Monday, 19 October 2015

Great Expectations, Banks Mining open cast and "all the infections that the sun sucks up"

When the escaped convict Magwitch ambushes the boy Pip at the start of Dicken’s Great Expectations he does not just appear on some anonymous street corner or leap out from behind a tree. Instead he looms out of the miasma fog of a Thames estuary salt marsh, more resembling an ancient bog creature than a man, coated in mud, dripping slime to menace the boy who would become his great friend (that's them from David Leary's superb 1946 film). Dicken’s choice of a marsh is no co-incidence. Certain habitats have always had particular associations. Think of a hay meadow for the joys of early summer (Cider with Rosie) or a windswept moor for doomed, gothic romance (Wuthering Heights). Wetlands ooze a particular menace; unruly, unkempt, their inner workings barely visible. They can swallow up a man or women and leave not a trace. Dancing lights lure the unwary to their doom. Diseases rise from their foetid waters. In the Tempest Shakespeare has Caliban curse his vanquisher, Prospero,

“All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him
By inch-meal a disease.”

Then again Shakespeare would know all about the foul airs of bogs and fens since his famous globe theatre was then in unlovely Southwark, a mixture of very dodgy taverns, stinking fish ponds and even stinkier clientele.

One problem with wetlands is that they can be a hard sell, not just existing wetlands but also the possibility of creating new ones, for example managed retreat of the coastline or inland sites designed to hold flood waters. Wetlands provide a wealth of benefits: flood control, food, building materials, mopping up pollution, wildlife and recreation but these may not be obvious, except to specialist visitors such as bird watchers or flood control engineers.  New sites might even risk creating worries by visibly flooding.

The Banks Mining Open Caste proposal includes a wealth of environmental data and an emphasis on restoration, much of it focused on wetlands. Not a hint of Magwitch.

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