospect on offer so where is this latest cultural colonisation now going? At best surfaces have been prettied up making up a vast DIY canvas but to what point as it seems there are no slogans indicating anything like a coherent exit from the horror of deepening capitalist exploitation. It’s not only glamorised for those in the know like in the films of ex-punk Julian Temple but by hundreds of on location photographers who hone in on 8 lane byways empty of cars, houses that look like quirky Buster Keaton cum Salvador Dali stage sets etc (e.g. the giant melted clock face on top of the 18 story Beaux Arts-like Michigan Central rail station which has been closed for over twenty years.) And that’s about it as far as any in depth analysis goes. On the surface this valorisation may seem probing, creative stuff but we also know these spaces have become jam-packed with an often drug-fuelled psychotic menace and the last thing we want to do is encourage a dog eats dog wilding praxis far removed from the overthrow of the social relations of capitalist reproduction. More practically decomposition like this does not necessarily imply the chaotic beginnings of a future revolutionary peoples’ council throughout Detroit arising phoenix-like from the ashes of hipster ruins, as equally this collapse could imply the end of everything that makes life worth living. We must always keep in mind Rimbaud’s prophetic exhortation: “Decomposition must be swept aside but the clock has not yet struck the hour of pure pain”… and hopefully never will.
But could this scenario throughout the coming years be applied to Bradford? Well, most certainly it could as after all there is now a large, alternative population embed throughout the city, attracted from all over the UK by the cheap living and the largely welcoming, often libertarian, naive anti-capitalist, un-racist responses of many of its inner-city inhabitants well sympathetic to any kind of loosened-up life-style. And as for the artistic, spatial afterglow well maybe that phase is still in its infancy though more about that later…….
The former Bradford Canal is lodged in the city’s unconscious. Like a fatal trauma, the memory of it won’t go away and every so often unbalances the entire city. It is the most infamous canal in all history, this industrial Styx periodically bursting into flames, like it was flowing straight from hell. Its waters were black, the headwaters that lapped the cathedral reminding John Ruskin of the contents of a spilled ink horn. Opened in 1774, the £20,000 required for its construction had been put up by local coal owners. It was soon transporting not only coal but also quarried stone and bringing in iron ore, which was then carted along rails by horses to Low Moor iron works.
It was to this boom city that Ruskin was literally drawn. It was on this city; Ruskin focused his welfare plans and energies. Venice was the theory, Bradford the practice. Enough of The Stones of Venice. Whereas Venice was preserved in aspic, here was a city in the making, a malleable city. Why chose Bradford and not Manchester as Disraeli did for the setting of his ‘Chartist’ novel, Sybil – or The Two Nations, for he also had a message to deliver? Founded on stone and surrounded by rock escarpments, it was Bradford’s geological location that also fascinated Ruskin. Sitting on a bog on an alluvial plain, Manchester had comparatively little to offer to the geologist and naturalist. Fresh from Venice, he instead notes the quality of the stone which he considers more beautiful to that quarried around Halifax. He notes the lime slack from the furnaces covering Manningham Lane, then the world’s richest thoroughfare, when it should have been paved with stone. He writes of sooty chickens and other farm animals covered in industrial grime, the moors never that far away. He compares the veins of hematite in the iron ore heaped in the canal barges to that of haemoglobin. (For further insights read Comments on Indian & York stone. Slave labour, aesthetic life style, quarrying and butterflies on the Dialectical Butterflies web).
And yet where are the textile workers and woollen industry in Ruskin’s vivid descriptions of Bradford? They are hardly mentioned and only silence reigns regarding such fine examples as the armed ‘physical force’ Chartism centred in the Horton districts which pre-figured Ruskin by a mere few years. It’s as though Ruskin didn’t want to acknowledge them personally most likely unnerved by their insurrectionary demeanour and self-reliance as those at the sharp end were there to be helped not encouraged in wilfulness. True to type in 1871 Ruskin refused to support the Paris Commune though in defeat he recommended generous assistance to persecuted communards because those who worked with their hand, shabby and poverty stricken were meant to more or less passively follow Ruskin’s supremely knowledgeable, benevolent but autocratic leadership. No wonder George Bernard Shaw aptly described him as “a High Tory Bolshevik”…. And yet and yet Ruskin was immensely proud that skilled tradesmen from Bingley’s Mechanic’s Institute right next to Bradford, prominent among which were stonemasons, thrilled to his words. Delighted though he was that these people read his writings, he then couldn’t respond bending his haughty manner to engage in collective, spontaneous dialogue. For certain if he had, his knowledge of stones – and perhaps nature (and workers) in general – might have taken a dialectical, profound leap. A contemporary of Ruskin and with equal knowledge of northern England, Fred Engels could talk to workers in a more egalitarian and enquiring way whilst lacking that eco disposition that was clearly in embryonic form within Ruskin writings. (In parentheses, it seems too that Marx visited Bradford in the company of Engels and the then almost permanent riot area of Silsbridge Lane is actually mentioned in Capital. Alas a post-modernist Bradford council ridding itself of eyesores knocked the Lane down a few years ago. A sad, sad day.)
Thus Ruskin would have been well aware that stony ground cannot soak up rain and a thunderstorm could spell disaster for Bradford. Seduced too much by the promise of industry preparing the ground for a classless, utopian society, Engels could not have foreseen this in his Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844. And when the floods came many people would die in that other stretch of running water, the equally infamous Bradford Beck’s raging waters, made worse because of the force of the water. Constricted by the stone foundations of factories and houses built along the beck’s course, the might of the storm surge was vastly increased. As Ruskin journeys into Bradford from Bolton Abbey in traditionally rich and scenic Wharfedale, a suitably religious starting point, an epic scene unfolds before his eyes. This is Genesis and Dante’s Inferno combined, though both are given an allegorical rather than literal treatment. It is the extractive industries that have unleashed this hell, the rich industrialists blinded by their addiction to money, their eyes put out by the gods of the underworld who own the precious materials the earth contains and who are not to be mocked.
Examining the course of the River Aire Ruskin sees it must have broken through a glacial moraine, his knowledge of the still infant subject of geology that good. Above all it is a city in which welfare principles can be realized, a place in which stone and all that it implies can become consequent once more, craft and nature raised to a new unity. And as for iron ore, it is its unwrought aesthetic quality that must be shown to matter. At times Ruskin can sweep aside craft skills in favour of the raw beauty of nature that has no need of further adornment. Once a builder learns this they can then begin to truly build, that being the most profound lesson to be gained from his highly influential “nature of Gothic”. Rather than a return to the select craft traditions that created the Gothic cathedrals, it heralds more an artless form of free assembly, open to everyone. But then Ruskin was devastated finding the neo-gothic Wool Exchange that now houses Waterstone’s, pubs and coffee shops, a nonsense. Unlike Hegel who equally appreciated the glories of original Gothic, Ruskin believed that the period could again be conjured up almost out of thin air if there was sufficient determination to do so having no grasp of the totality of real historical movement and the rise and fall of artistic form, a motion that Hegel grasped so beautifully. Essentially Ruskin was fated to dupe himself; a duping that helped cost him his sanity.
In fact the motives behind the construction of the Bradford Canal were strictly utilitarian and solely geared to profit. Just short of 100 years later, it was for Ruskin a three-mile journey that led straight to the inner most regions of hell, utility having become demonic. And yet Ruskin rather than describing Bradford as an inferno of smoke on the contrary surprisingly refers to it as a “paradise of smoke”. There is something almost Symbolist in his dissolving of contours, like smog was a visionary wormhole onto the future, allowing us to reconstruct the world according to our inmost desires, the wreathing smoke creating our personal castles in the air, an insubstantial blue print of what might be. The French anti-poet Mallarme sometime later would say much the same about the London fogs, as if smoke was the perfect material equivalent of the dialectic of being and nothing. These pea soupers were a step on from Mallarme’s blank page of pure space that proclaimed the end of poetry and that also signified an unprecedented leap into the unknown, the reformism of fog promising a much more fundamental revolution.
In the last half of the 19th century the uproar grew so loud that there was no alternative but to close this chemical cocktail of a canal only for it to be reopened in 1872 once pumping stations had been installed, the Bowling Beck descending from another side of Bradford’s seven hills unable to replenish the canal’s foul waters, as was originally hoped. Though it would carry more traffic than ever in the first two decades of the 20th century, the canal would finally close in 1926. Though filled in, it slumbered on like a crime awaiting redemption a particularly notorious example of the paleo-industrial past, a past that held out the possibility of ‘recovery’ by being born again as sanitized history and becoming a post modern, open air museum aesthetic of retail, commercial and residential property values. In the form of the Aire Valley Regeneration Plan, the 3rd opening of the Bradford Canal would mark its historical expiation. Only this time the canal’s renewed lease of life was not immediately utilitarian but aesthetico/natural (leisure boats in a sylvan setting rather than industrial barges would ply its length), the locks to be replaced by sculpted water features, which nevertheless still had to somehow function as locks! The plan needed to be rubber stamped and there is no better way of doing this than through so-called “public consultation” which means only trifling details are open to question, not a plan’s fundamentals.
Smoke and mirrors, bubble economics drove this affirmative ‘blue sky’ thinking, (one that bears an uncanny, upside-down resemblance to the smoke apparitions of Ruskin and Mallarme), the madness of easy credit giving away to the equal and opposite madness of austerity, austerians believing, with almost religious fervour, that after a long period of penance they will one day have their bubble back and Bradford's Westfield’s will eventually resume building their monstrosity of a shopping mall where the far more exciting ‘big hole’ remains on show. The money was never there in the first place (“front-loaded”) and each stage was monetarily dependent on the successful completion of the previous one. This faith school of economic thought preached that boom and bust was at an end and that everything was now possible, the will to dream dreams (“brain storming”) receiving official blessing.
However there is literally no question that our ‘vision’ of a constantly reinvigorated conservation corridor is so much more grounded than the original Aire Valley Scheme and that if it was seriously taken up by a ‘citizens army’ could become a beacon of hope, signposting the way to a genuine greening of cities and a future landscape where the law of value, wage labour, commodity production and the state will be abolished through social revolution. The ecological part of the original scheme was mere greenwash, a finance based commodification of nature underpinning deluxe retailing and a booming property sector, the headwaters of the reopened canal, the corridor’s prime location. Instead, in its place, we have a new entrance to hell and how much Ruskin may well have squirmed to learn that, in part, the nature he saw all around him in Bradford and struggling to make its presence felt, even violently in the case of the beck, had been taken up and turned against this anti industrial rentier who never got his hands dirty, the importance of the rentier sector increasing with the pace of deindustrialization. When he visited Bradford, Brown and Muffs, the city’s earlier premier apartment store was nearing completion, opening in 1870. The new retailing opportunities of the 3rd millennium were meant to put the city’s retailing past to shame. Instead Poundland, BetFred and Bingo threaten to overwhelm it. Even though that inspiring graffiti “Best Among Ruins” above the ‘big hole’ has been effaced there is a growing chorus of voices clamouring to be heard announcing the death of the city, article after article in the local T & A newspaper proclaiming the end of ‘the high street’ in one form or another (the irresistible growth of internet shopping, for example). The irony of the Aire Valley Regeneration Scheme is to fast-forward Bradford’s demise. A city centre constructed around niche shopping and entertainment will forever remain a fantasy. But it will take time for the realization to sink in. But sink in it most assuredly will.
************ For some time rather naively, and on the nod as it were, then unaware of what was really at stake, well over 12 years ago we had suggested planting birds foot trefoil along the canal’s reaches to bring the Common Blue butterfly back into the city centre. The original colony had been destroyed by the construction of the Forster Square Retail Park in the mid 1990s, even though amongst the chattering classes of the state and the business community, maintaining biodiversity was then becoming all the rage. (See the Blue Female of the Common Blue In West Yorks) It was though an idea that was also morphing into almost something else entirely, a counter-power to so-called regeneration through wilding a failed city through the supercession of old time smoke stack industry plus the more contemporary retailing city - suggesting a new relationship with nature but one also based on forgotten vernacular ways minus traditional, closed down mind-sets. So no Methodism or any other kind of religion here! But then we upped the ante and some of the more recent background can be gleaned from reading 2012: Creating the Common Blue on The Commons of Industrial and Urban Dereliction on both the Dialectical Butterflies and Revolt Against Plenty webs, a post obviously clearly affected by the on-going Occupy movement then sweeping through the world throughout 1911 as emphasis was placed on the people who clandestinely rummage through these places, some secretly living there especially immigrants. By then, allying ourselves with unknown allies and protagonists we wanted to liberate areas that within these last 12 years had become heavily fenced-in as warehousing development etc. gave way to zombie land banking covered with buddleia and melilot.
We quickly became aware we were confronting diverse forces brought into play in this open but also hide and seek permanent contestation. These forces were all intermingling and there were no clear boundaries between immigrants, fly tippers, the local installation crew, the dog walkers, the misfits, the suicidal wanderers, the security outfits, the community police, the sub contracted clean-up gangs, the council suits and ubiquitous Health & Safety. And hovering around in the background of all this – and supposedly on our side - the reactionary but manipulative role of the official eco bodies, our contestation inspired also by the amazing example of William Bunting and his Beavers on the Humber Levels around Thorne Colliery in the 1970s, which even though dissimilar in scope, tactics and even theory was galvanic. His contestation was Spanish anarchist in lineage ours more Situationist / Encyclopedia de Nuisances inclined, even though the example of Bunting remains on our minds as we are also still trying to put together the first authentic account of the Beavers. Moreover the two projects were tending to interweave…
In his teens William Bunting was an inspired non-mercenary libertarian gunrunner for the anarchist militias during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-8. The guy couldn’t forget this experience, which burnt into his soul, and a few decades later in the early 1970s his eco escapades became something of a reincarnation of his youth perhaps imagining himself as a latter day eco-Durrutti with hunting gun, rifle and sabre strapped to his waist belt forcing predatory ranchers and multinational fertilizer businesses alike to lay off colonising these Wastes. In order to prevent further environmental depredation and enclosure Bunting would occasionally deploy dynamite purloined from the local collieries expropriated by rebellious wildcat miners who were among his most ardent followers. Blowing up illegally filled-in dikes he pushed the multinationals and ranchers back into their stinking holes leaving behind many curt but poetic visiting cards reminiscent of the style of English football hooligans. These escapades would periodically land Bunting in jail for short stretches but the guy simply wouldn’t give up until illness and old age finally took their toll. Having died sometime ago his often burly, fervent supporters still stalk these Wastes like ever-present Ancient Mariners with tales as riveting as the fabled rime Coleridge originally put together. Notably, one guy whom we are friendly with recalls that Bunting deployed a “fuck” and a “cunt” in just about every sentence, so obviously PC language had made no inroads here! If this true-life story had been put together 15 ago it’s the type of document that Editions Encyclopedie de Nuisances would possibly have gladly published.
So in that sense there’s an overlap with our efforts but then like a bolt from the blue a model from the past also suggested itself in the form of the situationist proposed exhibit of 1959 in Amsterdam’s Stedlelijk art gallery one which never could be realised in such a fake arena. This possibly intended failure resulted in something much better - a pointed critique of recuperation directed against cutorial space – having clearly demonstrated how impossible it was to squeeze a real urban labyrinth within an art gallery’s walls. It simply couldn’t be done and the protagonists finally declared that any future labyrinth would have to be constructed on waste ground “in direct function with urban realities.” By default too, it also demonstrated that you need to do something NOW with your hands, something creative that moves out over as against prevailing passivity, to make something which hasn’t anything to do with mass consumer artistic leftovers and art galleries, Turner Prize installations or the latest gimmick from Antony Gormley. To which we need to add, that also counters the physical reduction of our hands and fingers from being nothing more than instruments pressing endless remotes. Recognition too that it’s impossible to build anything that’s authentic in this simulacrum of real society meaning we can do nothing more than make tentative first steps beyond trying to increase bio-diversity, things like lean too’s, children’s dens, hides, perhaps everything hidden in undergrowth and post industrial dense carr woodland. Anything beyond that will become nothing more than ubiquitous faux conservation, the icing on the cake of a totally alienated urbanism. This dilemma of course, the eco-campers well know though none know well, not having sufficiently theorised the ramifications of this conundrum.
Almost inevitably what has become a 300-acre or more project dispersed across Bradford (though major tentacles reach as far as Woolley and Dinnington colliery spoil heaps) implies a fundamental critique of architecture and building in its entirety. We must condemn all urbanism in the sense of the old German SDS formulation from the late 1960s: “Stop all buildings. All buildings are beautiful” a position a post Icteric milieu in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne also proclaimed. Essentially we initially and rightly interpreted this declaration as an attack on growing urban aestheticisation and concomitant life style, a poignant subversive response that was quickly cut short as reaction and an even greater aestheticism reached crescendo decades later. This long and horrible moment also implied its dialectical opposite, the end of the domination of the visual, implying in the crudest sense of the term, a vast trouncing of aesthetics maybe about to erupt. What we really demand first and foremost is the total transformation of the human subject through a revolutionary uprising that will immeasurably enrich all human potential, a raging flood, a momentum sloughing off the reign of aesthetics inseparable from the present reign of fictive capital. It is no longer a matter of building. Rather a time is fast approaching when the capitalist mode of production in its entirety – and not just fictitious capital - will no longer be able to successfully valorise itself as it comes up starkly against its internal limitations presenting us with the final choice between barbarism and total social revolution. A vast debt overhang is merely the obvious fact pointing towards this terminal crisis.
In the context of reading about the history of industrial Bradford after all the aesthetic peregrinations of Ruskin’s hopes for a revived, all-embracing Gothic culture we stumbled across the “rubble houses” where the delvers lived which it seems surrounded the giant stone quarries of Wapping and elsewhere on the fringes of the city centre. Preferring the traditional pleasantries of old Yorkshire vernacular stone dwellings Ruskin makes no mention and even today the Bradford Antiquarian Society remains silent possessing no drawings of these tantalising “rubble houses” – most likely because they defy definition as possible human dwellings. Yet this is what tantalises not because we desire some repeat as, after all, hygiene here was non-existent but because they suggest something beyond the aesthetic gaze…..
Moreover we can no longer build for ourselves because subversive counter-architectural history has also been colonised and the child-like beauty of objects like Cheval’s Fairy Palace or Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers have been turned into rampant commodified niche specialisms promoted by aesthetic entrepreneurs, Nay more, en route to centre stage as increasingly these efforts are part of the backdrop of TV programmes like architect [what else?] George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces or left wing installation artists like Grayson Perry. The latter’s so called Gingerbread House created in tandem with a hip architects collective set in an area of “outstanding natural beauty” near Harwich in Essex will be rented out for cultural holiday jaunts making banal nonsense of the postman’s Cheval’s transcendental efforts – as Cheval said “let the dream begin” – a dream outside any architectural realm having no commercial value whatsoever for the maker. Yet there are many other examples everywhere and all have some quality. Over the last twenty years or so, an amazing grotto part of which is studded with four and a half million seashells was discovered beneath Margate’s limestone cliffs. No one has a clue what it once stood for or when it was made possibly centuries ago. Inevitably it has been fronted by a grotto café and has become a means of making dosh attracting culture tourists bored with the typical seaside excursion itinerary. In this age of ultimate commercial banalisation we can expect no other. However, our approach couldn’t be more different; anti aesthetic, anti property, anti commercial, anti the law of value, anti commodification though pro the riches inherent in collective / individual liberated human potential. It’s guerrilla in the broadest sense of the term having nothing to do with ownership, money or grants from benevolent bodies.
Neither can it be said we have anything in common with those egotistical figures ensconced within the art world that have the arrogance to remake vast areas of industrial dereliction as a form of cute, aesthetic display. The example of former architectural critic turned pharonic installation merchant name of Charles Jencks comes to mind especially his recent Ashington Colliery site in Northumberland doubling from the air as a giant nude woman lying on a couch or bed. Done in collaboration with the usual slew of aestheticised brutalised landscape designers boosted by colossal grants and subsidies it will in practise be no different from the ghastly colliery makeovers we panned a number of years ago which showed nothing but contempt for local bio-diversity resulting especially in a holocaust of the threatened Dingy Skipper butterfly. You can bet your life the Dingy Skipper would have flourished at Ashington and it won’t be their now gassed-out with a covering of spectacular fluorescent rye grass or, something similar. Nor can we have any truck with Ian Hamilton Findlay’s outdoors concrete poetry display at Stonypath in the wilds of the Pentland Hills in the Southern Uplands of Scotland which is nothing more than a sculptural project sub-contracted out to various trades’ people as gallery product in plein aire situations. Though set within nature its eco content is virtually nil and cannot be regarded as a beacon pointing to valid future eco-experimentation.
Above: Computer mock-up of Grayson Perry’s proposed house designed in collaboration with neo-philosopher, Alain de Botton. Described by Perry as “a house-shrine” full of artefacts, the hotel (for that is what it is) will be “encrusted with sculptures, ceramics and tapestries” put together around a fictional woman named Julie whose life history gradually unfolds as the tourist tenant coughs up the B & B fulfilling the banal requirements of the usual “holiday experience of a lifetime”. One local objecting to the development aptly said it was “pseudo-subversive neo-kitsch.” Yes, critique really seems to be improving! Below: The by now well known chic-style hobbit houses springing up all over often (like these) gracing National Trust land for how else could they get permission to build? Undoubtedly better than Perry’s celebrity-like ostentation, more humdrum and genuine and often lived in by poor people though one may well ask, how subversive is the perspective of those who live in them? Have not the inhabitants chosen this existence because Tolkien / Harry Potter oriented and could you have a well-oiled crazy night in the pub with them plumbing the depths of the totality of alienations?
Yet it’s this trajectory that unnerves us. Despite the periodic, sometimes unbridled attacks by various goons on minimum wages employed by various institutions we have experienced whilst engaging in eco interventions, we recognise that recuperation will easily be our main enemy. We have done all we can by ourselves alone but the project will most likely be taken out of our hands as the eco-versity has begun to take a keen interest and professional passive eco on-lookers increasingly smile with delight. From now on we will also have to confront the many-sided facets of recuperation. It is not a simple task. There’s now a huge slew of post artistic ‘art’ which has survived the welcome death of post modernist vacuities touted by Baudrillard, Derrida, Lyotard, Deleuze etc. Foremost in this process (see The London Olympics and Mass Market Neo-Psychogeography ) is the valorisation of industrial dereliction as passive aesthetic achievement (i.e. untouched by artistic hands but signified as such by Duchampian appropriation). You roughly know who these culprits are as we’ve regularly mentioned them and the common denominator underlying them all is passivity. They aren’t going to cut up untidy. Thus the Wilson Twins from Newcastle dwell on the evil contamination surrounding Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor meltdown and the lesser evil implicit in the ex-MOD vistas surrounding Orford Ness in Suffolk. Obviously, like us, the Wilson Twins are fascinated by the strange topography of these tormented places no doubt delighting in the disused morphing strange shapes that are to be found on these post industrial, post military landscapes. But would they try and do anything subversive on these fascinating terrains? You bet they wouldn’t as their main interest revolves around cosying up to the cultural establishment and the only intervention to be countenanced is one based on aesthetic ornamentation; installing amplified, ambient sound throughout abandoned military buildings or mounting film exhibits via rooms-within-rooms in art galleries. It amounts to sweet FA. This is not revolutionary critique but further examples of anodyne culturisms. Finally in passing we post a warning: if any neo-artist out for media glory in future tries to valorise the Bradford experiment we will personally wreck their exhibits. That’s a promise.
As opposed to this passive neo-artistic milieu, our contemporary engaged ecologists somewhat actively deployed in habitat creation or management, in practise mismanage, as they are insensitive to the wonders of post-industrial landscape ignoring frequently its often-bizarre rapid natural recapture. They wish to clear away all these ‘eyesores’ like burnt out cars dumped in a river, haphazard strewn heaps of abandoned tyres, bricks, concrete and rotting ply board etc. With a retarded blinkered vision that has yet to encounter the neo-psychogeographers industrial Duchampian appropriations, these ecos’ fail to see that post industrial habitat often facilitates a renewed bio-diversity and the burnt out car within ten year’s becomes an odd river island quickly stacked up with silt which various plants, insects and birds enthusiastically take to (see photos below). These ecos’ taste for real landscape is therefore invariably abominable, traditionally scenic oriented and totally at odds with our interventions which are based on respect for givens we’ve inherited from the smoke stack era of the industrial revolution.
Above: A stolen car, set on fire and driven topsy-turvy over the steep hillside of the Bradford Beck in Shipley in the early noughties has now become a wild life haven through which is growing jack-by-the- hedge. Orange Tips often alight here in spring.
In our ‘mad’ eco project in Shipley there are forces all unknown to each other yet each creatively (more or less) reacting to the others. We have essentially set these forces in motion.
1. The fly-tipper. 2. Those who would put to further use what the fly-tipper had left. 3. The vandals and the shifting boundaries between them and the art ‘vandals’, their youthful
naiveté mounting informal installations. 4. The council officials who are perplexed by what’s going on and don’t know how to put a stop to it, their efforts to enforce the law becoming a kind of installation – in the absence of barbed wire, chucked cabling will have to do, moreover they have no money allocated to do anything else than improvise with the things dumped around them. In a way they are persecuted stupid suits with few resources. But who is going to take notice of them or their feeble counter insurgency? Only the really conditioned middle classes who don’t go here in any case. As for the rest, rather it is treated as a further invitation to participate, to add to the wonderment of this enchanted carr woodland that bears a strange resemblance to a Claude Lorraine.
Sometimes sitting among this gloriously changing rubbish dump you can get the sensation of arm-lengths possession and is this good or bad? That our clandestine activities were (are) bearing fruit and that we actually were (are) changing (making) a landscape (not painting it as a Claude or a Corot would have done and in any case, historically the times are too late for that). One day in the summer of 2012, this impression was enhanced by two girls playing beside the filthy, often turpentine coloured beck – accompanied by the sounds of their laughter. When we crossed the wooden bridge we saw they had pulled down a couple of concrete slabs which had once formed the approach to a previous bridge probably washed away in the ferocious torrents that suddenly seem to appear from nowhere as a cloud bursts over some Pennine promontory nearby. But these gals were also taking hold of this abandoned, morphing cityscape of huge potential.
We begin to claim these dumps for others and the contours began to emerge. Where Claude painted we landscape, not the evocative somewhat mysterious painted dream but its potential realisation. For this covered in industrial canal which John Ruskin unintentionally lyricised is like a grand avenue framing industrial dereliction and rubbish, a dream in perspective especially when the sun is setting and the rays turn golden gilding the tree tops. We began connecting up the different parts – the three parts – of the site. The aim is to create an ndustrial meadowland.
Above: shadows, invocations, displacements of a post-industrial Corot and Claude?
We opened up the area with saws, snips and shears now others are making their own contribution. The environment has been dynamised because of our innovation. We are the hidden facilitators. People are using the site more. The point is to encourage their involvement – to elicit it – without them realising. So they think it comes from them. It is the opposite of being ordered, told, commanded – the opposite of rules, of byelaws, of the constrictions of nature reserves. It is essentially lawless, a dream landscape in which each is king and queen. Absolute.
No one really knows who is doing this big change and we have a lot to be paranoid about which is why we are the ghosts of encounter. We don’t want to be known, to be interviewed by the press, to be on TV. We want to continue as before, a secret, shaping force, devil gardeners that flit in and out of existence that cannot be pinned down, a dramatic, elemental force that cannot be stopped because nobody knows who we are. Once we lose our anonymity we lose our power to mould landscape and bring out the best in our unknown compatriots encouraging them to do the same. It is like we are the anonymous ‘disappeared’ gardeners, an invisible force of nature.
We are essentially explorers, discoverers. Never has industrial dereliction been so attractive: the problem is it is also the fertile ground of a bad literary romanticism. The problem is deep topographers have the drop on conservationists. Deep topographers know little or nothing about nature and conservationists have no idea just how much they are in thrall to a banal countryside aesthetic. Indeed a meeting up of topographers and conservationists could be of some value in helping change entrenched attitudes. Both though have a long way to go before arriving at revolutionary perspectives.
This is a collage of nature but yet serves nature better than if left to itself. ‘Wilding’ is better than nature, like the need to clear the basin floor of nettles and some thistles in order to create a trefoil meadow. All this takes time and patience, it is anything but instantaneous and yet it constantly surprises.
Even sometime ago in the summer of 2011 we quickly noticed paint had been poured over a corner of the concrete blocks blocking these informal, industrial roads near where the Bradford Canal went onto the Leeds Road; an obvious bit of Windhill Estate (situated above the site) installation by an utter naïve who left his signature in the paint. So this is where the art school went? We took a photo with a spindly birds foot trefoil plant sunk into the concrete top. Will it ever flower? And will the roots ever bind to the concrete? Further down the tarmaced road covering the former Bradford Canal someone had dumped a load of leylandia. The sawn logs had been piled up almost deliberately as if this was a gesture of eco fly tipping. A hidden vanguard, we had set something in motion. This is now becoming a peoples’ transformation of landscape with others sensing this is an attempt to lay hold of waste ground and to collectively develop it according to individual inclination.
In the late summer of 2012, as we walked the length of the left hand side of the strip of land by the railway that is Valley Rd we noticed a spectral tree trunk in the distance. Was it an effect of light? As we got near it, we realised someone had sprayed it with silver paint. Artists have followed our intervention as in Shipley though also paralleled by authority for there were deep tyre tracks running the length of this part of the site. Had we also attracted the attention of Network Rail just as we had the council on the garage site? In this three cornered dance not one ‘performer’ is entirely sure of the motives of the other two, or there reasons for being there. The ‘artist’ who had spray painted the still living stump silver would not have noticed the wild strawberry plants surrounding it – and therefore sussed that the reason we lopped the goat willow – in order to expose the small strawberry plants to sunlight. We then noticed on Valley Road someone had sprayed up in silver paint “Wake Up Sheeple” about a quarter of a mile away a stump of goat willow had been sprayed with the same paint. Are we being shadowed? These are artistic leftovers drifting into genuine contestation.
And then something very strange happened at Woolley Colliery which we noticed in October 2012, in our path lay a strange installation on the way back from the spoil heap to Darton Stn. Someone had sprayed fly-agaric mushrooms plus the bowl of a birch tree with silver paint just like someone had done with the stump of a goat willow on the Valley Rd site in Bradford. Basically both ‘interventions’ were indistinguishable in style. Is it the same person? Again, are we being shadowed? Or rather than ‘Pitman Painters’ were these examples evidence of an epidemic of ‘Post Pitmen Conceptualists’? Or was installation ceasing to be a conscious ‘artistic’ act and becoming a more random activity? A sort of posting of meaningless signs; signs posting a gathering madness, which will never end up on a gallery wall even as a photograph. And yet we were both sure this ‘still life’ had been photographed. Is it the fashion for edgelands that attracts? Or is this the direction tags and pieces are now taking, something which is local and not done by art students from Sheffield and Leeds? Something with greater promise?
But where did installation and drift begin an end? Things are becoming interestingly confused, open-ended and possibly at times offering great potential, even elsewhere. The storms of 2012 produced artless events like as though climate change was willy-nilly also taking the trend up and via the elemental fury involved in climate change the Bradford Beck destroyed the containing wall holding in the raging waters bursting through near where it flows into the River Aire. The garage site was instantly flooded and the wood or rather the spinney on the approach to the garage site from the bridge was standing in water like a temperate mangrove swamp, or a miniature Florida everglade, a morphing environmental frighteningly innovative feature of climate change. Once the waters had subsided each trunk was like an installation sculpture. A matrix of twigs and branches of right angles to the perpendicular trunk had collected around the base. Stuck to this matrix like it was a notice board were bits of plastic, lino, PVC, empty goody bags, their saturated industrial colours gleaming like jewels in the gloom – crisp packets, chocolate wrappers, glossy cartoons reading “sesame sticks”. Yes, it did look like a theatrical backdrop or an exhibit of rubbish for fools – yet inevitably more sobering, horrible, fascinating because it was so over-poweringly real – no price, unnoticed, no foot prints in the damp earth not even those of a fox – and we were the first to set foot in this post floodplain, the first inhabitants of an altered world.
Above: from temperate everglade swamp to rubbish installation
It also seemed like an “occupation”, like this matrix of flotsam and jetsam had been an attempt to improvise walls of sticks, mud, bits of plastic, anything – a reinvention of the wall. Someone had attempted, not that long ago, to construct a yurt in the carr woodland, stringing abandoned electric cable from tree to tree, bending the saplings to serve as ribs over which others, deploying scrounged material, would be thrown. Now the sheer force of the water had done the same, saplings bent over in an arc, their tips touching the ground held down by this detritus of a different soil – torn off branches, rocks, bricks etc. that had been carried along by a mighty surge. Nature’s fury had become the final constructor, the ultimate ‘recuperation’ of a failed revolution against which no redress is possible.
The same went for authority. The path through the wood which we had made one frenzied afternoon leading to the garage was within a couple of weeks or so, quickly ‘roped’ or rather sellotaped off. At first we thought it might be the council or the garage owner doing it but on reflection was it a form of ‘arty’ installation that has its origins in Terry Atkinson (that faux enfant terrible lecturer from Leeds Art School who tepidly dipped into aspects of situationist praxis) coming to Bradford?
Above: sellotaped passage and an adjacent spare outline of a yurt
Post the big flood of 2012 and we cut across through the carr woodland of the Lanolin site alongside the Bradford Beck as not only was this amazing topography but what a place to observe the teeming song bird occupation. It wasn’t approved of and some shadowy power quickly tried to hinder our endeavours. But where before branches and thinnish tree trunks we had cut down had been dragged from the undergrowth and placed across the impromptu path, now car fenders were used as obstacles as we looked down into the raging waters! The stakes were being upped. The obstacles had been mechanised and obviously brought in. We initially thought it was an installation as so bizarre; a secret security happening not meant to be looked at, almost an artistic negation. The council dump must have been ransacked for suitable material and what more suitable than car fenders!!! They seemed to sum up the madness of the age, a madness beyond redemption exceeding that of all other ages. This unconscious metaphor seemed to be saying do what you will; the car will triumph over the wilding of cities.
Moreover we began to turn installation against authority especially when doing things in sensitive areas where we really could get into deep trouble. For instance we dug up for seeding purposes both sides of a culvert containing signalling cable which Network Rail is hot on because of theft. It was very visible work and certainly the most visible alterations we have ever carried out around Shipley station. We provoked things further by piling up stones and slabs into a bogus installation deliberately to attract attention. If it goes unnoticed it will tell us much, namely that there has been a considerable decrease in surveillance due to lay-offs. Or perhaps if noticed, station staff will be afraid to do anything about it because it looks artistic but also eco and the station staff do not want to be accused of philistinism and, more importantly, wasting Network Rail’s money by drawing attention to it, especially as the latter’s finances are deeply in the red!
From a pile of stones (which will provide essential basking habitat for insects) it became ‘installation’ when one of us stuck a shattered piece of rusting drain pipe in it and then adding to it by piling a regular grid of oblong block of concrete on the pile. Meanwhile finding an abandoned bike saddle which Duchampian-like was then deliberately stuck in the ground (never thankfully to get into an art gallery) and the rest of the bike looked as though it was buried beneath the soil, though also looking like a huge manufactured autumnal fungus. Around the same time we found an old platform 4 sign that had been chucked away over the platform wall which he then put behind a length of old cabling strung out over the wall’s stonework. Officials if they inspect it will notice this and possibly may feel out of their depth, non-plussed as if the rug had been pulled out from under their feet.
Above: Two months later and this proved not to be the case. A gang of paid-up delinquents (and not the real MaCoy) employed by Network Rail obviously ‘knowing’ we were nothing but cable crooks destroyed part of this mockery of installation and mercilessly threw away the Duchampian saddle, thus clearly revealing themselves to be the real Bicycle Thieves… This is a war game with a purpose and we are playing with their cop minds, learning how to subvert their dead cells from within rather than ceaseless direct confrontation, which they would most likely win, by finally deploying restraining orders and stopping us from ever entering again the precincts of Shipley Stn. But sooner or later their patience will probably snap and enough will be enough. When this happens not an eco voice will be raised in our support to a man – or rather woman – (seeing that most of the natural history / eco organisations are dominated by women) and the doors of Bradford’s pathetic eco groups will be shut on us.
Perhaps too it can be said we’re making a scientific breakthrough through a hands on investigation, like rough ‘n’ ready builders in reverse, wrecking foundations to find out what’s beneath. No academic could have done this; it took the frenzied madness of ancient horny ten-handed sons of toil to take things to such extremes. What we discovered is the strangest, most contradictory of landscapes and through constant digging we discovered a neo-soil made up of a mix of limestone, coal shale, and plentiful bits of iron and buried among acres of freshly created, soiled over layers upon layers of cloth, and the whole stew mixed together creating a faux downland resplendent with ‘new’ wildlife. Nature has not created this – or ever could. It is “un-natural” habitat, something new and inspiring and without precedent, nature conservation with an edge. Moreover, the cloth soils of Bradford’s industrially derelict sites – bits of carpet, webbing, stuffing etc. are intertwined with plant roots among compost heaps of soil, vegetation, cloth, and decaying slivers of wood. We were tearing up cloth soils – sheets of carded sheep’s wool which act like weed mats – beneath them a tangled mass of roots, particularly nettle roots and above them a layer of soil made from leaf mould on which grass grows. Tearing it up is also like rolling back a carpet mat, though requiring considerably more effort. We also found ourselves pulling up bits of rotting fabric and even disturbed nests of wood lice that had found shelter between layers of something like Bakelite plastic. This is nature but also post nature and prior to the industrial revolution nothing like it would ever have been found; it is truly a post-industrial nature and we neo-Neolithic agriculturalists in reverse mode reaching out to the Palaeolithic past.
Above: A bee orchard and male Common Blue on an abandoned hub cap on the Valley Rd site near central Bradford Below: Purple Loosestrife on the ‘garage’ site and a Large Skipper on Bettany in The Big Field plus a pronounced ab mariscolare of a female Common Blue on the back of the Ilkley platform
However, over and above opposed tendencies and now towering over them is the reality of intensified climate change beginning to turn ferocious due to the rapidly melting Arctic ice cap. Over the last five years we have seen the movement of the jet stream becoming more and more awry over the northern hemisphere, one which is becoming frightening. More especially these giant meanders known as Rossby Waves in high-altitude winds have now become a major influence on climate and they can become locked for lengthy periods producing extreme weather. Our wilding project in Bradford has been utterly thrown by the sheer contrasts produced by these Rossby moments, these wiggles in the jet stream and / or an energy saturated North Atlantic Oscillation ranging from unprecedented drought to temperate monsoon plus almost everything else in-between. It’s very likely this process will deepen and it is the factor which is completely beyond our control and which we’ve had to deal with as best we can simultaneously allowing for incessant rain alongside lengthy droughts constantly keeping this dichotomy at the back of our mind when engaging in eco wilding.
This is the fury of the elements and we are powerless to combat it. In 2011 it was ‘the fire’, in 2012 ‘the water’; all biblical in apocalyptic description covering the fact that suicide capitalism is largely to blame for this crisis. We can fight the council, we can fight land banks, we can do something about official sponsored herbicide spraying maniacs but we cannot personally combat climate change,well not until the example of ours (and others) anti car, anti spectacular consumption life style is taken up by millions in the highly developed world instigating a mission creep we proudly urge people to adopt everywhere we go. In the meantime despairing thoughts can grip your throat: is it even possible to create habitat now? And with it, the vision of a wildlife paradise fades forever. This is the fall of nature and with it human kind. The creation of habitat – what? – is it nothing more than the expenditure of colossal effort on a vain endeavour? Our hope is too much like despair; the last desperate dice throw of humanity an odyssey of defeat but an odyssey nonetheless. Perhaps it is now too late to even wild cities? Perhaps it is just too late for anything? This is unnatural nature, nature grown strange, alien, pseudo-metaphysical, malevolent, a monstrosity like Moby Dick defying scientific nomenclature that will take us all down – though this time not one naturalist or ‘human being’ will survive to tell the tale.
Moreover, the growing ecological nightmare is deepened by a further factor: the increasing separation between childhood and nature the more the screened simulacrum of cyberspace dominates the totality of a reified life reduced to a continuum of visual images. Whatever benefits can be gained from social media as a useful tool once spontaneous protest breaks out, is far outweighed by its continual dulling and restrictive effect containing any eruption of lived experience increasingly enclosed in the anchored walls of what is dubiously still described as ‘the home’, where finally all the gadgetry facilitating 'second life' overwhelms a palpable everyday life experienced without a mask in the raw. The children who once inhabited these areas of wild, rusting edgelands are being forced to let nature disappear from their souls as desolation colonises their very essences. Thus those bands of edgeland misfits, immigrants and what have you are no longer augmented by the cries and exclamations of inventive children doing what they must. Arching over all of this is an obsession with children’s safety (a fevered fascination with paedophilia having lost all sense of proportion) the bottom line of which serves the interests of a capitalism reaching the edge of an abyss beyond which complete madness lies having destroyed all genuine artless creativity. To make the cyberspace factor even worse we are also heading for a “turnkey totalitarian state” (Assange) via Facebook, Twitter etc. promoted not be ruthless primitive monsters like Stalin or Hitler but through the auspices of the most avant-garde of hip capitalists; a surveillance that will at one point prevent any subversive movement, eco or otherwise.
Ecologically and economically there is no future for any of us but this is felt most keenly by youth as they walk blindfold towards absolute disaster. Yet we must act for if we do nothing, it is even worse. Nature for youth (as for most others too) is now little more than pretty photographs or movie sequences lacking the essence of the real thing. The pretty photos on display here can only be viewed within such a sober assessment. As for the others - the panoramic shots of various sites where intervention has taken place – they must also remain little more than dull records, at best graphs and indicators lacking any real substance. After a quick glance maybe it’s best to ignore them; the real response is to go do something similar yourself on your own doorsteps ignoring all petty restrictive legalities. For certain the intention here is not geared towards a re-vamped nature as spectacle, a bland and self-satisfied TV-like exhibit a la David Attenborough or Springwatch programme....
Above: Winter days/ Summer days: Panoramic views of The Big Field adjacent to Shipley Stn followed by a view from the field of the ‘garage’ site The ‘hole’ in the grove of birch and buddleia etc. is the entrance to a dark woodland path we created alongside the Bradford Beck, the clearing itself looking like the opening to the post industrial Wild Wood; something enchanted, slightly menacing, certainly noticeable but not all that much; a discreet menace. Perhaps it will spark others to treat it as free territory that can be moulded and shaped so the fly-tipping is put to use and changed. The Big Field was once a goods yard, an array of railway sidings, which local kids used to lark about in. Many are the tales we have been told by passers-by recounting such incidences and a particularly rich story figures in the following two webs: Nameless Wilding Personal Diary 1 and Nameless Wilding Personal Diary 2 accompanying this more abstract preamble.
Above: The quarried rock outcrop above Shipley Stn on which a chapel once stood (pictured bottom left). Now existing as an abandoned graveyard occupied by a spectral cat and alternatives inhaling a quiet toke amidst secluded leafy ambiences we have seeded parts with birds foot trefoil (pictured bottom right) in the hopes of attracting the ab mariscolare (the Irish Blue).
Above: wilding haircut council land beneath the former chapel rock outcrop
Above: The Baildon Holmes site is the best Common Blue site on the banks of the River Aire with 50+ on the wing at the height of the emergence. It is going to be developed and Elland based building company Marshall CDP has revealed proposals for a big Wickes DIY store plus a KFC here. In order to counter this useless development it is going to be necessary to expose the greenwash of building company, Wickes and KFC, for they will soap themselves in greenwash. The point is how to make as much telling publicity as possible and force the hand of eco-minded people and in that make many, many more enemies. Oh, that it were otherwise. But ecology is, almost in its entirety, in bed with capitalism.
Above: The Tesco environs off the Otley Rd pictured from the banks of the River Aire and in-between the Stainforth Construction and Baildon Homes site.
Above: Winter and summer on the former Lanolin factory site
Above: The upper meadow we created in the midst of the Manningham buddleia forest……The first thing we did when we hit the Manningham Lane site was to cut a passage through the dense buddleia and so join up the upper and lower part of this latest Common Blue site. The cutting of these passages took us back to what we did on Indian Hill (our name for disguised earth covered factories tricking the Luftwaffe) in County Durham aged 13 to 14. Time becomes confused and we became old as well as young. We were / are the new Neolithics cutting down the post-industrial wild wood this time. The chief pioneer tree was however not the birch but the buddleia though nonetheless there was the occasional sallow and silver birch.
Above: Doing some unofficial birds foot trefoil seeding on the ‘ballast’ platform of Shipley Stn - night and day - right outside the transport police HQ while the coppers were too busy on their computers to look out of the window to watch the seeming vandal at play.......
Above: The Stainforth Construction site on Fred Atkinson Way just off the Otley Road. After initial forays where we chopped down invasive shrub and the like - and done on Sundays when no one was working in the offices - we withdrew for a timely break to pursue efforts elsewhere. Sometime later we were surprised when we again visited the site that the company had been provoked on account of our clandestine presence to clean up its act and remove the stacked up building material it had deposited on the site, a piece of land they probably didn’t own. There is now a skip there in which to deposit builders’ rubbish. It seems to prove this part of the site doesn’t belong to them and that they fear the council or our ‘authority’ thinking we are powerful figures in an unknown official organisation and not just a couple of bums. Thus each of us is responding to the other in a paranoid fashion and our clandestinity has given us an unexpected feeling of power. Anonymity has worked on fears. Only by remaining unknown can we exercise this power. We are playing games with authority by pretending to be other that what we are: a hidden force and all the more powerful because of it; an eco-Bakuninism.
Above: The mile long Valley Road site. This is like no other meadow we have ever been in; this extraordinary site possibly the most varied botanically in inner city Bradford. There is something excitingly unnatural about it. There is a clash of primary and secondary colours. The purple blue of bugle, the yellow of birds foot trefoil and of buttercup, the flaming orange red of orange hawksbit, the pink of the red clover, the red of wild strawberry (see above) and the dirty magnolia of white clover. It is a living palette, a creation of post-industrial neglect and quite breath taking in its contrasts and unexpectedness, something ‘made’ yet not made, something that has been left to grow naturally in a way that has never happened before. The site is the home of the largest number of bee orchids in Bradford but the biggest surprise was finding a substantial patch of wild strawberry which proves there must be a solution of calcium carbonate in the soil. After passing under the railway tracks the water may well up in this long narrow strip dissolving some of the limestone substratum. This habitat would never occur in ‘nature’ that has been worked on by farmers and pastoralists, for this essentially is a post industrial nature. Possibly train loads of coal were unloaded here for there is much coal in this industrial soil in which there is a combination of base rich and acid soil. There are still patches of tarmac in the field strip where lorries may have once parked. By the gate there are several ‘grasses’ including wheat which can only come from horse fodder.
And now for something really nasty………
Valley Rd is also a deserted road with a link to Canal Rd. At the Valley Rd end there is a shady corner of wild nature next to a utilities sub station that East European immigrants made into a convenient drinking den upturning an old huge electrical cable wooden drum for a makeshift table. Empty bottles of booze were everywhere memories of many an outdoor party. This slip road had it seems recently been sealed off with concrete blocks though there was still a right of way for pedestrians. Opposite was a fenced off site owned by Rapley’s and an obvious landbank teeming with a rich array of flora and fauna, though we reckoned some birds foot trefoil would be a good addition as our beautiful blue was flying here. No problem, it was easy to crawl under the padlocked gates but let’s wait and see but first we needed to add to this corner. We were respectful of this outdoor pub and seeded around the various odds and ends with care. On the other side of the road opposite the den was the broken down wall and permanently unlocked gate marking the entrance to the long strip of Valley Road faux downland. Unsurprisingly, the place had become a dumping ground for builders’ rubble and the usual amount of mattresses plus a suite of comfy chairs and a settee. These were welcome and while improving the quality of this unofficial beauty spot we would occasionally seat ourselves in this excellent outdoor living room munching our snap. (See Below)
Photo below: Moreover these chairs were themselves alive with nature housing a very prolific ant’s nest packed with white eggs in the rubble soil beneath. We had deliberately decided to seed around this furniture with a carpet of birds foot trefoil as after all upholstered chairs need a carpet and while lounging here a blue female might play nearby even landing on a bottle of moonshine.
This exciting, improvised situation was too good to last and in no time Uriah Woodhead’s, builder’s merchant had purchased the ground around the utilities installation suggesting they were going to develop the place which was surely a joke considering the bleak economic outlook? But then came the day in late 2012 their real intent became clear. Alas we saw smoke rising from the piece of adjacent land purchased by the builder’s merchants Uriah Woodhead. It was an ominous sign something like the smoke signals deployed by Native Americans prophesying war. We weren’t wrong. The bastards.
However there is now no way we can seed the Rapley’s land bank site because Uriah Woodhead has sealed all access to this public thoroughfare linking Valley Rd to Canal Rd. They were developing the site probably to create more warehousing for building materials in the hope of some future building boom. Obviously they didn’t give a fuck about the terrific nature rich site they were destroying but it seems the building merchant’s vindictiveness did not just stop here. It looks to us that they had crossed Valley Rd onto the old sidings site running parallel with the railway line and had maliciously destroyed the couch and easy chair that had been dumped there and used by the drinkers as an outdoor living room. Not content to turn the chair over, they had ripped-out the stuffing making them impossible to sit on. To us it was the equivalent of destroying the cottages of the poor from centuries ago so all that was left are fences and desolation.
Above: destroyed chairs
Above: Late 2012. Semi-abandoned pop-up tent squatter encampment on the banks of the Bradford Beck and sheltered from prying eyes by the wooded parts of the Lanolin site. Possibly moved on by the Environment Agency now so frightened by the almost permanent raging waters of the beck which could undermine the railway line running above the steep embankment???
But then a few miles away much worse was to happen
Above photos: On the top of Holly Bank Bluff overlooking Halifax from Queensbury some East European immigrants obviously skilled in building trades put together a wonderfully inventive tree house (pictured top left) with superb views of the high Pennines. Here they congregated, slept, ate food cooked on a campfire etc. and generally relaxed in the summer sun, the whole scene possessing an attractive ambience. It was too good to last and a few weeks on, while the immigrants were at work - most likely on a nearby building site - some braying, fascised, possibly English Defence League thugs came along and destroyed this beautiful creation. The photo bottom left shows all that was left. A little later and the same pigs – from a safe distance - turned their hollering on us as we scoured these hillsides looking for Green Hairstreak butterflies. Interestingly because carrying a big chopper they didn’t dare approach us. It was a variation on the old story: fascised bullies always are cowards.
And even farther a field….
Above: The former sluicing pans at Woolley Colliery. Over the last few years we have also engaged in some hefty environmental intervention on this amazing site. Once the largest Dingy Skipper site in Yorkshire it has been much depleted by the ghastly new housing estate of Woolley Grange (see the film on this tragedy in the video section of both RAP and Dialectical Butterflies). In 2012 we made further inroads here especially regarding three former pit ponds.
They are like a post industrial painted desert, the base of the third pan painted grey with ochre (in fact sand) interspersed with blotches of green (hop trefoil). It was like a living palette as if paint had been spilt across it like something from Abstract Expressionism or real life Rothko’s. The shapes are not natural either and yet these spaces breathe with remarkable life. The contrast between this and the soulless, manicured landscaping of Woolley Grange could not be greater. And yet the residents will most likely think these beautiful manufactured landscape depressions are nothing but unfortunate eyesores. And to think I had watched the rare little ringed plover hop around the perimeter of the sluicing pans and behind it the necro walls of Woolley Grange housing the suburban living dead. There is nothing remotely social about this estate – no pavements or pathways, just road surface, hard standing, parked cars and no people plus no shops! There’s no greater contrast between life and death, hope and despair anywhere in the county.
We have massively seeded these pans but the encroaching carr woodland will have to be monitored. If we begin to fell trees we cannot do so discreetly. Chances are the police will be called -------. The memory of these amazing pans lingered on hours after we had left, raising our spirits, the three rectangular squares imprinted on our memories. Unforgettable --- an inspiration --- a promise of what could be come again the most amazing Dingy Skipper site in the country, one ignored by naturalists and especially Butterfly Conservation because they have no feeling for the new beauty of industrial dereliction.
Above: a gentle sloping away from one of Dinnington Colliery spoil heaps
We have also become engaged on clearing parts of the former Dinnington colliery spoil heaps cutting back the invasive spread of goat willow through the grassland areas which has closed off many of the informal paths through these delightful places. This means a lot of heavy work and Rotherham Council have threatened to prosecute any individuals who take upon themselves the task of removing carr woodland. It’s all part of our campaign of revenge against couldn’t give a damn eco groups particularly Butterfly Conservation who were complicit in the destruction of the Dingy Skipper because they basically believe capitalism and the survival of the species are one and the same. Already the butterfly has been virtually eliminated at Dinnington due to invasive carr woodland, so we had to do something about it. Moreover there’s recently been a sizable rough sleeper squatter camp on another part of the spoil heap and lots of empty bottles, cans, bags etc were lying around. Around the camp trees had been sawn down to provide firewood.
We first threw down the gauntlet in 2011 and by the next year bikers were using the paths we opened up. One guy on a quad bike stopped to talk. People are wondering who is doing the clearing and for why? We told him about the need to protect the Dingy Skipper and that his quad bike by churning up the earth was providing the bare ground essential to the butterfly’s survival. Ten years ago he would have been hostile regarding the ground as his own private territory now he was more than interested. Indeed bikers and walkers paths diverge; walkers choosing the less muddy paths which in any case the bikers find difficult to ride along. Interestingly, local people appreciate the new freedom of movement we are providing. Unlike Shipley no one thinks to use it as a basis for installation. This is more utilitarian than ‘creative’ but nonetheless really liked by this ex-mining community. They love the fact we are ignoring the rules set out by Rotherham Council forbidding any such actions and prominently displayed on spoil heap entrance notice boards, but then ironically it appears that recently Rotherham Council have been trimming the sides of the new paths possible spurred on (not to be out-flanked) by our very physical and in their eyes - illegal - interventions