Dream Island

Wild West Yorkshire, Sunday 19 December 2010

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dream islandWE'D BEEN doing some work on the paths on the Island and we'd all returned to the mainland but I was popping back to pick up something I'd forgotten. Depending on the tide, you can step over rocks as if they were stepping stones from the beach to the Island, although invariably some of the 'stepping stones' are a few inches underwater. For a short time on that late afternoon, I'd have the Island to myself!

archWhen I got to the little cave I noticed an astonishing view that I'd never spotted before of a sea arch, seen through a natural rocky 'window' in the cave wall. I reached into my bag for my camera but before I could take the photograph, I noticed several disconcerting details about the cave.

dream cave

There was a wing mirror fixed to the wall that reflected the scene back on the mainland, only a hundred yards away, of a dreary suburban street; a reminder that the Island isn't as remote as you might wish it to be.

Then there was a droning hum in a corner and I noticed there was some kind of air-conditioning system, so the cave wasn't as primeval as you'd imagine. Next I heard the drone of conversation as a couple of anorak-clad men arrived from the mainland; so the whole point of an island as a place to find solitude was lost. As I moved to let them into the small cave, I noticed that commercialism had arrived on the Island in the form of a table of guide books and gifts for sale.

I was ready to take my photograph but from my new viewpoint at the other side of the table I was puzzled to see that instead of the natural sea-arch, the view framed by the cave's 'window' was of a ruined abbey, very similar to Whitby Abbey.

'The Last Bastion'

one manAs my title indicates this Island was just a place I visited in a dream. I feel that it relates not only to my current frustrations at not being able to get away to wild places but also to my concerns about the loss of the spirit of a place when it is opened up to us all and where man-made features are insidiously inserted into a habitat once reserved for wildlife. At this week's meeting of the Wakefield Naturalists' there was concern about the felling of mature trees around what was once Bretton Lakes nature reserve but which has now been annexed by the very successful Yorkshire Sculpture Park who are in the process of opening it up to everyman - and of course his dog (which is bad news for ground-nesting birds such as the woodcock and shier animals such as badgers, roe deer and, who knows, if we're lucky, returning otters. and his dogDogs shouldn't really be a problem but many people keep them on the lead when there's livestock about but allow their dogs a little freedom to wander and explore when they've left the farmland behind them).

The current felling may be partly due to the health and safety issues arise when you open up a wildlife sanctuary to the public at large; the balance can gradually tip from nature conservation as the prime concern to ensuring a safe and inclusive experience for all visitors. In the management plan for the Lakes, the Sculpture Park characterises the naturalists who formerly managed the reserve as elitist specialists (I can't remember the exact phrase, but that was the gist of it) whereas they see themselves as opening this woodland and lakeside up to all; they see themselves as being inclusive.

Honey-pots and Havens

push chairRather than open up every bit of a nature reserve, I'd argue that access to more sensitive areas should be controlled. You should have a balance of honey-pots and havens to provide both for the bustle of a family day out but also quiet areas to which wildlife can retreat.

In the days before the Sculpture Park took over the Country Park and the Reserve, our naturalists' group would consult with the Country Parks wardens and the Wildlife Trust to arrange special events - a dawn chorus, a fungus foray or an evening bat-watch for example - for parties of children and adults in the lakeside reserve, so everyone had a chance to enjoy the wildlife but without the disturbance that can arise from year round, all day access to all.

batOne of the Nats tells me that the director of the Sculpture Park once attended a reserve management meeting and told them that in his opinion the trouble with Bretton Lakes was that there wasn't enough of interest for visitors walking through the woodlands on the lakeside path!!

Can you imagine having access to trees, sky and lakeside and feeling bored?! But I guess that in the view of a sculpture park director, it must represent a lost opportunity if the public get to walk through natural habitat for 200 yards without coming across an Andy Goldsworthy installation or an Antony Gormley sculpture. Goldsworthy ringfenced a fallen tree at Bretton with a drystone wall while Gormley provided an iron man which perched at the top of a dead tree.

ash tree at BrettonI like trees and I like artwork but I have reservations about seeing the two of them combined. I like a tree to be a tree, without any cultural signposts attached to it. There's enough meaning in it for me already!

A mycologist friend says that she was so drawn to the unusual fungus growing at the foot of a dead tree near the Cascade Bridge that she failed to notice the Antony Gormley figure standing on top of it until she was walking away!

Despite the ongoing success story that is the Sculpture Park, I feel that some of the spirit of the place has been lost. An artist friend who lives in Bretton village added a note to me on her Christmas card:

“I was dismayed to hear the Upper Lake, Bretton, was being opened up to all. It seemed the last bastion . . . I went down at first light in the snow & stood on the Cascade Bridge & looked at the Upper Lake. It was covered with ice & snow on top of that. A fox appeared & nonchalantly crossed and recrossed and pounced in the snow. GREAT!”

Richard Bell, illustrator


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