We need hu­man­ity not ra­zor wire...

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - COLUMNISTS -

NEVER doubt the kind­ness of neigh­bours and friends.

In re­cent weeks, moved to some­thing akin to de­spair by the plight of des­per­ate peo­ple flee­ing war zones and ar­riv­ing in what is ef­fec­tively our back yard, I de­cided to stop wring­ing my hands, and work out some prac­ti­cal steps to take.

And I found that, across the UK, and in­deed much of Europe, there is a deep belly roar from the grass roots; peo­ple aghast at what they see in the news, are tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and tak­ing ac­tion.

In Buck­ing­hamshire, this has taken the form of an or­gan­i­sa­tion, ‘Jun­gle Sol­i­dar­ity’, which has sprung up to col­lect much needed items to take to a camp near Calais.

I worry that as soon as I men­tion Calais, some read­ers will think of dis­rupted sum­mer hol­i­days, refugees on train tracks, our over-stretched wel­fare and health sys­tems and so on. Well, there may well be a cor­nu­copia of agen­das out there, but fun­da­men­tally these are des­per­ate, in­di­vid­ual peo­ple who need hu­man­ity, not ra­zor wire.

So Calais. Just a mile out­side the town, there is a refugee camp, home to sev­eral thou­sands of peo­ple who have fled Dar­fur, Afghanistan, Syria and else­where, and now en­dure harsh, ba­sic con­di­tions. One of those ba­sic con­di­tions, thank­fully, is safety. This camp is known at ‘The Jun­gle’.

Many peo­ple there are wait­ing for their asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions in France to be pro­cessed. Oth­ers would like to ap­ply for asy­lum in the UK, how­ever, as we have seen on TV, it is not easy to get across the Chan­nel, but you can­not ap­ply for asy­lum from out­side the coun­try. So for these peo­ple, to live in The Jun­gle is to be in limbo.

At the top of Jun­gle Sol­i­dar­ity’s ne­ces­si­ties’ list last week was food. How ba­sic is that.

So I did a quick email to friends and neigh­bours, say­ing if they cared to do­nate, I would take ev­ery­thing to our near­est col­lec­tion point.

Within hours, a large con­tainer of nu­tri­tious, easy-to-pre­pare food ap­peared on my doorstep, and over the last week, it has just kept com­ing, qui­etly, bit by bit.

I feel proud of my friends, and re­ally hum­bled.

And across Buck­ing­hamshire, churches are col­lect­ing, com­mu­ni­ties are com­ing to­gether, lor­ries are be­ing vol­un­teered, ac­tion is be­ing take – watch out for the com­edy night be­ing hosted by the El­giva on Oc­to­ber 13.

Peo­ple are re­spond­ing to their fel­low hu­mans’ need.

TWO na­tional re­ports Farm­ing Fit for the Fu­ture and Wa­ter Mat­ters pub­lished last week ad­vo­cate the restora­tion of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment to be put at the heart of plans for the fu­ture man­age­ment of farm­land, rivers, lakes and wet­lands in Eng­land.

Here in south Buck­ing­hamshire we’ve al­ready seen the ben­e­fits for wildlife of look­ing af­ter the land near the River Mis­bourne and River Chess, two of the chalk streams that flow off the Chilterns.

The wa­ter vole is a much-loved an­i­mal that many peo­ple re­mem­ber from EH Shep­ard’s il­lus­tra­tions of the char­ac­ter Ratty in The Wind in the Wil­lows. When Ken­neth Gra­hame was writ­ing his chil­dren’s novel about crea­tures of the river bank and wild wood, wa­ter voles were a com­mon sight. Changes in agri­cul­ture dur­ing the 1950s and the ar­rival of Amer­i­can mink wreaked havoc among the na­tion’s wa­ter vole pop­u­la­tions. Wildlife groups called for pro­tec­tion of wa­ter voles and their habi­tats; and in 1996 wa­ter voles were named on the list of 12 pri­or­ity mam­mal species in the UK’s first Bio­di­ver­sity Ac­tion Plan.

In 1998 wa­ter voles’ bur­rows and bank­side habi­tats were in­cluded in an amend­ment to the Wildlife and Coun­try­side Act (1981), to give them fur­ther pro­tec­tion. Later that year the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust set up the UK’s first Wa­ter Vole Re­cov­ery Pro­ject.

Ju­lia Loft­house, BBOWT’s Wa­ter Vole Re­cov­ery Pro­ject of­fi­cer, leads a team of 50 ded­i­cated and trained vol­un­teers who sur­vey wa­ter cour­ses look­ing for signs of wa­ter voles and log­ging in­for­ma­tion onto a cen­tral data­base.

Lo­cal landown­ers are help­ing too, by al­low­ing bank­side veg­e­ta­tion to de­velop with grasses and reeds for wa­ter voles to feed on, and, most im­por­tantly, by mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol­ling Amer­i­can mink. Data gath­ered from the sur­veys dur­ing the last few years shows how small colonies of wa­ter voles have, over time, merged to cre­ate larger pop­u­la­tions on the River Chess and the River Mis­bourne. This could only be achieved with the help of lo­cal farm­ers and landown­ers restor­ing water­side habi­tats.

Find out more about the Wa­ter Vole Re­cov­ery Pro­ject www.bbowt.org. uk/vole.

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