(PART 5) TROUBLE UP'T GREEN ECO-MILL. BRADFORD'S ECO-PETERLOO: URBAN UNNATURAL HISTORIES
From Winstanley to Urban Unnatural Histories / RS Fitter, Mass Observation, Huxley &The Bauhaus / Sheffield makeovers from Oliver Gilbert to the aesthete nature of Nigel Dunnett / and a faux olde England C/o URSULA & a 'reclaimed' Bradford Beck
This seems a reasonable point at which to take a break and reflect on the modern scientific origins of natural history in Britain. To do this we have to go back to the English civil war and revolution of the 1640s and the twin figures of Gerard Winstanley, the digger and John Ray, the naturalist, their different, but connected radicalism, meaning they would be ignored by history for two centuries. 'Working' the land around Shipley station, we were aware Bradford had been the site of a latter day, digger inspired experiment in the early 20th century which, in some ways, was also a form of outdoor relief (though better by far than the workhouse) for the unemployed who were taught 'to dig' but by no means 'dig it, guys'. It would spark an interest in Winstanley that even extended to the press, the German social democrat, Edward Bernstein, having rescued Winstanley's name from oblivion in the 1890s. We would very much like to know the site of this cooperative agricultural experiment, though for sure it would not have been around Shipley station as the place was then occupied by railway sidings, warehousing and factories. Today the post industrial skeletal soils are doubtless very contaminated and unsuitable for growing vegetables but has not stopped nature from luxuriantly overrunning it in a devil-may-care way that inspires a surplus of dreams - until Sustrans / Bradford Council and others saw fit to turn it into a nightmare, a potential heaven on earth become a literal hell on earth.
We have referred to this discrimination as a form of nature racism in the sense the powers that be visually and arrogantly decide what superior nature is and what inferior nature is. However, on further reflection, it has more to do with class than race and therefore typically British. In Germany the environment movement has had to cope with the baneful legacy of environmental anti-Judaism, the Jew a symbol of the fall of nature, of nature in an alien state. Though this view can be traced back to the Christian middle ages, it would receive a nationalist, pro-enlightenment reworking in the hands of major thinkers like Herder, Hegel, Fichte, even Feuerbach. However, in this country, ever since the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and, more especially, through the influence of Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 1640s, the fall of nature is to be redeemed through class not race war, through an act of collective appropriation abolishing private property. Like nowhere else in the developed world, nature here becomes the repository of true communism.
------------ This industrially derelict site in Bradford teeming with unexplored, nameless life was an ideal place in which to reconsider creation myths and hopes of earthly renewal. Barred from cultivating the land, it was not Winstanley the cooperative agronomist but the millenarian truth-seeker who stirred us, the Winstanley who saw nature as corrupted by the fall of man brought on by 'covetousness' (i.e. private property) and supported by the Divine Right of kings (i.e. state power). Matters did not rest here however, Winstanley's millenarianism no obstacle to him wanting to establish an elected lay polymath in every parish, the anti-university Winstanley opposed to the obscurantist theocratic dominance of Greek, Latin and Hebrew as well as being hostile to the growing technical language of modern science which threatened to supplant one overthrown theocracy with that of another, the theocracy of the specialist. And this is where John Ray makes his entrance, the great naturalist putting principle before career and refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles 11, a constitutional monarch but still a monarch. Forced to leave the sniffy precincts of Cambridge University where he rubbed shoulders with the aloof Newton, Boyle, Halley, Hooke etc, he would retreat into the countryside and obscurity, this deeply humble man revolutionizing taxonomy, his system for classifying plants according to a set of characteristics that remain unique, still holding up where all others, like that of the binomial system of Linnaeus, employed for its linguistic ease, have been found wanting. This extraordinarily wide ranging man was very approachable and locals would chat to him, bringing to this unelected local polymath who appeared to have been dropped from the sky and by default was not quite the incarnation of Winstanley's hopes, all manner of specimens to examine. Now imagine, if you can, how the tetchy, paranoid Newton would have reacted to a knock on the door, then, on opening it, find a mucky swain standing there with details of something he had seen in the night sky. .... It is said Ray's mere presence in the parish had stimulated locals to look at nature afresh...... somewhat elusive though this extraordinary connection is between a revolutionary social praxis and the growth of natural science in England, it is nonetheless real and would unfold as a powerful underground current pitted against the official nature establishment, to be ignored at one's peril. (The saga of Shipley station and its hinterland, and the loving entanglement of social protest and cutting edge science, has yet to kick off).
Of course Ray was part of a much wider democratising drift which would include, for example Nicholas Culpeper the botanical apothecary who translated Latin medical texts into English so everyone could be their own diagnostician / physician, the English translation of the Bible making everyone their own divine and priests only good for kicking up the arse. Science would then be correlated with revelation and a practical, millenarian enthusiasm would be the outcome.
A Fitter future for Britain: some background Mass Observations
The first edition of London's Natural History by Richard Fitter came out in 1945, the third book in Collins New Naturalist series. Against all the odds it would become something of a best seller, the counter intuitive effects of the London blitz upon wildlife, the book's involuntary leitmotif and id. The New Naturalist series was more of an ideal than an idea, and conceived during the darkest days of the second world war like everything else connected with post war Britain, including a comprehensive welfare state. The series on which no expense was spared, (lavish colour plates appearing in the post war years of ration books), was an anticipation of the long boom to come and heralded the growing marketisation and commmodification of nature that would eventually turn it into an unreal, media idyll, even as this new found peoples' audience for popularised scholarship in the field of natural history was neither patronised nor talked down to.
Fitter was a very considerable naturalist and the first person to in anyway comprehensively deal with what would eventually become the explosive issue of urban ecology as the issue moved from being an observational matter to one that undertook to create, with increasingly disastrous results, urban wildlife habitat. Like his mentor Max Nicholson, he was an amateur naturalist taking a degree in economics at the London School of Economics, which had been founded in the late 19th century by the Fabians, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb and Bernard Shaw. During Fitter's student years, the LSE was under the directorship of Beveridge, who, in 1942, would produce the Beveridge Report and that would become the lynch pin of the post war welfare state, compulsory sterilization of the congenitally idle, which Beveridge believed in, fortunately not part of it. Nicholson would study history at Oxford, both he and Fitter sharing a passion for birds - and bureaucracy - both unconditionally believing the vigour of the UK's flora and fauna stemmed from a common ancestor: enlightened state power. They were essentially the first born of a new breed of civil servant, the nature bureaucrat, creating the state institutions they would preside over. Of the two Nicholson was by far the keenest empire builder, he more than anyone else responsible for the setting up of the Nature Conservancy in 1949, the name changing to English Nature and then Natural England, each amendment signifying a further submission to market forces until conservation and the developmental agenda become increasingly indistinct, the former acting as the 'sustainable' guarantor of the damage caused by the latter.
Both Fitter and Nicholson believed a planned capitalism was possible, a fact all the obituaries of both men, who died in the first decade of the 21st century, omit to mention, nature conservation in its post war guise essentially the green wrapping on the technocratic package that defined the post war consensus. The shadowy but increasingly powerful figure of Keynes loomed over everything they did. Fitter was recruited to the Institute of Political and Economic Planning - a Keynesian sounding tag if ever there was one - by his ornithological buddy during the mid 1930s, Nicholson having written A National Plan for Great Britain at the height of the depression in 1931, Keynes's hugely influential General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money appearing five years later. Nicholson would become the deputy PM Herbert Morrison's private secretary in the land mark Labour government of 1945, "The Spirit of '45" still the delusional touchstone of so many influential 'left wing' Labour party hugging commentators like Owen Jones, capitalism having long outlasted its expiry date and therefore necessarily becoming a fictive entity of horrific organised chaos as it vainly struggles, in the era of automation, to return to core principles founded on labour value. Morrison would manage the nationalization program and also create the Metropolitan Green Belt, the crusading resistance to suburban sprawl and ribbon development gathering pace during the 1930s reaching its practical apogee in the Scott Report on land use planning of 1942, the idea of a green belt hardly requiring Nicholson's commendation in his job as private secretary to Herbert Morrison.
The Scott Report still underpins most of what happens in the countryside today and was written when Britain was under blockade and food security of paramount importance. Hence the initial emphasis was on giving priority to agriculture and protecting rural areas from the threats associated with urban development. Hard headed though it might have seemed at the time, the report hankered after the good old days, Scott calling for the preservation of rural crafts like smithying, basket weaving, thatching and the trade of wheelwright as essential to agriculture even calling for the setting up of rural guilds and a system of apprenticeships just when mechanized agriculture was about to hit Britain big time. Scott even mused these essential rural crafts could find new marketing outlets and satisfy "a growing demand for the distinctive handmade article". There was more than a hint of a Ruskin inspired over-lording of private ownership to it, the development rights of the land from now on to be more in the hands of an omniscient, far sighted state rather than that of a myopic, money grubbing landowner. Shaw once wittily branded Ruskin "a High Tory Bolshevik", a streak of quasi feudal dispossession of capitalism in the name of an equally disempowered people beholden to their public school educated, Oxbridge betters running throughout the Scott Report - and much else beside in the post war Labour government. Surprisingly, despite Scott's attempt to freeze out the mechanization of agriculture in favour of traditional, agriculturally based crafts, nature conservancy did not figure at all in the initial report, an omission recognized in the minority Dennison Report. In Scott's opinion the quality of the countryside depended upon the maintenance of a prosperous agricultural sector. Thus in order to achieve the goal of national self-sufficiency, he advocated a system of price support, a similar mechanism forming the basis of the infamous Common Market agricultural policy. In time the food surpluses it gave rise to would produce a wave of popular revulsion, 'conservation' apparently the winner in this reckoning and agriculture increasingly perceived as a major environmental threat. (In reality nothing could have been further from the truth). Moreover, Scott's hope that comprehensive planning would deliver urban containment had by now been well and truly dashed, the resident rural population now almost completely divorced from agriculture, the conservation of landscape, as a result, taking over from the exigencies of food production and aesthetics increasingly coming to blanket the land.
However the countryside the new residents were initially seeking to conserve / curate, as though they were living in an open-air museum of landscape art, was rapidly becoming a featureless green desert and not worth the bother of conserving either as an artefact or a wildlife haven. Gradually the concept of beauty shifts skywards, the pristine mountains and uplands of painterly myth now tending to become the sole repository of art and nature, when, as sheep rearing concentration camps, they had in fact become a pitiable mockery. The experience and rationalization of the sublime prefigured by the formerly lowly genre of landscape painting, and that had seized the popular imagination from the mid 18th century by inimitably managing to combine the most intense feelings possible with the workings of a higher reason (especially in Kant), was here brought crashing down, that revitalising, potentially radically democratic experience shifting to the towns and sites of industrial dereliction. The process has come full circle and we are back, broadly speaking, to where Fitter set out from.
In 1945 the same year as London's Natural History appeared, Fitter would be appointed secretary of the Wild Life Conservation Special Committee of Town and Country Planning. From this would come the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 (overseen by Nicholson) and which would give legal protection to official nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's). Wilding it was not and signified, rather, an impoverished freezing of nature's potential and also humanity's relationship with it, thus severing the link between a full-on nature and the galactic limits of human freedom, a concept fundamental to Romanticism in this country and never taken up, and made more concrete, to its great loss, by the nascent workers' movement. Against the grain of Fitter's London's Natural History, the division between town and countryside would be reinforced, real nature driven underground in urban spaces to become aberrant, criminalised, demonized and only permitted if it fulfilled the cute, reassuring, design criteria of benign 'public amenity'. Safety and control would be the main concern; these domesticated oases of a still born nature a secure place for children and for mothers to wheel their prams around in, the no-parent zones, bomb sites and industrial ruins in which nature and detritus could claim their rights. The end result of the post-war battery of nature legislation would be to strengthen the fear of nature and the wildcat in all of us and seemed to run in tandem with the great fear provoked by the post war unofficial workers' movement, both threatening to ignite the hell-fire of universal anarchy.
Investigating world war two bomb sites more than parks and the first to hone in on the rich wild life of sewage farms, Fitter's book was a smash hit attracting a huge audience which caused people elsewhere to look at bomb sites in their own back yards, often by then covered in the red / purple glories of rosebay willow herb. We certainly did though too young to know whom Fitter was! Alas, little was to follow through from this groundbreaking book. Instead the major city / town re-building and clearances of 1950s slash and burn came into being; as a supposed, largely social democratic New Jerusalem of new towns and concreted high-rise brutalism became the order of the day, succinctly opposed by, among significant others like Ian Nairn, Ralph Rumney and the first London Psychogeographical Society with special focus on Limehouse and its environs. In general this oppositional current decried the neo-housing estate, the end of pub conviviality and the birth of the dead life in favour of an ideal nuclear family surrounded with modern consumer durables sublimated in Ebenezer Howard inspired crafts, pottering about the potting shed, surviving in a cushioned urban setting having lost the vitality of the urban street and moreover, the EXACT OPPOSITE OF NATURE RICH. Amazingly, in retrospect, the latter aspect was never mentioned by the often-inspired subversives of the first London Psychogeographical Society.
After a brief sojourn in government office, Fitter would become editor of The Countryman, quitting "the Great Wen" (he would use Cobbett's derogatory term for London approvingly, without going on to say anything more forthright about this incorrigible 19th century Tory radical) to live in the country. However The Countryman was far from being a stereotypical hunting / shooting / fishing journal, its founding statement of intent a conviction the countryside, now increasingly open to access by the masses, was changing for the better and no longer the preserve of penniless, forelock tugging yokels forever on their knees before the lords and ladies of the manor. He would also supplement his basic income with a steady stream of bird books - again a sign the natural history market was a rising market, ramped ever higher the more insubstantial its actual basis in living things becomes. Too big to fail - at least so far- the flora and fauna footsie index has yet to seriously crash and bankrupt its dead to the world tele-visual investors thus enabling them recover their sight and see that nature doesn't exist in two dimensions and is increasingly nowhere to be found.
The common currency of bird talk would bring Fitter into contact with another ardent ornithologist, Tom Harrisson of Mass Observation, Fitter moving to Mass Observation when the Second World War broke out, where he was charged with monitoring civilian morale by the Ministry of Information. Mass Observation, founded in 1937 by the ex Winchester schoolboy and old Harrovian, Tom Harrisson, had set up its HQ in a grimy back street in Bolton as a Ministry of Truth in waiting, its aim to counter the falsities perpetuated by the media and the politicians regarding working class everyday life. The attitude of the Mass Observation group wavered between sympathy for the working class and need to spy on them. Revolutionary agitators they were not, surveillance, in the final analysis, being the name of the game. At a stretch we can draw a comparison between this practice and that of another type of mass espionage and the common state parlance of our age via the Internet, Harrisson pioneering bird counts and censuses, beginning with the great crested grebe.
Grebes & Julian Huxley
However, in point of fact, the first bird that had been the subject of a national census had been the heron in 1928 and had been organised by Max Nicholson who even advertised in the Daily Mail for volunteers, the census been the first mass count of a single species. But Harrison would really raise the stakes with the grebe census, recruiting 1300 volunteers and even broadcasting an appeal on the BBC, the grebe a more elusive bird than the heron but now a celeb because of a remarkable little book on the courtship habits of the great crested grebe written by Julian Huxley. This book, with superb diagrammatic visual aids drawn by Huxley (in themselves a poke at the pointlessness of de-rigueur, fine art illustrations), would make, in his words "field natural history respectable again", bringing biology out of the lab where it was becoming confined, largely as a result of research into genetics. Huxley would come to question in his field research Darwin's views regarding sexual selection that it was the male who displayed to the female, male and female grebes displaying to each other, Huxley suggesting this form of courtship should be called 'mutual selection'. He would later generalize what he had observed to pass between grebes and argue proper female choice in humans would lead to evolutionary improvement if they were given the vote, regarded as equals, and allowed to think for themselves. Huxley also thought grebe couples were monogamous, an observation, when transposed to the human plain, that condemned promiscuity in the name of that founding institution of bourgeois society, the nuclear family, now given a scientific validity rather than moral one as was formerly the case. Taking the cue from grebe behaviour, couples, if we read between the lines, were being urged to continuously 'display' to each other, this avian marriage counselling keeping sexual interest alive and preventing playing away from home, the latter behaviour typical of dirty dogs, and threatening to the existing order because it was now anti scientific and against nature! (Actually, close observation has since established that bird couples are frequently naughty and play away from home). In choosing the grebe, Harrisson had to be aware the grebe was no chick but a progressive, politically correct bird, humans, particularly the male of the species, had much to learn from. Three years later Harrisson would set up Mass Observation, the subtext a deeper understanding of the everyday life of working people to be gained through close scrutiny, would lead to a more democratic, unified society where class was no longer a threatening, explosive issue, and that, at bottom, the working class was not a species apart but just like 'us'. In short, Mass Observation was a conduit enabling toffs to cross the species barrier.
Huxley's extrapolations on the subject of sexual selection amongst humans derived from his observations on grebe courtship would spark a wide-ranging debate that even the advocate of family planning, feminist, eugenicist and Nazi sympathizer, Marie Stopes, would be drawn into. It comes across as mildly quaint, of its time, a thoroughly wholesome even hearty debate conducted by well-adjusted, un-alienated human beings. What would they have ever made of a growing aversion to sex, to be given a body swerve except as virtual reality, and the ground zero of courtship and relationships, which is such a feature of our times? Reproductive fitness is being replaced by a non-moral repulsion, the failure to reproduce today a metacondition affecting nature as much as humans. This planetary stressing is a huge negative thrown in the face of the protocols of sexual selection, the end time of capitalism and its inability to meaningfully reproduce and the extreme psychological consequences thereof, a more fruitful line to pursue than any attempt to update Social Darwinism.
Huxley's fascination with birds dates from his schoolboy days at Eton College, Huxley going on to study biology in Oxford University. (Mark, again and again, just how many of our wildlife institutions, both in the pre and post war years, were the creation of a public school, Oxbridge elite). Note also the close ties between these institutions and the tendency toward overall planning in the economic social and cultural sphere, high profile naturalists sometimes bestriding both and virtually treating them as one, birds in particular the flight path between the two. To say that planning was the buzz word of the hour is to trivialize the issue, the point being to put an end to capitalist anarchy in favour of a planned one. This tendency had been growing since the late 19th century when an unlikely assortment of High Tories, liberal imperialists and Fabian socialists, determined to prevent the Paris Commune becoming the London Commune, got together to oppose laissez faire economic doctrines. The tendency would be reinforced by the experience and misnomer of "war time socialism" One must remember then – as now - 'socialism' was identified with the nationalisation of production, distribution and exchange and the Bolshevik coup de etat therefore amounting to a genuine social revolution. Yet again, nothing could have been farther from the truth. In response to all this confusion regarding the omnipotence of the state in the transcendence of capitalism, it was then easy for Keynes to become the prophet of the unfeasible, unthinkable and utterly fantastic, a managed capitalism, and numbering amongst his growing army of disciples, Nicholson and Huxley. As mentioned above Nicholson was the author in 1931 of an influential article A National Plan for Britain and from which came the PEP (Political and Economic Planning), a non-governmental think tank founded by Nicholson and financed by 'enlightened' businesses, Fitter and Huxley sitting down at the same table as the director of Marx and Spencer's. In 1946 Huxley would be elected the first director general of UNESCO (the UN's educational, scientific and cultural arm) going on to become a founding member of the WWF (the World Wildlife Fund), the PEP, after the war, sharing the same offices as the state funded Nature Conservancy steered through parliament by Nicholson and becoming law in 1949.
Huxley would serve as director of London Zoo from 1935 to 1942 turning the place into a modernist laboratory / prison for animals, commissioning Bauhaus refugees from Hitler to design a monkey house and, much more famously, a pool for penguins. Extraordinary though it sounds, Gropius was able to sucker the author of so much patient observation of animals in their actual habitat into believing the Bauhaus (i.e. what was to become the horrific International Style) approach promised to restore the lost unity between people and nature, traditional architecture having torn it asunder. Hence the multi award winning, 'educational' animal experiment designed by Lubetkin and Tecton, the concrete, helical ramps imitating the ice flows penguins liked to slide down in the wild but here gave them arthritis. Moreover the pool was too shallow not providing the penguins with the depth they needed, the penguins, come feeding time, also liking to dive to collect their food - that is if gulls hadn't first swooped down and snaffled it, keepers chucking the fish at the penguins like they were animals in a zoo. The delusional thinking was set to get worse, the pool envisioned as a didactic experiment in modern, healthy living, the unfamiliar setting a demonstration nature was infinitely adaptable and able to thrive under unnatural conditions, the same going for workers and the poor who needed to be rescued by paternalist bureaucrats, taken out of their filthy slums and given neat, deluxe boxes set in a bowling green sea of entropic apathy and starved of life-giving oxygen, the only denatured nature architects, planners, landscape architects etc are comfortable with. The entire experiment is pervaded by an excruciating lack of empathy, the real enemy the autonomy of nature and that of the working class and oppressed poor.
Huxley had an apartment in the zoo, which he used, as a showcase for modernist design. In this airless, aesthetic space, scientists, environmentalists, artists, writers like H.G. Wells regularly met to discuss how best to save humanity from environmental, economic and social catastrophe, not seeing they were part of the problem and bringing it about in ways unsuspected by them. Acting in the name of an abstraction, the working class, none were prepared to sacrifice one iota of their elitism or even see it as a problem. (Huxley would refer to Marxism as "The first radical attempt at an evolutionary philosophy" this reasonably accurate reading that seeks to link Marx to Darwin overlooks that human history is punctuated by sudden leaps – revolutions - and that "the emancipation of the working class shall be the task of the working class itself" and which implies the rejection of all political parties and hence the entire state machine. To the likes of Huxley, Wells, Gropius et al, emancipation proceeded by and through the state).
Huxley will long be remembered as a pioneer of "the new synthesis" that combined Darwinism with Mendelian genetics and other branches of biology including paleontology and population studies. In fact it was he who gave this new frontier its name, calling his book on the subject published in 1942, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. A major aspect of population studies is field work and it is to this we must return, 'population' becoming a key word just like 'planning', terms that would, over time, lose their innocence to history as it became apparent both were about the need to keep cross species tabs on subject populations to stop them misbehaving and transgressing the boundaries of acceptable conduct - which is what wildlife did when it began to 'criminally' invade brownfield sites on a mass level from the 1980s onwards. (And it would be severely punished, cut down and butchered like it was an uprising of the people. Indeed more personification than simile, it almost was that, the virtual world coming increasingly to dominate perceptions and a type of homicidal paranoia that projected onto industrial ruins the malign phantoms of past struggles, starting to rampage through local and state power like a mental plague). Population studies that sought to establish the frequency of gene distribution within a given population would unavoidably draw on the pioneering efforts to map the distribution of native flora and fauna. As we have seen, during the 1920s individual bird species would play a preeminent role in this endeavour, the groundbreaking Oxford Census of 1927 extending a bird count to include all species.
Founded in 1921, the Oxford Ornithological Society had come from within the university (where else!) and had been the brainchild of B.W. Tucker, then studying biology under Huxley. He was supported in his mission by Max Nicholson the civil servant in waiting but still only a fledgling, Nicholson having just published a book Birds in England, its subtitle, A criticism of bird protection. In it he would use the increasingly hip term 'ecology' popularised by the botanist Tansley, arguing that a bird should be observed in relation to its habitat, this being an essential step along the road to an effective conservation praxis. The Oxford Census would involve considerable teamwork and as this type of research method progressed, would require a veritable army of volunteers. It would also exacerbate the split between amateur and professional, spotters carrying out the essential spade work for the professional scientist, the former, like all people holding a spade, regarded as an inconsequential muffin. The less demeaning term 'citizen scientist', rather than amateur, was an attempt to flatter the army of volunteers increasingly involved in conservation work that it was a citizens' army of ecos in the making, and, quite possibly, have even come about because of a revolt from within the ranks. However it has done nothing to alter the fact ecology is more on its knees to all manner of professional hierarchies than ever before, the model of unquestioning obedience undoubtedly that of the military. The submission the eco movement has generated is obviously the reason why a form of eco national service is being considered. Yet the disillusioned army of deserters this appalling development has produced is rapidly turning out to be the most numerous category of eco of all, though, like all deserters, reluctant to show their face and combine into the deadly fighting force they have the potential to become.
At the time none of this was apparent, the ideology proclaiming that without the collecting and collating of the data made possible by these innovative field organisations and administrative methods, new lines of inquiry were simply not possible and nor would conservation progress. Subsumed within the collective, the influence of the amateur naturalist, it was argued, was augmented rather than diminished, similar sentiments spreading right across the industrialised world as the individual autonomy of craft production lost out to the assembly line. Industrial scale field surveys, it could be said, were a type of countryside manufacture, a programming of nature watching, a kind of wildlife Fordism. Not only would these industrial scale censuses create a labour hierarchy, they would also lead to the establishment of a paid admin staff, university chairs in natural history, up to this point, being the only full time, paid employment within this exclusive field. Natural history was becoming monetized and bureaucratised, thus nurturing the familiar, business-like, committee mentality that is today so widespread and chokes the life out of wildlife groups. In a manner of speaking the scientist is a capitalist proxy in this chain of command, producing, we would argue, a more deadly subservience because the ends were seen as scientific rather than exploitative, the discipline required for such surveys that much more internalised and freely consented to.
From London's Natural History (1945) to The Unnatural History of London (2010)
In the 1945 edition of Fitter's London's Natural History there were 40 colour plates and 43 black and white, taken mainly by Eric Hosking and John Markham, neither of whom were mentioned in the obituaries when he died in 2005. The photos bore such seemingly inconsequential titles as A London stray cat or Two mallards on planks floating in a static water tank in London, or Unusual site of a blackbird's nest, the bird having built a nest at the angle where a horizontal bar meets the vertical of a wrought iron security grill covering a window. Both the photos of mallards and the blackbird suggest some kind of low key, barely perceptible, adaptation was talking place. This was well before the term brownfield site had been coined and which came about in response to the large-scale de-industrialisation that accompanied Thatcher's rise to power. Still there are evocative titles like Waste ground at Bromley-by-Bow gasworks and a particularly fine colour photo by Hoskins titled Sand martin colony in disused sand pit near Barnet by-pass, North Mimms. In the foreground, instead of a standard motif of shattered classical columns, there are discarded, empty oil drums which, if stood one on top of the other.
Suppression of interest in the brownfield experience was to remain the case until Mabey's Unofficial Nature was published in 1973 coinciding with the experiments of Street Farmer. However, by then a slow burning fuse had been lit.....
Mabey's book would, by degrees, acquire a talismanic reputation amongst psychogeographers, an occurrence unique to this country and sufficiently different to the world wide institutionalization of psychogeography to merit further comment, for it shows just what a potent, upsetting, subversive force nature can be in this country, one that seems to possess a power, and life, all of its own. The edgelands that Mabey describes in Unofficial Countryside would come to be viewed as remarkable entities in themselves, Mabey unfortunately unable to comprehend what he had unleashed, his criticisms of this development well wide of the mark and driving him back into the countryside to lead the stereotypical life of a country gent. Sadly his unsolicited 'followers' could never go beyond surface appearances, none able to deepen their rudimentary appreciation of the natural riches to be invariably found on these 'unpromising' sites which became in their eyes something to be viewed: museums without walls. Thus none were in the least responsive to the amazing entomological discoveries at the mouth of the Thames, though they would go into meaningless poetic raptures over the area's topographical marvels, meaningless because it remains fixated on these marvels. Hence it becomes just another empty, worthless aesthetic, something to be written about and displayed but never developed in a genuinely subversive direction and made part of a world-changing praxis.
In 2010, a TV programme, The Unnatural History of London (obviously a word play on Fitter's book) was shown which was also in some ways a throwback to Fitter's world of the late 1940s although with the addition of more profound perceptions. It explores a world where nothing is quite natural and a wild sub-culture is the outcome as London has become a magical wilderness full of opportunity; a real urban jungle. The following is a précis of the programme's contents......
For fallow deer manicured lawns are irresistible. There are seals in an old coal dock outside Billingsgate and fish porters feed the seals producing an unlikely relationship with Billingsgate fish porters. For those who care to look London is full of surprises.
Some creatures have adapted brilliantly like the feral pigeon and Lisa a photographer has crawled around London suburbs for six years finding out pigeons now use roads to navigate. She now believes the character of pigeons are defined by neighborhoods they live in, thus pigeons are slightly more edgy south of the River Thames, etc.
The peregrine falcon is a phenomenon of the last 19 years. It would appear that birders know the wild places of our cities the best noting the evolution of wild sub-culture as deviant behavior is more acceptable than elsewhere e.g. with herons that nest on the ground. One birder even bought a house next to a huge landfill site to watch the 15,000 gulls feed causing him to reflect that in time people will wonder why they are called herring gulls considering herring is the last food to be found here.
We have a need for a conversation with nature, to find a solace that can bring extraordinary joy. Do the 'new' 'travelling' pigeons that commute between platforms on the London underground point to a new stage in evolution? A woman exclaims "Oh my god" on seeing a pelican eating a pigeon instead of a fish and on London's cliff faces of high rise, mallards are nesting on stratospheric balconies reaching to the skies.
London has become home to human animal and plant migrants, having 6000 parakeets and the newly acquired Norwegian brown rat grows to twice the size of its relatives back home. The European yellow tail scorpion now has three separate colonies some several 1000 strong and Crayfish hideaway in old brick work. Moreover, there are four species of crayfish all invasive. The Turkish crayfish in the Serpentine has now been replaced by signal crayfish having killed most of the white claw crayfish.
A new order is being established and life in the city can be easier than in the countryside especially for mammals. Even badgers in the city may like the fox abandon its country roots and chose city life and we like these glimpses of an untamed world as we contact a world not shaped by human hand. Moreover, our human lives can change irrevocably having entered the beginnings of a new world......
Taking a cue from The Unnatural History of London why not let the imagination let rip even further? On landscapes of contempt natures deviant behavior is more acceptable than elsewhere which is also the case with human beings....... What happens to nature left to fend for itself – and innovate - in the city parallels to an astonishing degree what can happen to human beings in a similar skewed situation evolving their own cultures, or more nearly, sub-cultures, equally stigmatized under the mantra of the 'deviant' breaking away from acceptable modes of daily living, freeing themselves up in the process. Since the 1950s-60s university sociology departments have been packed to the gills with one usually high-falutin explanation after another 'investigating' mods & rockers, hippies, counter-culture in general, punks and goths, etc. So is it surprising that nature and ourselves are all in this together? True speculation like this may seem tenuous, lacking in anything like sufficient scientific clarity though a bit of intelligent surmising doesn't come amiss. What is a definite certainty and a big one at that, is the ire of an establishment disturbed by all these manifestations quickly look for ways of suppressing movements they feel threatened by suppressing their most disturbing characteristics. At all costs any attempt at autonomy must be nipped in the bud whether (it would seem) of human, mammal, or invertebrate make-up. This counter assault is more than ever becoming a total assault.
Inevitably, much of the experimentation in and around landscapes of contempt or sites of industrial dereliction is about control, much of it centered in northern England because here were many more such places than in the south of the country. This experiment was more the product – and outcome – of a seemingly ever expanding neo-liberalism giving a big boost by Big Bang and the financial deregulation of the City of London as great swaths of industry were closed down or exported elsewhere in the world where wage costs were much lower. Once an insurgent working class had been defeated, a collectivized working class living in more or less, clearly defined communities was then vanquished along with strikes and more spontaneous rebellions that often enough, had turned the faces of the ruling class pale with fear. Their meaning, their example, essentially their hope, had to gotten rid of forever, no more so than on a visual level as an array of 'educated' urban designers slowly materialized putting in the place of liquidated, visually run-down, welcomely humdrum communities, endless vistas of faux landscapes, images of a chocolate box, quintessentially bucolic, olde Englande that only ever existed in fantasy but was a perfect representation of the advertisers lying sales pitch.....
Sheffield University bears the heaviest responsibility for the transmogrification of industrial dereliction and brownfield sites into anodyne, 'ecologically sustainable', parkland. The bourgeoisification of industrial waste and the enormous loss of wildlife that invariably attends it, receives its greatest impetus from the pit spoil heap makeovers of the early noughties. Not one conservationist body protests; indeed they welcome the makeovers, and in the case of Butterfly Conservation actively participate in the destruction of brownfield invertebrates whilst continuing to proudly claim to be the world's biggest invertebrate society. This is a watershed moment in Britain's conservationist movement and sets the pattern for what happens subsequently, both as regards e.g. the Olympic park, in London's Stratford and in Briggate, Shipley (and possibly countless other places we know nothing about, as yet). This act of stupendous eco vandalism is passed over in total silence and rational protest marginalised, the lone voice that cries out, all that's now left of the wilderness. As of this moment, schizophreneze is increasingly the norm and destruction becomes conservation, death, life - and debt, credit worthiness, and bust, boom. Ecology and economics were never so intertwined - and upside down, each the perfect mirror of a topsy-turvy world.
It is in Sheffield where the term "urban common" is first popularized by, of all people, Richard Mabey in his book Flora Britannica (1998) when out casting his eye over the wastelands left by deindustrialization either side of the River Don in Attercliffe. The Meadowhall Shopping Centre is still, just to say, a mote in the developer's eye. There are striking photos of Japanese Rose with the famous twin cooling towers in the background and of the fig trees by the side of the Don. Mabey even mentions talking to a miner who remembers his father purchasing Japanese knotweed and how other miners and friends were invited round to marvel at it. However that's as far as it goes though Mabey does acknowledge that his précis of the plant communities of Britain's major cities is taken from the work of Oliver Gilbert who had made a study of how vegetation varies from city to city. More than anything Gilbert was the first to recognize that modern cities are the most bio-diverse area of all and which is the axiomatic theme of these webs.
He also just happened to teach landscape ecology in Sheffield University from 1968 to 2000 gaining a PhD in botany at Newcastle University. Our paths may well have crossed during the Icteric days, we also groping our way to an urban ecology - an insurrectionary urban ecology - requiring the abolition of the wages system and the state, and that would profoundly differ from the pro business direction landscaping would take in Sheffield even as Icteric (and its infinitely more radical consequences) left its ineradicable mark on the Geography Dept in Newcastle University. Indeed, at the time botany students would ask us about our nature experiments which we tried to explain in greater detail as best we could and was Gilbert one of them? Tantalizingly, that we'll never know! Such was the underground influence of this briefest, and loosest, of avant-garde groupings.
However a weak-kneed psychogeography would bypass Sheffield University's Landscape Dept, an omission that goes some way to explaining the lack of even a token sympathy for sites of industrial dereliction and that would profoundly impact upon the Landscape Dept nauseating claims that it is able to create "ecologically-tuned urban landscapes". Retiring from teaching in 2000, the increasingly vexed question of the business university was never an issue for Oliver Gilbert. His belief in academic freedom was absolute and this remote, amiable academic naively continued to insist on respecting the genius loci of place, its soils, vegetation etc. but, in one way or another, his entire life echoed to the urban reverb, his chief subject of study, lichens, also an index of industrial pollution. His Newcastle Phd thesis, entitled Biological Indicators of Air Pollution, was published in the year of revolution (1968) and would contribute to the growing environmental debate.
Many of Gilbert's students would become practicing landscape architects and after the example of the pit spoil makeovers such nancy concepts as genius loci would go straight out of the window, even though it was thought Gilbert's 'pioneering' approach must result in an improvement on Nan Fairbrother's New Lives New Landscapes, Gilbert's dictum suggests the future of landscaping both large and small would be increasingly sensitive to the spirit of place and to the nature it contained. Nothing could have been further from the truth and only a re-commoning can do this, collective practices which will inevitable sweep away the profession of landscape architect. We had become convinced of this by the summer of 1967, the thought never entering our heads that the avant-garde revolt we had so thoroughly rejected would have such reactionary traction and that is still playing itself out on the Briggate site in Shipley, though in a barely recognizable way. However, no university dept will ever abolish itself and so we are left with a situation where a domesticating aesthetics increasingly comes to dominate an anarcho nature.
Practical considerations were continually creeping upon Gilbert, his Habitat Creation and Repair (1998) appearing around the same time as plans were being drawn up for the appalling pit spoil heap makeovers and which would totally change the face of practical ecology in this country. In the book, Gilbert mentions participating in a habitat creating, amenity park next to Sheffield Airport. Though Sheffield City Council declared it a success, Gilbert judged it a failure, mainly frustrated by the fact that there had been no body in overall control of the makeover. This candid admission marked the end of a more independent, era in which self-criticism would not be thought a sign of weakness but of strength. Henceforth the tone would become increasingly authoritarian and self-serving, eco-hype turning from a trickle into a flood. (In fact Tinsley Park and the abutting mound of Catcliffe, hosts thriving Dingy Skipper and Brown Argus colonies which cannot be said of the subsequent spoil heap makeovers that resulted in the destruction of countless thousands of Dingy Skippers, and as we said, a fact still past over in total silence by official ecos. Recalling the worst excesses of Stalinism, a lie like this has no need of a secret police to reinforce it; rather it is dependent on a refusal to personally test reality and a craven subservience to hierarchies).
But first why not put down here our experiences of Ollie Gilbert's creations on the old spoil heaps of Catcliffe. Though, Gilbert was disappointed with the outcome Catcliffe is a veritable wonder in comparison to what was to follow.....
June 2006: Catcliffe, Sheffield, South Yorks
We wondered for two hours cold and forlorn on Catcliffe Hill thinking the day was a write-off and cursing the weather reporters who had predicted a fine day. Then out came the sun and I was the first to see a Dingy Skipper with Catcliffe Airport in the background. This is the most unusual colony of Dingy Skippers I have ever encountered. It seems to me it is not a settled colony and different strategies are being tried out by the Dingy Skippers.
For a start it was almost impossible to get near the Dingies before they would be off then most surprisingly of all, never to return. The one's on the path skirting the brow of Catcliffe overlooking the airport and Outo Kumpu steel works would vault the small hawthorn hedges and disappear into a field in which there was a peppering of trefoil but which also contained two highland cattle and their calves.
Despite waiting up to forty minutes these Dingy Skippers would not reappear as if they had forgotten their territorial instincts or forgone their territorial instincts assuming, of course, that they were males. Every one we encountered was like this and that was fifty or so – and some must have been females. All were the same baring one the other side of the path near the airport, which did behave territorially. Trying to get photographs of them was near on impossible, I wanted background, industrial background but none would oblige flying off after barely three or four seconds.
How long have the Dingies been here, several years? Or are they behaving like all colonisers of new territory; that is in an unsure and unpredictable fashion. We barely covered a third of Catcliffe Hill but we found them wherever we went eventually. Will this colony prove to have a character of its own? Will it finally settle down and behave in a more normal way? I feel my filming was jagged and un-noteworthy but on reflection just to present it like it is gives an idea of the uniqueness of the colony and the unevenness of the filming, the jolts and camera shake suggestive of the skippers' slightly aberrant behaviour. Camera shake and a shaky colony yet to really put down roots.
Coming off Catcliffe, in addition to seeing a further Dingy we chanced upon a Brown Argus, an ab: albunnalata, which was extraordinary. This is the closest to a city centre, certainly a northern city centre; the Brown Argus has ever been photographed. Another first!
Walking back across Attercliffe Common crossing a footbridge over the canal and railway near the Hallam FM media building, David startled a Dingy Skipper. Is the Dingy about to take Sheffield penetrating its many sites of industrial dereliction or will the whole place get spruced up, hoovered of all bird's foot trefoil and industrial dereliction and become a mere image of nature with pollution tolerant plants, variegated road side verges etc?
We met a park ranger on Catcliffe. He thought the dire makeover of pit spoil heaps like at Kiveton was a result of competing interests with some losing out while some others had their way. A nice guy but I very much doubt that is the case. A faux concept of nature imposed itself and there was little contestation, probably none!
There were very few people on Catcliffe. As a country park it is underdeveloped and under used. Kiveton on the contrary appears to be much used. We met a Pakistani taxi driver who was totally bemused by the highland cattle. He was chiefly worried about their exposure to the elements - were they warm in winter for example? In fact in reality the problem is how to keep them cool – remember he had come from a warm country! Catcliffe attracts nutters. It is a place of encounters as indeed Kiveton Park once was. Now the latter is no more than an anodyne park; a place for a Sunday morning stroll where desperate mothers can wheel their babies around pretending everything is all OK.
At Catcliffe a couple in their forties passed hand in hand, she was lovely and said hello. Catcliffe is a place for genuine love. They sat on a seat overlooking industrial Sheffield then returned the way they came.
Notebook 2006: Stuart Wise
Before proceeding further it would seem sensible here to give a broad outline of some of Gilbert's ideas in Habitat Creation and Repair (1997). Ollie Gilbert begins with an introduction on what he refers to as "the ethics of creation". Already we baulk: ethics, what do ethics have to do with nature? An example is given of Oxleas Wood in south London which is a large ancient oak wood that lay on the proposed route of a major road. The Dept of Transport (DoT) proposed creating a form of "exchange land". Formerly habitat creation promises carried weight against environmental objections but in case of ancient woodland, the claim that re-vegetation rehabilitation, or re-creation can restore value can be strongly contested (Gilbert would be massively anti Natural England) as there are too many unknowns. Even if very high level of habitat creation had been achieved Oxleas Wood would have lost something: it would no longer be a natural feature. Taking a notion from aesthetics the DoT was proposing that a fake was equivalent to the real thing. For Gilbert fakes lack the value of the genuine article. We value parts of our environment because they are natural to a high degree and have evolved over many decades if not centuries. Origin and evolution are important; continuity has been lost and with it, the ability of the community to explain itself.
Sites such as ancient woodland are enjoyable as more than pretty scenery; ecological knowledge transforms them into an enthralling experience just as (according to Gilbert) knowledge of art history or painting techniques sharpens aesthetic evaluation.
Oxleas Wood went to a public inquiry and finally it was ruled that a substitute would have caused a severe loss of amenity to users of the wood (and) was central to the defeat of the DoT's proposals.
The three points: naturalness, continuity and complexity.
One of Gilbert's main concerns was the role of habitat creation and he was of the opinion that habitat creation still has an enormous role to play in areas where the natural environment has already been extensively damaged by deforestation, agriculture, land drainage, mineral extraction or civil engineering projects, which included spoil heaps.
On top of this, restoration in Western Europe has tended to be geared more toward reinstating the conditions prevailing in the cultural landscape of fifty to one hundred years ago, before the intensification of agriculture, widespread aforestation, and the post war surge in habitat destruction caused by drainage, ploughing, hedgerow clearance and urban development
The potential for habitat creation is prodigious owing to the huge habitat losses experienced in recent decades (and a fact recognized by the Nature Conservancy Council in 1984). A little later and the findings of the 1990 countryside survey pointed to a failure of current conservation policies, meaning small isolated sites have no buffering capacity - and this can lead to losses from which they are unlikely to recover.
Cambridgeshire County Council was alarmed at the decline and increasing blandness of the local countryside, a mid 1990s survey showing a high level of activity demonstrating that habitat creation was becoming central to the activities of planners, landscape architects and conservationists.
Oliver Gilbert refers to this as "designer habitat" a method involving complete landscaping to a determined design. He goes on to say that habitat creation needs to be distinguished from habitat restoration and often altering the management regime is all that is required. Thus Habitat Creation and Repair is concerned primarily with habitat creation on sites that are bare or support a single community such as an arable field or a site where extensive earth moving has taken place: all such sites have a low conservation interest (Gilbert could be referring to spoil heaps here). By definition, habitat creation involves creating a dynamic community of interacting plants and animals that should increase in diversity over time. Gilbert wanted to see more pollarded willows by the side of fens as they "add character to the flat landscape", though finally this character is increasingly created through the grandstanding of art and Gilbert points the way to a more complete aestheticization to follow. Finally its worth remembering Gilbert was the first to recognize that modern cities are the most bio-diverse area of all and need we remind you yet again, the axiomatic theme of these webs.
Dunnett / Lerner / Canning and a reconstructed faux Olde England
Worse, much worse was to follow with Nigel Dunnett and Ursula (Urban River Corridors of Sustainable Living Agendas). Dunnett is of course a Sheffield University man having close relations with Ursula, the nexus, along with Sustrans, which destroyed that amazing site of bio-diversity re the post-industrial gorge through which the splendidly stinking Bradford Beck runs in Shipley. They all link up.
Nigel Dunnett is Professor of Planting Design and Vegetation Technology at Sheffield University. He is also a director of the Green Roof Centre also founded by the University of Sheffield together with four surrounding local authorities, Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield and Rotherham. There are now 75 green roofs in Sheffield, Dunnett saying "My work revolves around innovative approaches to planting design and the integration of ecology and horticulture to achieve low input, dynamic, diverse, ecologically tuned designed landscape on small and large scale. He sees "Planting as an art form, ecologically tuned, aesthetically aware. Planting as an essential in creating healthy cities and livable places. "In my work I aim to move the consideration of planting design and landscape horticulture from a largely cosmetic decorative ad functional role, to one that is also central to the discourse of how to address the major problem of climate change ad sustainability" What else can one say but SHIT, SHIT, SHIT!
Dunnett has written several books among which are Dynamic Landscape: Ecology, Design and Management of Urban Naturalistic Vegetation (Routledge 2003) and Planting green roofs and living walls: (Timber Press 2008). His 'natural' design work is copious having through his Design and Consultancy business lain out, Chelsea Flower Shows, rain gardens and "pictorial meadows" as well as the Olympic Park in London. Yes, he is into the art / nature business big time; the bottom line being that it is all about owning your own home and climbing the property ladder followed by a planned garden display of requisite nature aesthetic. In this designer stew, nature is to have no autonomy and the inhabitants must be obediently much the same i.e. slave-like, unquestioning artistic consumers. Imperiously the garden will contain all the must have accoutrements like halogen patio heaters, lawns, lawns and lawns, balconies upon balconies, themes upon themes....decking upon decking. A modus vivendi where Manley Hopkins, "Oh for the weeds and wilderness yet" has been properly manicured into oblivion. Dunnett the man loves a bank – no (you silly fool) not a grassy bank with a few nettles – but a REAL bank like the Royal Bank of Canada arting up - in a faux primitive manner - the London Wetlands Centre. The man really loves his art especially of all people, the ridiculous, vacuous op artist Bridget Riley so attacked by the anti art subversives of the late 1960s! Dunnett is into abstract art as 'nature', a form of conservation fauvism when not a conservative fauvist. Vlaminck (a genuine enough fauvist) once said he wanted "to burn down the Louvre with my cobalt's." Can you imagine Dunnett saying anything remotely aggressively radical or direct? Instead, on his knees to the powers that be, he regularly sicks-up spiel like the following: "So you can design conceptually and it can be done very successfully, but if it isn't glued with some form of reality or theory or background knowledge, and all there is present is a concept then that's how it will stay. I think it's like being an artist...." etc, etc. And so it goes on and on and on .....
The quote below is from Bradford's T&A, Nov 20th 2012
"The Aire Valley Rivers Trust is devising a management plan to improve 11km beck as it works towards targets set by the European water framework directive which aims to clean up and help protect water courses with a focus on ecology. These things are not funded and because of the circumstances we live in now with public funding becoming ever smaller we have to be very creative in the way these things get to be funded. The plans for the next phase include a renaturalisation scheme which would consider bringing sections of the beck to a more natural state and a scheme of information, interpretation and sognage which could help identify where the becks are, explain their history and remove old contamination signs." (Canning)
Elsewhere the project could develop a love your river initiative, introducing litterpicks and waterway and tributary protection along with a scheme to develop nature trails along the beck".
Dunnet's colleague in Sheffield University is Prof' David Lerner, the Consortium Director of Ursula. Under the pretext of scientific investigation and clean rivers this organization, when all is said and done, is also about urban gentrification and a counterpart to Dunnett's projects. This consortium includes Defra and English Partnerships who wrecked the outstanding, developing natural beauty of the Yorkshire colliery spoilheaps. Among the so-called "Friends of Bradford Beck" Bradford University Geography Dept is also involved in the consortium though there's no academically recuperated psychogeography here merely it would seem a collection of smiling psychos if the example of [Un]Lerner's choir under the Shipley station bridges in mid 2013 is anything to go eventing a kind of 'churchy' happening that is now on U Tube after having celebrated a "wildlife improvement" becknik around July 2013 under the crag on a lawned lower beck bankside on Valley Rd having weeks previously assisted in clear felling one of the greatest wildlife sites in northern England!!!! This becknik was merely a front for a litter-pick (i.e. removing all traces of industrial detritus like palettes etc. or an old tyre among a small heap of old sawn wood and just the type of 'industrial' habitat small mammals' love. The point is these leftovers were removed because they could remind of us of all those nasty working class people that made up Bradford). As previously mentioned, Ursula is also part of a Defra that has now really taken on board GM foods Monsanto big time, which is now applying chemical round-up everywhere seeing the giant company has been absolved of all possible future law suits by a recent edict enacted by the American Congress. Elsewhere Ursula proclaims: "Even a highly modified urban river can become a vibrant element in the urban landscape, providing open-space and recreational benefits, along with some hint of wildness in the city." Prof' Lerner, along with three other achingly cornball academics, personally had the following to say in Developing Urban Riversides: "Following years of neglect, urban river corridors are now prime targets for redevelopment, offering the opportunity to create mixed use, high-density and high quality environment [providing] economic benefits to society..... a tool for sustainable design." In plain language this means Ursula loves that favourite buzz word of neo-liberalism 'regeneration' and hates derelict, brownfield sites only seeing in them arenas "awaiting new development". So is this the blueprint for the mouth of the Bradford Beck along with sticking some goddamned awful water sculpture into the weirs Prof' Lerner knows so much about assisting maybe "eel productivity" in an "integrated catchment management" resorting to the language these specialists love so much sounding like scribblers writing in the style of an updated, more aestheticised productivist manifesto?
In practice Prof Lerner (an "environmental engineer" as he describes himself) and manager project officer Mike Canning for Bradford Becks - as we've previously stated – are part of the Aire Rivers Trust. In many ways this Trust is the placeman's / woman's support for Deputy PM's, Nick Clegg's Aire Valley Regeneration Scheme which hopes to stimulate development related to retailing and housing with warehousing and industry coming a poor second from Keighley down through Bradford and Leeds to the point where the Aire meets the River Calder near to the former pit town of Castleford. As the T & A reporter added, "The trust wants the becks to be part of Bradford's regeneration plan" and Canning's partner in crime, Prof Barney Lerner added in the same article that, "other towns throughout the world have found that re-naturalising their rivers and making them visible and accessible has increased visitor numbers, reduced anti-social behaviour and raised property values" [our emphasis]. These organisations are all inter-linked even in partnership with Urbo, a property development and investment company with Sustrans as the lead partner. As for the Friends of Bradford Beck yes they desire Bradford's regeneration but one might well ask what regeneration? Well nothing other than property, retailing and the art market despite the fact that Mike Canning has even perused the Dialectical Butterflies web and was impressed!
In retrospect what can be said about the Aire Rivers Trust is that in all essentials it isn't an independent, scientific outfit but an increasingly heavily ideological body desperate finally to get the economy moving again six years after the banking crisis of 2007-8 and that is the essence of the "regeneration" envisaged. Starkly what this means in practise is "we want our bubble back" but with a few eco frills now thrown in for good measure and little more than the bland landscaping that arrived in the mass suburban extension post the second world war and initially critiqued by Henri Lefebvre. This is the bottom line of Canning's notions of a banalised 'wilding' the latter a phrase he sometimes also resorts to. To achieve this first and foremost the system must try and put the humpty dumpty of fictive capital back together again whatever the cost. Greedily they latch onto any pie-in-the-sky project; any promo that suggests this can be done. Essentially this means more neo-housing fitting in neatly with the government's sub-prime mortgage entitlements which in practise can only mean a large Ponzi scheme hiding behind the even vaster Ponzi scheme of a "narcissists buy-out" engineered by the world's stock markets thriving on the deadly illusion that a substantial capitalist boom is in the offing. It isn't but this is the essential perspective that lurks behind the entire fine sounding, bland and 'reasonable' statements that the Aire Rivers Trust comes out with. In reality it will all end in a momentous crash, part and parcel of the increasingly lethal shocks capitalism has in store for us as it enters the stage of terminal decline. Rather than reducing debt it will add to it, as for certain there is no prospect of a 'healthy' revalorisation on the horizon as all that was economically relatively sound and solid melts into even greater insubstantiality. More than ever the future is either barbarism or total social revolution....... official ecos whether they know it or not are for the former and we are more and more clearly on the side of the latter.
Basically the buffoons who staff these eco developmental organisations are prejudiced against industrial dereliction because they are prejudiced against industry per se and want to see all kinds of down and dirty manufacture swept away forever along with its former rebellious inhabitants plus its more modern counterparts; those that are now designated by the "chavs" slur, the moment when the salt of the earth has become the scum of the earth! Whatever, their perspective falls in line with the trajectory of a now updated old English longing for neo-feudalism complete with neo-serfs and churls on their knees to a neo faux Lords of the Manor class, as austerity imposed on the poor deepens. It's a syndrome based on an eternity of finance capital, endless post-modernist housing bubbles and super deluxe shopping malls all kitted out with a strange mix of plutocracy replete with whiffs of Stalinism, signified by massive cover-ups and an immense air brushing out of relevant facts and history. These official bureaucratic ecos are collectively covering up the appalling destruction of rich, autonomous nature giving way to a denuded park or house garden lawning imposed everywhere though somewhat allowed to grow a little awry having been given a light touch La Boehme; Ideal Home mag equalling Ideal Nature. For these arseholes nature has to be anaemic or not be at all, ironically at the moment real nature is beginning to take its biggest revenge in the history of the human species. It could even be said these designer nature bureaucrats are possibly against a green industrial revolution too, or rather, only want one which is firmly embedded in capitalist paradigms.
Wilding in living, communal space outside of all official initiatives seems to be (as yet) practiced sparingly in these islands and we know of few who have engaged in this practice. The wilding experiments of Nik Holliman (Principia Dialectica) on a largish Peabody estate in west London seems to beone of the few exceptions. Interestingly his experiences and tribulations almost to the last removed stone or clod match ours to a tee as parks officialdom hit on everything he put in the ground; their policed gardeners unfailing in seeing in everything different a supreme threat, nay, even a possible terrorist threat that must be liquidated immediately.
Of course the eco developmental organisations do come up with some facts that are indisputable. For instance the Briggate site is undoubtedly contaminated but how much of a risk does asbestos pose if left undisturbed and no one is cutting, milling or moving it in any way? Bradford's industrial past, particularly its dyeing industry has left a very poisoned legacy indeed and we were not opposed to the closing of allotments on Health and Safety grounds as happened in Frizinghall, immediately upriver from Briggate.
Despite what locals say, indignant at having their allotments taken from them, we, and most other people, would not like to eat vegetables grown on seriously contaminated soils for any length of time. However regarding the Briggate site, we believe Health and Safety is being used to vanquish everything that is unique about the site and, by the same token, in Bradford also, in the hope this 'god forsaken' city will eventually come to look like Ilkley - and have a cultural reputation to match, the mere mention of Ilkley conjuring up an image of natural beauty. In fact, as we keep repeating here like a jazz riff, there was more bio diversity on the area occupied by the Briggate site than on any equivalent area around Ilkley, including the whole of Ilkley Moor.
FINALLY ALL WE HAVE TO SAY TO THESE SHITTY SURBANITES WHO LIVE THE MOST PHILISTINE OF DAILY LIVES IS: get real, get imaginative, resign from jobsworths careers, and find some self respect...
The following was initially an almost verbatim record scribbled down by Stuart Wise in a notebook immediately after having naively attended a talk given by Michael Canning, a so-called ecologist from the Aire Rivers Trust and a member of the Friends of Bradford Becks at a Bradford Urban Wildlife Group venue in late 2012. Canning's theme was the Bradford Beck.....
(Here and there a few comments have since been added)
"Canning was obviously learned (having identified six bees along the course of the Bradford Beck, though believing there were others) but his science was I maintain, compromised by his official position and therefore not value free. He had little feeling for sites of industrial dereliction and was unable to grasp just how superlatively nature rich they could be, far outclassing more conventional nature reserves. He was firmly of the opinion dereliction was not just an eyesore but almost a moral hazard needing to be "purged" rather than just swept clean of fly tipping and detritus and then rinsed of heavy metal contamination. His voice breaking with emotion, he described a projected image of a heap of old tyres, now half overgrown with vegetation, as "disgusting". However to me they represented a possibility, the following image (which he again put through the slde projector) showing the place as it now looked with not one tyre anywhere to be seen. The audience unfortunately cooed their approval. I didn't. With a sinking heart and wondering what would it take to open people's eyes to the beauty of dereliction, to me not only was the second image less visually stimulating than the first but also a step backwards in terms of habitat creation. I have made a point of seeding the eyeless centres of the heaped tyres now morphing into lugubrious half buried rubber serpents on the Briggate site, not just because they could eventually look striking (thereby preventing their removal in the event of an all out "ecological" blitz on 'rubbish') but also because I have found the tyres provide shelter from excessive heat and downpours. Will the plants that the tyres are husbanding turn out to be particularly favoured by the butterflies, especially the Brown Argus, whose numbers I want to increase? All I know is that I will never forget watching several Dingy Skippers cavort around an enormous abandoned dumper tyre on Penistone station in South Yorkshire. Not only was this tyre the butterflies perch and rendezvous of choice, it was also a pit stop for a couple of burnet caterpillars that stayed motionless, soaking up the sun, all the while I was there. And then there were the rubber foothills of tyres that hosted flocks of seagulls and several families of foxes near Pitsea close to the mouth of the Thames. -----------and so on---------but still the majority of naturalists and ecologists cling to a deeply conservative, nature idyll of green fields, hedgerows and flowing streams, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary that where there's muck there's nature. For things to really happen, this mindset just has to change and nothing short of an earthquake seems equal to the task.
A failure to grasp the real revolution of modern art and the modern art of revolution also results in ecological failure and Mike Canning was no exception to the rule. At one point he glancingly referred to Jackson Pollock when displaying a power point image of a culvert under construction in Bradford during the early 1960s. In his opinion drip painting was a protest against the unyielding geometries of shuttered concrete which, in this instance, merely hemmed in the beck, thus increasing its destructive potential come a sudden downpour. To have cited Asger Jorn would have been far more to the point and more likely to set in motion a drift that is still burningly relevant to our own times. Pollock inevitably ends up in the museum, a place of cultural containment equivalent to the hemming in of the beck. Jorn is part of a process that ends on the barricades where streams run free. I find it astonishing that ecologists are unable to take this simplest of steps that consist in taking the art out of art history and putting in its place collective creation and the amoral fulminations of nature. This is well and truly where ecologists and us - even partially knowing ecologists - part company. And so the chasm widens when it should be narrowing - and we are obliged to take aim at that other loose end plus retardation - the anesthetization of dereliction by Gormley, Sinclair, Keiller, Meades, etc. and which is nothing more that, an ersatz prelude to its commodification.
It was easy to see that Canning was stuck in a pre critique dark ages. He was a believer not only in the 'new' arid, pristine, litter-free landscaping but also the accompanying neo-architecture as well, fulsomely praising the six stories high Victorian Plaza fronting the Aire waterfront in Shipley, housing the 'new' aspirant, greenwash clientele and no different from the kind of rubbish that hit London's docklands from the 1980s onwards. Concomitantly, he probably also hates all the 'old' York stone, back-to-back streets that characterized industrial, mill-working Bradford. For certain the notion that Bradford could be celebrated as the most creative, installation oriented capital of the UK, in the sense it has broken from art gallery display, would get no traction here! In a sense this invention sparks from Bradford's interminable litter which is also one of its unnamed, crowning glories and as previously stated, Canning HATES litter!
Canning seemed to have a thing about kids stealing cars and bikes and driving them into the beck, a pointless stupid self-destructive act. But not necessarily and there still has to be a bonfire of the jam jars with one million new cars hitting the road every month in China. As for me I would be depressed if these moral garbage collectors were to remove a rusting wreck of a car from the beck, which has taken on a life of its own, transforming almost monthly. This particular car is to be found opposite the copse that marks the side entrance to the M & S garage site on the other side of the Bradford Beck opposite Shipley Stn. To me it has the same status as a reef formed by a shipwreck but has not been romanticised to the same degree because of the promise of treasure. Slowly over the years silt has been deposited on it and plants have begun to cover it like jack by the hedge. It is a delight to see the Orange Tip flutter around this rusting heap and beck-changed car. There does not seem to be an aquatic ecologist who has deemed it worthy to explore the ecological potential of wrecks to see what life they contain and if it could be said for certain that they add to a beck's biodiversity.
I mentioned to Mike Canning how that very day I had visited the bricked in beck opposite the garden centre on Canal Road and crossing the road to marvel at the stone houses that had been constructed on cast iron joists athwart the beck and how I had noticed tansy growing from in-between the stone courses. And that I had also noticed bending down to peer at the rusting RSJ a culvert from which shit was pouring. Hidden from view I only saw it because I was crouching down. Michael Canning declined to answer directly remarking on how differently running water was regarded by Maoris' (he is from New Zealand) who refused to wash in rivers and streams believing it to be a polluting, defiling act. But I have long wondered if this open sewer which is the Bradford Beck is not its saving grace preventing destructive development along its reaches but also providing a fetid insect breeding ground which brings insectivorous birds just as sewage farms do. A sentimentalized 'rigorous' clean up restoring its lost morphology could lead to a loss of bio diversity.
Canning had been a bit of a tearaway as a kid surprising his parents by becoming a scientist. He was able to communicate with disenfranchised delinquent youth mentioning how some became fascinated with the idea of restoring the beck to its rightful place. We certainly have yet to encounter one antagonistic voice raised against our project. But we are more on their level than a member of the Bradford Beck that also has charitable status. We don't ask permission, we do - and give our all which is much respected by the tenants of the Windhill Estate.
On the other hand some of the passive neo-psychgeographers had a delinquent past and unfortunately now see in this possible crucible of future radicalism nothing but a shame leading to the confessions of a penitent. Thus Dimitrou living on his fabulously rich literary bursaries now apologises (according to Wayne Spencer) to those he 'harmed' before getting banged-up in Ashford Remand Centre. Canning seems to be of similar ilk and the tepid dismal BEES (Bradford Educational Ecological Service) recruits such 'bad lads and gals' as free labour on some of the sites it manages, as at the same time it looks down on the likes of us refusing to help in what they regard as our nefarious criminal activities. As for ourselves we still delight in our feral childhood delinquency ever romanticising our escapades like the mills we broke into whereby we turned the woollen bales into impenetrable hidden passages only we could ever navigate and then the tarred-up planks of platelayers huts we gloriously set on fire just for the hell of it, etc. etc, knowing these formative experiences were essential in acquiring not that many years later a subversive and slowly evolving relatively lucid though almost total subversive praxis.
Of course it's also accurate to say that the extreme detritus of mass throwaway consumption is a massive pollutant add-on killing us by degrees and no more so than in a huge almost semi-continental area of the Pacific Ocean known as the Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a silent sea, free of winds, jam-packed and bustling with discombobulated white goods and plastic sheetings morphing into strange shapes on the undulating waves. Whilst all this has tragic consequences for sea life and sea birds in general on terra firma these same white goods and similar detritus gets slowly colonised by an invasive nature transmogrified in the process into vibrant ecological Duchampian readymades. For certain this often ungainly process is far better that what replaces these creative messes, that blanding semi-parkland, tick box makeover 'nature'; that adjunct to the modern suburban housing estate / new town which kills all desire and life in its wake and the death-in-life Canning is so enamoured of."
Apropos of the above, Mike Canning said he would let us know about a meeting discussing these Brownfield sites along the route of the Bradford Beck. He didn't.
The following is an account of a meeting a few years earlier (May 7th 2008) in Bingley with a former chief conservation officer. His candour and recognition of the positive side of industrial dereliction is positively enlightened in comparison to Canning's baneful attitudes mirroring the startling uber-reaction what has taken place since the great economic crises of 2007-8.
(Again these are notes were made by Stuart Wise in a notebook just after the encounter)
"Interestingly the former conservation officer said the biomass of the Leeds/ Liverpool Canal was greater than that of the River Aire. The water is cleaner and constantly replenished, no effluent ever finding its way into the canal. Eels are still to be found in the canals whereas they have all but disappeared from the rivers. Billheads are generally a sign of the health of running waters: they are to be found in abundance under the stones of side flashes at canal locks far more so than in the River Aire. I raised the matter of dumping in rivers - shopping trolleys and stolen cars, etc. He admitted that certain kinds of dumping create favourable habitat for wild life similar in the way sunken ships create artificial reefs and help spawn a diverse marine life. The most bio diverse stretch in all the streams around Keighley - including the River Aire - was to be found in the Worth Beck where it runs behind Morrisons supermarket. It has become a dumping ground which has generally aided wildlife. He thought tyres did not aid wild life but were useful for shoring up river banks. Nature doesn't give a fuck for aesthetics though he would never use such strong language.
When he first started in the Countryside Service in 1982 it had 119 members. They are now down to 9. At the same time the numbers employed in garbage disposal had increased. As a result of the cutbacks he finds he is doing more practical work, like mending fences, which means less time for monitoring wildlife in Bradford. He is now reliant on volunteers, particularly students. His job has undergone a degree of skills dilution and he was obliged to take a turn on the tools leading to a certain bitterness, this type of work was for others to do.
Health and Safety insurance premiums had rocketed. Though he was allowed to use a chain saw, he was unable to do so by himself and had to take along a look-out for safety reasons, I was reminded of the doubling up (the 'ghosties') of the former National Dock Labour Scheme He was particularly irked by the blame and claim culture leading to all manner of Spanish practises. He was not allowed to sell any of the 'meat' he had culled. He had culled 110 Canadian geese, and, though anyone is entitled to kill the bird when in season, they are not allowed to sell the carcasses. So he had been obliged to dispose of the carcasses when people would have willingly paid a fiver for a wild goose which would have been far tastier than a free range goose reared in captive conditions.
He also said Bradford Council owns more wildlife land – and which includes Ilkley Moor - than any other council in England. To go on a grouse shoot will cost you £120 plus an extra £20 for every pheasant shot. A rich person's sport therefore. Shoots are made up mostly of local people and it goes to show how well off the Bradford hinterlands are and why city bureaucrats are so ashamed of its polyglot poor inner city inhabitants."
BRADFORD: Elysium and Thanatos / Hades and Eros
The remarks made here on Mike Canning turned out to be prescient stuff and three months later we were to meet head-on the implacable results of these blatant prejudices and it wasn't from the Windhillies but from the rigid, antediluvian bureaucratic class that rules with such ferocity over Bradford. It's obviously a retarded, backward perspective which Canning supports so truly he knows which side his bread and butter come from. Here in this city a vast chasm exists between the ordinary / extraordinary people down below and perhaps some of the most cretinous, dumb fuck, vicious morons that rule over any remotely similar urban-cum-rural conglomeration in these islands. This unbridgeable chasm has its basis in history from an insurrectionary Chartism in the 1840s that was without parallel anywhere else, through many a desperate strike, on to the formation of the Independent Labour party which in its lifetime was rather more than an opportunist social democratic party having helped form the then revolutionary POUM in the Spanish insurrection of 1936-8, finally ending its days publishing the ultra-leftist Anton Pannekoek's Workers Councils in the late 1940s. Also let's not forget the many riots that have taken place throughout Bradford in the last few decades, some quite breathtaking and others leaving much to be desired, most involving large contingents of Asian youth.
Truly this is a city with real edge combining clever recuperation (like Canning's) walking hand in hand with extremely vicious clampdowns i.e. squatting was virtually outlawed here from the early 1970s onwards and the 2011 Occupy movement was hardly allowed to get off the ground before hit with a ton of legal bricks unlike in say, Sheffield or much farther away in Bristol for example. On a more optimistic note recently don't forget George Galloway and his Respect party came to power in Bradford West because young Asians (especially the women) disobeyed the seemingly all powerful political alliance of the Baradari brotherhood which is very strong in Pakistan. This was unprecedented, even unheard of and was undoubtedly due to the effect of western feminism on young Asian women. Although we in no way support Galloway's NGO-style, parliamentary "communitarian popular front [of] Leftists and Islamists" (David Black) we recognize that his 'victory' was also multi-racial and one cannot underestimate the contribution of often young ex 'middle class' alternatives - many from the south of England – who now live in Bradford because its dirt cheap and where there's no general stigma attached to being penniless and skint.
Amazingly, despite a history of bureaucratic crack downs, alternative sub-cultures were never really eliminated in Bradford and we have great expectations of sudden re-imaginings possibly inspiring stunning initiatives. After all it was only two decades ago that the city was proudly regarded by social libertarians everywhere as the lesbian capital of the UK centered in, of all places, a then free wheeelin' Asian dominated Manningham.
We are still trying to fathom the reasons why Bradford suffers from such low self-esteem and, to compensate, out-conforms, conformity. It is as if it has never overcome the shame of T.S Elliot's wounding observation, "The low on whom assurance sits like the silk hat on a Bradford millionaire." It may help to explain the city's anti-industrialisation fervour and the pathological need to be rid of all reminders of its industrial past. Hence its continued zealous pursuit of regeneration founded on retailing and commercial and domestic property prices (and the anemic nature that accompanies it) when it is obvious that model of development crashed with the crash of 2007 and will never return because of miring the world in a chronic debt overhang which, despite media fantasies about immanent sustainable booms, is getting ever deeper.
Remember there's a yawning, mighty gap between the bureaucratic elite who rule in Bradford and those who suffer much indignity at the sharp end many of whom are extraordinarily clued-in and imaginative always ready to cut to the chase in spontaneous encounter in streets, pubs, buses, etc. Remember too, the often hilarious novel and film, Billy Liar – one of the better examples of the 1950s Angry Young Men phenomena – was based partially in Bradford and one that well surpasses the city's more well known, though dour Room at the Top. The point is Billy Liars' are very familiar characters on West Yorkshire streets, types who are magnetic, intelligent and volatile, living in a permanent imaginative state, reinterpreting almost everything experienced in daily life encounters and therefore hardly liars in any clinical dictionary definition of the term. We've known these people well from the age of eight onwards (beginning unforgettably with a railway porter name of Fred Bains on nearby Ossett station, now, alas gone) giving out joy and oomph off-setting all our essentially vacuous existences. Finally, however it is no longer sufficient that such larger than life characters remain imprisoned in the form of the novel, a genre that had died that death decades previously, this fact alone consigning into relative insignificance whatever insights the Angry Young Men possessed.
On a more city-wide, ambient level – one that a fresh and aware casual visitor to Bradford instantly grasps – is that lack of style among its populace almost as if fashion, that lynchpin of popular consumerism has done a heart by-pass over these rambling, urban seven hills that reminded Engels so much of the topography of Rome. It's as if modernity (including the latter day post modernist variation) never entered into a people no longer knowing how to look or present themselves to the imperious camera. What it does imply is the opening up of a fissure getting ever wider in and against the world of appearances, a fissure through which the remarkable can perhaps make a sudden breakthrough as obstacles crumble into dusty death and identification with the mores of capitalism become more and more tenuous. And who can ever forget that familiar, complex, sometimes exotic body smell on Bradford public transport, a mix of the 1930s plus infinities from ancient times.
However we also must recognize a very dark side running throughout Bradford's unremitting poverty, desperation and despair having produced more than its fair share of psychos and nutters; monstrosities like the Yorkshire Ripper, the Cross Bow Killer and the Hanging Heaton Panther whereby skewed recognition of class, revenge, sexuality, etc. along with the legacy of a fucked-up hell fire Puritanism gone insane has intensified another parallel low self esteem, even eternal shame, so much so, that when such local tales of extreme psychological catastrophe are seized on by the national media, 'ordinary' Bradford people clam-up, hardly able to bring themselves to face unpalatable, even traumatising facts. As for "skewed recognition of class" one has only to consider that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, a council manual worker also took part in the mass wildcat strike of the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9, in a depot based merely yards away from the elite Muslim educational Madrassa where it is claimed the future Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran spent some time in the early 1970s; these two incredibly disparate facts pinpointing the ambient abyss that is the very essence of modern Bradford. Moreover the city gained international attention in January 1989 when a largish demonstration organized a public book burning of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, evoking as the journalist Robert Winder recalled "images of medieval (not to mention Nazi) intolerance." As for ourselves at the time we sadly remarked if only this act had pointed in the direction of a real burning of the books in the sense that Mallarme and early 20th century avant-garde anti artists were inclining towards, catastrophically sensing the entropy invading an everyday life increasingly succumbing to an over plus of cultural banalities expressed in such truths as "the flesh is sad and I've read all the books." However, this act in Bradford was ridiculous; the Satanic Verses little more than a rather vapid re-run of Lautreamont's brilliant Songs of Maldoror. We remained silent. Nonetheless, an ex-gal friend did cut up untidy, bringing out a flyer saying Rushdie's book was a load of boring shit strongly critiquing the role of writer! so what was all the song and dance about?
Recently, a prime time TV programme was unbelievably called, Bradford: City of Dreams when its reality is more that of a mini Iranian statelet of outright repression whereby all tentacles of bureaucracy are marshaled into agreement behind which lies the masked presence of official thuggery. In today's Iran there is a brave Iranian woman street 'artist' who makes wall pieces, which are instantly jet sprayed out, signing herself in English, Black Hand 2014. Obviously her tag comes from ourselves who were the original Black Hand Gang in 1969 yet nearly 50 years later are still receiving similar treatment at the hands of Bradford's substitute ruling elite, a stand-up black comedy / white-skinned Ayatollah act!!!!
A word of caution. Need it be added that the term 'artist' here has to be hemmed-in with obligatory commas? Surely the reason for this is obvious. For nigh on a century what's still referred to as creative in an age when art is dead is merely the brutal response of totalitarian regimes to what is little more than an everyday banality in more highly developed, manipulative economies. Inevitably it follows that status, fame and money (a la say, the trajectory of Russia's Pussy Riot) is the outcome when pro-moed in Europe and America usually given high profile by a coterie of celebrities trying to bring back some authenticity to their jaded images. And didn't the huge Voina (War) penis on the Neva Bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St Petersburg a few years ago also have its origins in those disgraceful, toilet inspired drawings of the Black Hand Gang?
It's also as if these contradictory, even dislocated tendencies cannot be clearly demarcated, always eliding elsewhere; a warp and woof that becomes the essence of Bradford. It could be said – without overdoing dark drama – there's a barely controllable urge to kill in the city, one however that is sufficiently well masked – deep down below - by the sheer geniality and inventiveness of its multi-racial inhabitants generally just to say surviving at the sharp end. We would suggest that the previously mentioned string of vicious serial killers is mimicked in bureaucratic circles by council despots ensconced in City Hall who, knives sharpened, are ever ready to extinguish all different, enlightened initiatives springing up from below, prominent among which is the serial killing of nature – literally nipped in the bud - flourishing in and among its glorious, up and down, rocky topography, a terrain that was rightly eulogised by John Ruskin as untameable.
Throughout 2013-14 we were confronted with a good smack in the mouth from Bradford's insanely vicious ruling cabal as an almost total attack from all and sundry was launched against our potentially communal wilding operations and a praxis anybody could engage in immediately if they so desired. (IT WAS PRECISELY THE LATTER POTENTIAL THAT SO TERRIFIED THE BUREAUCRATS and they had obviously got hold of our RAP and Dialectical Butterflies webs as this was an inflection on 'wilding' that wasn't in the lexicon of the artistic neo-psychogeographers or passive, literary, academic consumers like Macfarlane or statist bureaucrats like George Monbiot. It was a counter insurgency operation with officially sponsored ecos well to the fore ever ready to cover up, excuse and even discreetly encourage fascistic individuals and manoeuvrings which amounted to clandestine involvement in black propaganda of deeds. The latter could only take place because bourgeois law was extensively overruled from the scrapping of planning procedures to the flouting of the legally binding bio-diversity agreements, which the UK has signed up to. All these disparate elements were quickly backed up by the local media in general as each specific dept sustained other's outright lies, web site redactions and generally appalling behaviour. In this thick slime of a bureaucratic stew there were to be no leaks, no whistleblowers, never mind a few half-truths discreetly whispered to fellow conspirators. A bizarre, crazed united front was quickly assembled against us. The local newspaper became full of oblique references to what was happening without of course naming names or pointing to the real crux of this explosive engagement. Though butterflies and insects were massively exterminated at Briggate, the T & A was suddenly lamenting the further loss of endangered butterflies farther afield as good old Bradford's hands remained clean in this respect.
Above: the expensively padlocked gates of Bradford's Gaisby Quarry - without a fence on either side. Locals love to laugh at this unintended installation become apt visual metaphor for Bradford Council's mammoth, stupid inequities