Playing Fair with our Fields

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold

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Alongside the earliest inklings of spring – when the first buds, chiff chaffs and lawn mowing enthusiasts make themselves known – autumn is my favourite time of year. Those crisp, sunny days with spectrums of ever-changing colours like a fading sunset paint Britain a pretty picture. I get a little obsessed with photographing everything now; I know it’s only a matter of time before I look up and wonder when all the leaves decided to jump for it and full colour became sepia.

I was having one of my ‘autumn appreciation’ walks yesterday afternoon: leaves floating around me like giant golden snowflakes; berried hawthorn hedges with house sparrows quietly flitting; blackbirds rustling rings around me in leaf litter; reddening mature oaks with moving barks of secretive squirrels. The landscape was moving around me, ever so slightly and quietly. A silent movie of autumnal comings and goings.

I was just taking yet another photo of the adjacent SSSI woodland when a flock of a dozen fieldfares flew over the field, along the hedgerow and down into the valley. First of the autumn for me, and it was nice to know they were here.

On this same land the squirrels, hedgehogs, fieldfares, bats and me have got competition. It comes in the form of ‘the UK’s most successful land promoter’: Gladman Homes, Gladman Developments, Gladman Strategic Land or whichever name you choose to call them (I have a few more). I’ve just submitted an objection to a planning application, driven by Gladman, for 195 houses to be built right here on this land.

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Urged by the government to build more houses, we are seeing developments like this crop up all over Britain, and companies like Gladman pouncing on the opportunity to make big money. Gladman has been secretively squirreling away at this for some time. Their single aim is to get planning permissions approved, regardless of the cost to communities, land, wildlife. And so they do things quietly, and gradually. They work hard so that everything is in place, months, perhaps years before a planning application goes in. First they’ll approach the landowner, encourage them to make the public footpath inaccessible with high stiles and to reduce productive management on the land; next they apply for permission to build stables on the land; and then, before you know it and before the local community has had too much time to cotton on, 195 houses please?
We all need somewhere to live and houses have to go somewhere of course but the houses proposed here are looking to fetch over £200,000 each; that’s not the affordable housing I think the government has in mind (although I suppose some have duck houses worth more). The development will benefit few and impact upon many.
It’s unfortunate we have to fight to protect the land and wildlife around us, but it’s the same the world over. And our principal opponent is greed. The community I live in has taken this on with determination. Like the field fares, we’ve flocked together and grown in number. We’ve held meetings, raised funds, raised awareness, gained publicity and written nearly a thousand objections to the council. That spirit, whether you call it Nimbyism or whatever, is surely the only positive outcome of this whole business.

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There are several reasons why this proposal is totally inappropriate, not just for the wildlife, but what gets me is the people like Mr Gladman who are driving these developments: winning planning applications regardless of whom and what they trample on. Why does our land, our homes equate to so much money to others? Should it be allowed that on their first step into a town or village these ‘land promoters’ are looking at selling off land? Similar to the buy-to-let culture in Britain among those who can afford it; this is all about making the rich richer – not about helping the poor find homes. Why should someone’s home be a profit making scheme for someone else?
By the time the squirrels are waking up from their slumber, stuffed and content, and the winter thrushes are thinking of the trip north together, we will know the outcome of this application. I can only hope our fight has proven worthwhile and that I will see the fieldfares visit here yet again.

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