Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A Letter from England: October 2015

Around this time of year we generally take a trip to the English Lake District to watch the leaves turn. Autumn paints the forestscape with magnificent blazes of red, yellow and gold, and even if the spectacle does not quite match the glories of New England in the Fall, it more than rewards the effort of making the journey.
A favourite spot of ours is Tarn Hows, where we have enjoyed picnic lunches amid the double vista of the canopy and its image reflected in still water, and where, at ten-years-old, our son was once inspired to describe 'leaves the colour of a dragon's flame.'
I have to say that we found this year's display somewhat disappointing. Everything is behindhand this year and the verdancy of summer lingers on with the leaves merely beginning to hint at the visions  to come. Perhaps it is churlish to complain that the climate which has treated us so gently this year has afforded the woodlands a longer growing season, though the suspicion persists that all is not well in Mother Nature's world.
In a not entirely unconnected matter another loved location in this idyllic quarter of England finds itself at the centre of some controversy. A leaftlet newly circulated by 'Friends of the Earth' bears an image of the picturesque village and lake of Grasmere alongside the injunction: 'Don't let fracking destroy all of this.'  It goes on to assert a range of dire environmental consequences arising from hydraulic fracturing and the chemicals involved in its application: contamination of ground water, atmospheric pollution and increased risk of cancer.
It was pointed out to the disseminators that the minerals beneath the County of Cumbria are for the most part volcanic in nature and therefore contain little in the way of recoverable fuel. The chances of fracking ever taking place in or near to Grasmere approximate to zero.
The defence that '...the picture is illustrative of the sorts of areas which the government is opening up for fracking' might have been a little more convincing were it not for the barrage of sanction about scientific and technical inaccuracies and errors put forth in the pamphlet, followed by several official complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority and the Fundraising Standards Board - official bodies whose functions are self-explanatory.
To discredit the leaflet is not to prove the lack of a valid case against fracking. Rather, it underlines the importance of using valid information in our arguments. Further, it reminds us of the ongoing controversy over the pros and cons of fracking: whether the associated environmental damage and continued burning of fossil fuels can be justified, or whether the risks of shortfalls in our energy supplies before greener resources can be brought to market are acceptable. Which body of opinion will prevail remains to be seen, but decisions will need to be taken soon.
Perhaps Friends of the Earth would have served their case better with a photograph of Tarn Hows, and a caption: 'Autumn is late this year; It's later than you think.'

Post script. 

In the couple of weeks since I posted this letter, the British Forestry Commission has declared that this autumn's colours are the most striking for years. Look from my window now, I am bound to agree. The reason for the spectacular show, it is suggested, is the good weather and growing conditions for trees in the summertime.

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