I cannot stop you tearing up the land;
Turn back the clock or stay your heedless hand;
No word of mine can still your crushing wheels;
My flesh and bone no match for your cold steel.
But what I can, I’ll do. And so I lay
This charm upon you and your deeds this day.
From sullied soil, let briar and bramble spring –
Let thistle burn, thorn scratch and nettle sting;
And when the summer sun warms earth and sky,
Come, adders, sharp of fang and cold of eye.
In every vehicle that you blithely ride
Let spiders big as saucers now reside;
And in the cabin where you take your rest
Bid hordes of wicked hornets build their nest.
Then let it rain and churn the clay to mire
To grab and grip and clog each helpless tyre;
And when the cries of rook-bands fill the air
May you hear mocking laughter everywhere.
Now let this doom hang heavy round your necks;
A right reward for him who rips and wrecks
Without regard or care. My rhyme is done.
But not the charm. Its work has just begun.
To my left-brained
Eye and mind
These fields should now
Be an abomination;
No discipline by plough
Or corrective cultivation.
A shameful parade
Of gleeful weeds appears;
Led by a brigade
Of over-eager volunteers.
But as I look around
All that I can see
Is my native ground
As it’s meant to be.
The fields close to our home have been left uncultivated this year and the weeds – and we – are making the most of it. As well as wheat plants seeded from the previous crop (known as volunteers) there’s an amazing profusion and diversity of wild plants that would normally be sprayed out of existence. We’ve followed the rewilding process right through the lockdown period (we’ve been allowed to go out for exercise) and it’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch. Sadly, all the plants, and their attendant birds and insects, are doomed, but not for reasons of husbandry: the entire farm is a development site and is slowly disappearing under what will eventually be 1,000 new houses. I studied agriculture at university years ago, and I still like to follow the rhythms and workings of the farming calendar. But this spring, I’ve learned I’m even happier seeing what Nature can do when left to her own devices. N.
We know what’s coming
From the pictographs and hammered posts;
Spray-painted warrants of execution;
Whole acres marked for death.
But who will tell the trees
Inform the flowers, tip off the birds and animals?
If I could, I’d pick them up
In my two hands, spirit them away
But I’m condemned to stand and watch
The steel blades bite, the heavy wheels shake the earth
See all I’ve know and come to love
Torn up, despoiled and thrown aside
Entirely unconsoled by knowing
There was nothing I could have said or done.
The hips and haws hang heavy on the thorn;
Dew-silvered cobwebs glitter in the grass
Along my headlands. Fox and badger pass
Like footpads, hastened by a scarlet dawn.
My fleeting furlough ends: a settled spell
Marks me for autumn sowing, and I feel
The tractor’s weight, the thrust of polished steel
From landside, tine and drill I know so well.
Then strangers come, survey with greedy eyes
My empty acres. It’s not whispering wheat
They see: a tightly-packed and tidy street
Of huge five-bedroomed houses is their prize.
They’ll break my ground their way; and in a year
There’ll be no sign that I was ever here.
In Wellingtons and waterproofs he stands,
A lonely lighthouse in a sea of grass,
To call the cows in: whistles, claps his hands,
Cries ‘Hup’ and ‘Go on then, girls’ as they pass:
Unhurried, rope-veined udders swinging, large
With milk, the smells of warm crushed turf and dung
Surrounding them in their slow-motion charge
Towards the gate. Their names are on his tongue
And they obey his summons. What do I
Bring in from my own forays in the field?
No milk or meat, no crop to justify
My time; and yet my labours have their yield:
When nothing’s left of this land, man or herd,
Their memory will live. You have my word.
These fields are not mine. I shall never own
A square inch of this land: I cannot claim
A single blade of grass, the smallest stone;
I’ve no leaf, branch or flower to my name.
I have no influence, no right to choose
Its destiny. It’s not for me to say
What happens here: the great and good will use
It as they please. It’s theirs to take away.
But when it goes – and go it will – a part
Of me will vanish too. I will not die
Yet I shall live a little less; my heart
Squeezed like a fist, my days one long goodbye.
No violence involved, no gun or knife.
But in their robbery, they’ll take a life.
The district council has presented plans for 1,000 (yes, that’s one-and-three-zeroes) new houses, plus factory units and a school, on greenfield land surrounding our ancient woodlands. It will increase the town’s population by 20%, bring our already struggling infrastructure to a standstill, and completely fill in the long view to the South Downs we presently enjoy from the playing fields. We’ve made vigorous representations, of course, but all the signs are that THEY – who, needless to say, don’t live, walk their dogs or raise their children here – will have their way. What can you do? N.