11 November 2012

Green, green grass of home

A young heron fishing at Park Lime Pits last Friday
On Friday, Aiden and I went for a long stroll around Park Lime Pits and Lime Pits Farm. Despite the fact that the Estates team were carrying out a lot of much needed work around the top end of the large pool, it was an incredibly tranquil walk. Looking at the abundance of autumnal colour, leaves falling through the air and finding rest upon the still waters of the pools, I felt privileged to live so close to a place that is largely unknown to the wider world outside of Walsall but that is precious to those who know, use and love the place.

Like many nature reserves in the Black Country, Park Lime Pits has it's origins in the Industrial history of the area. The industry is long gone and in its place nature has reclaimed areas for herself. I really cannot find the right words to describe to you how I feel when I walk around our local woods and nature reserves and especially Park Lime Pits. My spirit is cleansed and renewed and I feel peace. I know that I am not the only one who finds local walks in lovely places an essential in ridding oneself of the stresses and strains of  every day life. A place where I can relax, empty my mind and focus on the simplicity of just stopping and watching nature, enjoying the seasons as they journey into the years of my life. When I can stop to watch a heron fish or a woodpecker hammer, smell the flowers or forage for plums, apples, mushrooms and more, I know that I've found that space in my head that allows me to get through all the dross that sometimes fills my mind and replace it with the beauty of nature.

Following this blog many other local bloggers spoke from the heart too about what our local green spaces, nature reserves, commons, parks and so on meant to them. Brownhills Bob wrote of the sheer diversity of Walsall's wildlife, The Mushroom wrote about the variety of birds at Park Lime Pits, my lovely man talked about what a surprise the nature reserves of Walsall were to him when he moved here and The Plastic Hippo talked of allergies, dog walking and managed to mix a spot of politics into it all, as he does so very well.

It was with a heavy heart that I read of the proposed cuts in the 2013 budget of Walsall Council and that the Parks, Green Spaces and Countryside Services had been heavily targeted with a devastating £400K cut. My mind went back to a blog I wrote over two years ago. It made me feel incredibly sad that my worst fears could be realised on my own doorstep. For me this service may not be a statutory service but it is an essential one and cutting at its roots has dire implications further down the line. How long before we have to close our nature reserves because they are unsafe to walk around? How long after that are they sold to the highest bidder for development or paintball/war games? How long before playgrounds are dismantled due to them becoming too expensive to maintain due to vandalism and other anti-social behaviour? How long before there are no pleasant places in our locality available to all, from young to old to merely sit and enjoy the air, to relax, recharge or even to just watch the world go by? Some of us already have a negative view of our local councillors who have allowed our town centre to decay and crumble under the weight loss of empty shops, have allowed our heritage buildings to be neglected and torched but just how negative do they want us to be, if the one thing that is done well in this borough is also destroyed on their watch? Do they want us to lose all pride in our town and borough? Do they want this on their consciences or do they not care?

Much is being made of difficult choices and local council services never being the same again. Has all the fight left us? Do we really want to be (erroneously) brainwashed into thinking our national debt is on a par with that of Greece and therefore we have no choice; we must accept these cuts and if we don't accept one cut then we have to find something else to snip away? Do we have to lie down and just be so grateful for the crumbs at the table that are the remnants of services we were once proud of but now offer only the basics? Is all that is left for us a thankfulness that services to protect life and limb are now run on but a shoestring? Why can't we make a stand and say no? We want and deserve more than what we are being offered. We are told that all this cutting is so that our children and grandchildren do not have to pay our debts. I don't recall there being any national outcry over the tens of years that we paid off debts incurred because of World War 2. We got on with it because it was part of our duty for a previous generation. Are our children and grandchildren going to thank us for leaving them no green heritage to speak of because we destroyed it in cuts because we didn't pay £10 more council tax? Will our children and grandchildren be left with empty spaces where memories of visits to parks to play on the swings or have a game of football should be?

These are some of the things that I think about and I know I'm not the only one. If I was there wouldn't be people supporting the facebook group I set up or signing the petition to the council. I'm led to understand that I've upset some of our local councillors because I've had the audacity to mass e-mail them all not once but twice because I feel so strongly about this borough wide issue. So be it because after my first e-mail a mere 8 councillors bothered to get in touch with me. After the second a couple more got in touch but not my local tory councillors of Aldridge Central and South. To those who feel grieved and annoyed by my emails and the campaign that I've started and to my local Representatives who cannot be bothered to respond when  someone from their ward gets in touch with them about  a subject as important as this, I say hang your heads in shame. Please continue to bank your ample allowances whilst the borough is laid to waste by your ineptness, ignorance and inability to represent the people of your electorate. I would like to say that the ballot box will be the answer but alas the next elections will come too late on saving our green spaces and countryside services because any statutory redundancy notices will have to be issued at Christmas. I sincerely hope that if those notices are issued that the councillors who are on mute and are allowing this to happen suffer some seasonal digestive discomfort whilst wassailing and enjoying their festivities at Christmastime.

Oh and that £400K countryside park idea announced on Friday that the council is just about to spend thousands embarking upon a feasibility study for? Pray, I ask myself who is going to plan for, manage and maintain this park if you make redundant the staff who would have done so? The Park Fairies? I have an idea (not the only one  should they ask but they don't, regarding finances instead of cuts) it's a very simple one. That £400K exactly matches the sum that the councillors want to cut our service by....do you think they need it spelling out?

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