RED BROOK REFLECTIONS ON THE WYE
‘glock, glock, glock’
FOREWORD BY THE RIVER WYE
I don’t get much chance to have my say, so kindly shut up and listen. I am the Wye. I’ve been flowing for a thousand human lifetimes. You, by definition, have not even been around for one. But we have a few things in common. I can be languid, turbulent, gentle, excitable, welcoming, hostile – all the characteristics I see in you funny people. That’s funny peculiar, by the way, not funny ha ha. You’re a strange lot. So many of you belong to organisations that say they want to protect me and my sisters, but you humans actually weaken me, by taking out too much of my water and putting in too much pollution. I see you swim in me and pollute yourselves with nitrates and with phosphates. But you choose to do that. What choice do I have to avoid these chemicals? None. You’ve got this new geological epoch, I see – the Anthropocene. That means that the main influence on the environment is you lot. The environment is me – so I depend on you. But what you forget is that the environment is you. I’m pretty much 100% water, give or take a certain amount of plastic, chemicals and so on. But you’re 60% water. Some bits have more water than others – your lungs are five-sixths water. We’re not as different as you think. 5
What makes me sad is when you forget that you depend on me. When indigenous people refer to Mother Earth, that’s what they’re talking about: I am you and you are me. If that’s too hippyish, remember that I’m the blue and silver wave on the county’s coat of arms. The motto says ‘Pulchra terra dei donum’, which means ‘This fair land is the gift of God’. Shut your eyes and imagine me if I became an open sewer, a conduit for litter and waste chemicals. How would that feel? What difference would it make to your life? Am I a mere resource to be managed? Are you a mere resource to be managed? How can we work together on this? Microsoft has legal rights to participate in government policymaking and go to court! So how about the Wye? Could Microsoft be described as a gift of God? What would you think if you saw it on our coat of arms? There are now rivers with such rights: the Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India. The Ecuadorian Constitution recognises the inalienable rights of Nature. Why can’t we do the same thing here in Herefordshire?
Please read the rest of this book. Think of each voice as a contribution flowing from one of my tributaries. They are as varied as I am: passionate, worried, caring, wise and real. Wade in wherever you like. One last thought. Speak my (English) name and I am the ultimate question. Wye/Gwy
Note to the Environment Agency re. Lyn’s account: Asking for a postcode for me is like trying to put a bow tie on a butterfly. 7
RICHARD WILLIAMS, HEREFORDSHIRE CHAIR OF CAMPAIGN TO PROTECT RURAL ENGLAND, SPEAKING IN A PERSONAL CAPACITY
The river Wye is considered the iconic river of Britain. It has a lot of romance about it. It is the birthplace of the British tourist industry, lower down the Wye where Wordsworth and Coleridge would all go up to Tintern Abbey. I think that’s when tourism is born, that was sometime in the end of the 18th century. So the idea of the countryside as a place of leisure as opposed to a place of work evolved from that. It was the first time the countryside was a place to enjoy. I don’t know what the answer to consumerism is. I mean we’ve moved into a dreadful consumerist society which none of us really knew. But unless you went and locked yourself in a convent or a monastery you could not escape it. So I don’t think we can change… do you agree with me? And I am not a doomsday person, I am not depressed about it to be honest with you, I see it as inevitability. And I think the fact that you are talking about the Anthropocene, I mean normally you would talk in geological time of millions of years, Anthropocene we are talking billions of… and if you look at the plastic element that’s going to be embedded in the rock for generations, you know that’s… so the whole thing is going fast. 9
The sad thing about this is that we assume that we are the most important, so it would not matter if the Wye became full of sulphuric acid, provided we survived. People say the most important is human safety. When I was a child and you drove in the summer in a car you would have to get out to clean the windscreen from insects now you hardly see any insects, so it’s going and it’s going quite fast. You can’t have God’s view if you are working in the planning department in Herefordshire council. In fact there is no one looking at the overall global picture. And they are just thinking, we want to get these houses built and we are going to do it by hook or by crook. If you look at the nutrient management plan to manage pollution – that was produced right at the eleventh hour for the core strategy – right at the eleventh hour, when it was at its final consultation stage with the inspectors there! They produced a management nutrient report and they based it on technology that does not exist! They said, by the time 2026 comes there will be a machine that removes phosphate. That’s effectively what they’ve said with absolutely no detail in there!
M., A RETIRED HYDROGEOLOGIST VOLUNTEERING FOR THE NATIONAL TRUST
We are testing for dissolved oxygen, it’s one indicator of the health of the river Wye. If oxygen’s very very low then obviously lots of life can’t exist, lots of river life needs oxygen. The dissolved oxygen sensor says it’s 15.5 degrees Celsius at the moment. That’s air temperature but the sensor also measures dissolved oxygen in milligrams per litre in the water. Because it’s high flow, the oxygen will be diluted. The other thing that happens in high flow is that stuff gets washed off farm land in heavy rain, so you get extra phosphates and nitrates washed off if the farmers have just put some on, so it gets washed into the Wye. High nitrate and low dissolved oxygen are an indicator. Talking about water, I had an interesting chat with a director of a water company and he said, when we were little, I lived in a village and we probably had one bath a week, tin bath in front of the fire. I think I was 10 before we had a proper bathroom, you know one bath a week and shared with your brother and sister, that’s the amount of water. Now, the average family, you presume, have at least one shower a day and many people get up and have a shower and get home from work, shower and change and you know nothing wrong with that, it’s healthy, it’s whatever but imagine how much more water we’re using. You had figures predicting water use and
you have to keep adjusting it and then you have, well you know social things and households, more houses needed because you have smaller units of families. And it’s the same for electricity, all the electric gizmos that we have, but it’s just the way. We realised the other day with my wife when we went on holiday that we have to have a special bag for all the chargers and wires. We have a lot of technology; you’ve got your shaver, you’ve got your laptop, your toothbrush, your phones. So we need more energy for things… and we won’t reduce our energy consumption, people won’t do it! Well, we will when we run out and things get really bad. When people run out of water and they have to go down the street and get a bucket from the bowser because there is a drought, I think they’ll learn how to appreciate water, people will change.
‘Ge-ge-ge–zee -zee-zee-zee’ 15
GARY WILLIAMS MANAGES THE M&M ICE CREAM VAN SITED BY THE VICTORIA BRIDGE
I run the ice cream van near Vicky Bridge by the river Wye. It is the main thoroughfare for pedestrians from south side to Hereford city centre. I don’t own the van, it belongs to the respected firm M&M Ices which has been running over 30 years. Oh, we all used to go to the Wye and swim. We’d do it as a group of lads; could be anytime as long as it was hot. It was all good fun. I learnt to swim at school when I was a youngster, they used to take us to the pool. It had its own pool in the school. I’ve jumped off that one [Victoria Bridge], it’s not scary, it’s not very high but the river tended to be a bit deeper here as well. I don’t know why. Probably being filtered off into more reservoirs things like that. There’s less water in the Wye now than there used to be quite a few years ago. More than likely, the population’s gone up so the demand for water has increased. Err, I don’t know who owns the Wye to be honest with you but all the water quality is all governed by the Environment Agency. I don’t actually know who owns the Wye. Because this is in Herefordshire, the Herefordshire council have to do a certain amount; I don’t actually know who owns it. It runs through a few 17
different counties as well… it starts in Wales. It starts in a mountain called Plynlimon in Snowdonia. I went there many years ago and it’s like a trickle – just like someone left a dripping tap and then it grows into this. It was the older folks who did the back breaking jobs but they sort of retired and then the younger generation didn’t want to carry through so… and then I suppose, because Eastern Europeans had then free rein with free movement and different things, it probably felt like the right time for them because as the older ones were retiring and the younger ones didn’t want to do it, they were prepared. So you can’t fault them for that. Somebody is prepared to work, give them a job. It personally makes no difference to me – I won’t be out of work.
JASON WALKER, THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY
No, I am not sure what the precise criteria are to decide what gets protected and what does not, though we would not let anybody down. And you know, with the austerity cuts we have more constraints now. The money comes from capital grant, local community and local businesses, the Big Lottery Fund… and it is because the public is showing an interest in flooding… it means that the focus on flooding is high and it influences politics. I don’t know if people move out of at risk catchment areas. They don’t always do. Some do but others don’t believe it can happen – because they think climate change is global. The problem with working with natural processes to manage floods, is that you are asking people who don’t flood – to flood. You are asking people to bear that burden for others. For farmers to take land out of production, change their crop, how do we make this happen?
The name of my department is the Flood Resilience Department and not Stopping the Flood Department. Whether our role becomes more prominent, well I hope so because climate change will not go away. But it depends on politics. I mean it is difficult to privatise flood defences, how could you make a return on that, unless if communities are told it’s their responsibilities? I was travelling in the New Orleans region when Hurricane Katrina happened. I can see the Americanisation of the UK in terms of moving away from social responsibility in the community. The social consequences of Katrina… the hurricane was a social issue. It’s the poor area in the flood plain that did not recover. If Katrina had been in another area, maybe everyone would have been bussed out… I don’t know… but maybe. We need a social shift, a way to encourage… it’s about caring, and that’s what our message is about, for people to care.
Fishing Weather River Wye Weather Risk
Risk of strong wind, frost, lightning, heavy rain for River Wye Hereford and Worcester, United Kingdom Forecast Latest Climate Risk UK Summary Charts
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TIME FRAMES: 05 Jun 2017 (Local Time) 00:00
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Thunder/Lightning Predominantly Cloudy Well Broken Cloud Winds > 15mph
‘Tchirrrrrrrr-peepee- pee- pee- peetwee-twee, tweetwee-twit-twit. twit-twit. twit-twit’
Winds > 30mph
GILLIE AND RIVER KEEPER LYN COBLEY FROM INGESTONE FARM, FOY, HEREFORDSHIRE
On the Wye we have bullhead which is a tiny little fish which is pretty rare now. We have roach, dace, chub, barbel. Now we’ve got breams, there is a few tenches and there are a few carps, they are not indigenous they’re coming through flooding from lakes and God knows what. Barbel was put in the Wye illegally when they were brought from the Severn and then they’ve taken on. And then you’ve got what we call the May fish, you’ve got the allis shad come up and the twaite shad, they come up to spawn each year. You’ve got the sea lamprey, a primitive and jawless fish that comes up to spawn, the river lamprey spawns in freshwater but migrates to sea to live, the eels all the time. These eels they live in the river for double figure years before they leave the river to go out to spawn mostly in the Sargasso sea near the Bahamas and they go there and once they spawn they disappear, they never come back to the river, they must disappear. They’ve done surveys, they can’t find, they must spawn and die or something but they never come back. It’s like they brought in a rule for pike fishing, you can only take a pike of certain length. Well that’s all right, but the one that’s causing the damage in regards of predation and that, is the bigger pike! So you ought to
be allowed to take one of the bigger pike periodically because it gets out of hand with them. In the old days we used to take pike out on the beat of Hereford Anglers and that, but you never got rid of the pike, we were managing ecosystems. Now you’ve been stopped from managing it because you are only allowed to take one or two small pike a day. So we’ve got to start to think different and it’s got to come from the top down, the decision making, but they’ve got to take notice from the people, from the bottom up, that lives with it. Just because I’ve got no letter behind my name it don’t make me an idiot. And this is what it seems to be now. Oh he’s an idiot, that seems to be the thinking unless you’ve got letters behind your name they don’t take much notice. It’s just a shame, it’s a shame. You can get days where you can have coloured water and you’ll find that fish like barbel will go better on coloured water because they get used to the bait in clear water and they get shy. Once the coloured water comes on, it’s less conspicuous the bait and the line and all that, and they’ll take it better and it’s different things for different fish. When the farmers take water out of the Wye, very often that’s taken out when the river’s low. There’s a minimum flow station at Redbrook, down below Monmouth 25
whereby once it’s reached that minimum flow they stop them from taking. Now what happens, the river is really low before it gets to that and the water temperature comes up. And that is terrible because the salmon don’t like the warm water temperature. You get diffused oxygen content. You’ll see the fish in the summer months, you can come down and see fish dimpling and everything but when it gets out of sync the fish goes lethargic so it’s affecting them. As I said about the dissolved oxygen, when they pump out so much water it isn’t the amount of water that’s going out that’s doing the damage. It affects it because there is less there and it warms up and that in turn affects the oxygen content in the water, so consequently that affects the fish, it affects the whole fish chain. The shad used to come up when I ran the Hereford Juveniles, the shad used to come up from the sea in their hundreds of thousands, now you don’t see nothing like that because there is so much going on. They’ve upset the ecology of the river, it’s affecting the fish chain. In the old days, Mick can tell you, we used to go and catch dace in Hereford, anywhere you could go in Hereford. Our favourite place used to be the B. and we’d go down there and we’d catch twenty five, thirty pounds of dace in a couple of hours and they’d be six or seven of us, we had a little group. You couldn’t do that now, you couldn’t do that!
‘See- see- seesissypee’ 29
CANOEIST SIMON AKROYD
The fishermen have those rights to the river effectively. It’s because they pay a lot of money to fish salmon. We canoeists don’t pay and they are the gentry aren’t they? The guys who sit there on a Sunday are largely trades people with white vans, they are not salmon, the posh landed gentry. They are kind of coarse fishermen, very working class. Coarse fishing is working class, we are stereotyping here, and salmon fishermen and landowners if they could annex off the Wye, I would imagine they would if they could. In Scotland all rivers and waterways and lakes are public bodies, nobody can own that. In England and Wales it’s different. The landowner owns the land up to and including the river bed, therefore the river. So if this was the river Usk, you couldn’t swim in it. The river Usk is owned by the different landowners.
Yeah, there was a poacher, with posts into the river bed with a net and I can’t remember if it was facing upstream or downstream, probably up, and this fish swims in and is funnelled in and they can’t get out. Another time, I saw two guys when I was rowing, because I used to be in the rowing club, going up and I was like, ‘what are they doing?’. They were kind of waist deep in the water with a sledge hammer, banging these posts in. You get that probably very traditional, and possibly again stereotyping, the travelling community would probably be or have a hand in some of those kind of things. The travelling community are the Roma, the gypsies, they are the common folks who would be poachers and they would know how to catch fish.
LYN COBLEY, GILLIE ON THE RIVER WYE
No, I am not the voice of the river. We all have a say, everyone must have a say. A sewage is bound to make a difference, so before they allow that building lot up there [1,200 new homes], the Council should upgrade Hereford sewage system because otherwise they ain’t gonna cope with it. When they first done it we thought it was wonderful – for a while it was – the water coming crystal clear, but if you go down to the bottom of the Wye you come up with a black gunk like a slime and that affects any spawning and any fish in that area because they can’t spawn through that. Now it’s not many miles in the Wye valley where you see chicken sheds with 40, 50 000 chickens. You’ve only got to make a mistake and it’s in the river! And it’s at the edge where farmers are throwing nitrates and phosphates. You see them every year they are chucking it in the river! Once it’s spring and they want the nitrate on and they come up around May time. You’ve got to be watching whenever there is a lot of growth on the river! They come and they’ll do the lot in a day and they’ll chuck it in!
Now it’s all plastic you see and unfortunately all people want to do is get rid of it. But we’ve got to do something; we can’t just continue polluting the earth! This is Ingestone private Fishery and this is a fishing hut four miles above Ross-on-Wye, one of the best spring beats for the salmon. The gillie looks after the river and looks after the ladies and gentlemen that come to the river to fish and try to help them to catch fish and assist and advise them, anything like that. And obviously do work on the bank, look after the bank, keep the bank correct like. For the coarse fishing, we let it to a club and we have three holiday cottages; it brings a tremendous amount of revenue into the local economy, far more than canoeists or anything like. Mick rang me. He had a pollution problem. He said to me – about this – what will you do? I said, I’ll ring it in. I rang it in to Newcastle and they said they wanted a postal code. I said, I can’t, I can’t give it to you… it’s, it’s the back of Lee Pritchard’s house and his dad has rang me to say what to do, I says, and I rang it in and… Oh well, if we don’t have a postal code we can’t get anybody to respond. I says, that’s bloody ridiculous we’ve got a 35
pollution, fish are dying you’ve got to get somebody… Oh well without a postcode… I says, forget it! You’ll hardly see anybody caught now. All right the poaching isn’t so bad because there isn’t so much salmon but there’s a hell of a lot of illegal fishing with, shall we say, with the Eastern Europeans. We must get back as one body to be able to put a bit of pressure on the Environment Agency and make them do, instead of them sitting back and agreeing with these and disagreeing with the others. I mean it’s ridiculous, I say that the river Wye should be run by the owners! I’ve got a saying which people laugh at, I says the Wye rises in Wales, it comes down through and for a while it goes in England, it says, I don’t like that bloody place, so it goes back into Wales.
“This fair land is the gift of God”
The River Wye Act 2017 Public Act Date of assent Commencement
2017 No 7 20 March 2017 see section 2
The Parliament of the United Kingdom enacts as follows 1 Title This act is the River Wye Act 2017 2 Commencement This Act comes into force the day after the date on which it receives the Royal assent. The River Wye is an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements. 39
3 Act binds the Crown This Act binds the Crown. 4 The River Wye recognition The River Wye is an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea, incorporating all its physical and metaphysical elements. 5 The intrinsic values that represent the essence of this Act are — (a) the River Wye is the source of spiritual and physical sustenance: The Wye is a spiritual and physical entity that supports and sustains both the life and natural resources within the River and the health and wellbeing of the communities of the River. (b) the River Wye flows from the mountains to the sea: The River Wye is an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea, regardless of the national boundaries of England and Wales, incorporating the River and all of its physical and metaphysical elements.
(c) I am the River and the River is me: The communities of the River Wye have an inalienable connection with, and responsibility to, the River Wye and its health and wellbeing. (d) The small and large streams that flow into one another form one River: The River Wye is a singular entity comprised of many elements and communities, working collaboratively for the common purpose of the health and wellbeing of the River Wye.
Legal status of the River Wye 6 The River Wye declared to be legal person 1 The River Wye is a legal person and has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person. 2 The rights, powers, and duties of the River Wye must be exercised or performed, and responsibility for its liabilities must be taken by The Guardians of the River Wye, on behalf of, and in the name of the River Wye.
3 The Guardians will consist of two persons appointed by the Crown and one appointed collectively by the communities with an interest in the River where each person must have the wisdom, standing, skills, knowledge and experience to achieve the purpose and perform the functions of Guardians and monitor the implementation of a collaborative strategy to address the health and wellbeing of the River Wye. 4 The Guardians will engage with any relevant agency, other body, or decision maker, regardless of the national boundaries of England and Wales, to assist these bodies to understand, apply, and implement the legal status of the River Wye and the intrinsic values set out in clause 5, by developing or reviewing relevant guidelines or policies. 5 In order to support the health and wellbeing of the River a fund will be established with a Crown grant of 30 million GB pounds.
Based on Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 available on the New Zealand Legislation website: www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/ government/2016/0129/latest/DLM6830851. html?src=qs. (Last accessed 9 July 2017).
‘Dee-dee-deedee deiddereee’ ‘fish, fish, fiddle-diddledee’
WILD SWIMMER SIMON AKROYD LIVES IN HEREFORD WITH HIS FAMILY
The first time you just get in and shriek, and get straight out and then the next time you get in it’s easier and the next time it’s easier and you can stay longer and longer.
personally and these are ecological disasters when all of a sudden there is no fish left and people realise that, Oh actually it’s our own behaviour that contributed to that.
I find water quite a freeing thing, my daughter said to me, she swims, she said I want to be as good as you daddy and then she went on to say, do you ever lie there and just float on your back, it’s like flying — laugh — I think she’s got the bug.
I listen to the Wye when I’m in it and I can hear pebbles shifting on the bottom and funny sounds. I see rocks, silt, darkness, light patterns, limbs, bodies, bits of stuff occasionally, bits of plastic.
The river Wye is so so different. I swim upstream from the rowing club and it’s dark and deep and the feeling is one of deep stillness and possibly death. Hum, you know there is that: Wow, what’s down there? If it’s a really hot day and I’m coming back from work, I’ll go to the rowing club, though you can’t advertise that. It’s a bit of an unspoken thing; it’s against the club’s rules. It’s a bit old fashion male orientated. Apparently you are not allowed to go on the steps of the rowing club with your top off as a man; it’s only recently that women have been allowed to row, in kind of 30 years, they are very old fashioned. You know you chuck rubbish and it’s gone and so there is something very human about that, the problem is gone and it takes a long time for you to appreciate it
I love swimmers’ bodies perhaps the most pleasing out of all women’s bodies because there’s a sense of broad shoulders and power but not muscles that stand out, you know the muscles aren’t defined, there’s a sleekness like you imagine a dolphin’s skin or an orca’s skin – hum – and so I’m attracted to female swimmers. More so than cyclists… Or Breinton Springs upstream from here and they’d be a couple of groups on a sunny day and they’re all getting sunburnt and they’re all flirting and some of the boys looking uncomfortable and the girls walking off like that you know and boys showing off and jumping in. Then you’ve got the people who are economically powerful in the county and they would not traditionally be regarded as swimmers, they are fishermen – salmon fishermen. I’ve had a couple of conflicts on the river with salmon fishermen shouting because I was in the water swimming. 45
SEAMSTRESS JENIFER PARKER-ELLSMORE WORKS NEAR THE OLD BRIDGE IN HEREFORD
A gentleman came in last year and he used to work at the shop when it used to be offices, and he came in and he said he worked there, and when he worked there, the cellar flooded all the way to the bottom floor, and it came through the wood floor… they didn’t really know what to do… they had all this equipment. They just saw this water seeping through, so they all just got out. Once it reached the bottom floor, I don’t think it rose any more. But he said the water rose really quickly. No one was expecting it, otherwise… It just rose in a matter of hours. It just came out of nowhere. I’ve gone and seen when the river was pretty much reaching Victoria Bridge. It was running right up to where you step on, but again, I don’t know. I think a couple of months ago, when we had really heavy rain, somebody said that the banks had burst and I’m not entirely sure where. I think it was south side, somewhere along, it had run over.
Is there any need for cups to be plastic? It’s the packaging it comes in. Is there really any need for plastic cups to come in a plastic bag that you then put in a plastic 5p bag. It just seems so stupid. It’s just one thing after another. Is it not enough that the cups are plastic? Why does it have to then be… is there no other way of just having them tied up, or paper bags should come back? The river’s a landmark in the city and we’re quite lucky that it’s such a… it draws all of our cities and towns and things together because the same river runs through everyone. We’re all responsible for it, whether it’s miles down the river, people we don’t know, but we’re all experiencing the same thing. So, it is a – it’s like a vein that we’re all sharing.
Based on a map by www.fly-fish.net
GOLDCREST, PIED FLYCATCHER
‘Whit-chichy, Whit-chichy, tchéetle, tchéetle, tchéetle, diddlediddle-dée’t’
ROLAND BARTHES WROTE ‘PLASTIC’ IN MYTHOLOGIES (1957)
Despite having names of Greek shepherds (Polystyrene, Polyvinyl, Polyethylene), plastic, the products of which have just been gathered in an exhibition, is in essence the stuff of alchemy. At the entrance of the stand, the public waits in a long queue in order to witness the accomplishment of the magical operation par excellence: the transmutation of matter. An ideallyshaped machine, tubulated and oblong (a shape well suited to suggest the secret of an itinerary) effortlessly draws, out of a heap of greenish crystals, shiny and fluted dressing-room tidies. At one end, raw, telluric matter, at the other, the finished, human object; and between these two extremes, nothing; nothing but a transit, hardly watched over by an attendant in a cloth cap, half-god, half-robot. So, more than a substance, plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation; as its everyday name indicates, it is ubiquity made visible. And it is this, in fact, which makes it a miraculous substance: a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature. Plastic remains impregnated throughout with this wonder: it is less a thing than the trace of a movement. And as the movement here is almost infinite, transforming the original crystals into a multitude of more and more startling objects, plastic is, all told, 53
a spectacle to be deciphered: the very spectacle of its end-products. At the sight of each terminal form (suitcase, brush, car-body, toy, fabric, tube, basin or paper), the mind does not cease from considering the original matter as an enigma. This is because the quick-change artistry of plastic is absolute: it can become buckets as well as jewels. Hence a perpetual amazement, the reverie of man at the sight of the proliferating forms of matter, and the connections he detects between the singular of the origin and the plural of the effects. And this amazement is a pleasurable one, since the scope of the transformations gives man the measure of his power, and since the very itinerary of plastic gives him the euphoria of a prestigious freewheeling through Nature. But the price to be paid for this success is that plastic, sublimated as movement, hardly exists as substance. Its reality is a negative one: neither hard nor deep, it must be content with a ‘substantial’ attribute which is neutral in spite of its utilitarian advantages: resistance, a state which merely means an absence of yielding. In the hierarchy of the major poetic substances, it figures as a disgraced material, lost between the effusiveness of rubber and the flat hardness of metal; it embodies none of the genuine produce of the mineral world: foam, fibres, strata. It is a ‘shaped’ substance: whatever 55
its final state, plastic keeps a flocculent appearance, something opaque, creamy and curdled, something powerless ever to achieve the triumphant smoothness of Nature. But, what best reveals it for what it is, is the sound it gives, at once hollow and flat; its noise is its undoing, as are its colours, for it seems capable of retaining only the most chemical looking ones. Of yellow, red and green, it keeps only the aggressive quality, and uses them as mere names, being able to display only concepts of colours. The fashion for plastic highlights an evolution in the myth of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;imitationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; materials. It is well known that their use is historically bourgeois in origin (the first vestimentary postiches date back to the rise of capitalism). But until now imitation materials have always indicated pretension, they belonged to the world of appearances, not to that of actual use; they aimed at reproducing cheaply the rarest substances, diamonds, silk, feathers, furs, silver, all the luxurious brilliance of the world. Plastic has climbed down, it is a household material. It is the first magical substance which consents to be prosaic. But it is precisely this prosaic character which is a triumphant reason for its existence: for the first time, artifice aims at something common, not rare. And as an immediate consequence, the ageold function of nature is modified: it is no longer the 57
Idea; the pure Substance to be regained or imitated: an artificial Matter, more bountiful than all the natural deposits, is about to replace her, and to determine the very invention of forms. A luxurious object is still of this earth, it still recalls, albeit in a precious mode, its mineral or animal origin, the natural theme of which it is but one actualization. Plastic is wholly swallowed up in the fact of being used: ultimately, objects will be invented for the sole pleasure of using them. The hierarchy of substances is abolished: a single one replaces them all: the whole world can be plasticized, and even life itself since, we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas.
Written in 1957, ‘Plastic’ is part of French semiotician Roland Barthes’ (1915-1980) seminal compilation Mythologies. The text is ambiguous. Barthes hails plastic as a “miraculous substance; a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature”. He points to what was to become a major environmental pollutant and “a key geological indicator of the Anthropocene, as a distinctive stratal component” along with the stratigraphic record of carbon emissions, nuclear radiation or global species extinction. (Jan Zalasiewicz in Anthropocene, Volume 13, March 2016, p. 4-17) Plastic’s life span is unknown, its disposability means that by 2050 the projected amount of about 40 billion tons “[will] be enough to wrap six layers of cling film around the planet”. Zalasiewicz (2016:5) in A Technofossil of the Anthropocene: Sliding up and down Temporal Scales with Plastic.
Selected and translated from the French by ANNETTE LAVERS. HILL AND WANG A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux 19 Union Square West / New York 10003. Source: www.english.unt.edu/~simpkins/ Barthes%20Myths.pdf. (Last accessed 9 July 2017). Also available in ‘Textures of the Anthropocene: Grain Vapor Ray’. (MIT Press 201, p. 277).
Source: www.researchgate.net/ publication/312088115_A_Technofossil_of_the_ Anthropocene_Sliding_up_and_down_Temporal_ Scales_with_Plastic_draft_draft_To_be_published_ in_Power_and_Time_D_Edelstein_S_Geroulanos_ and_N_Wheatley_eds_Chicago_The_University_of_ (Last accessed July 10, 2017).
DR ROBERT MACFARLANE, EXCERPT OF COURSE OUTLINE
Course Outline as at July 2016 Convenor: Dr Robert Macfarlane* LENT TERM 2017 · Fridays, 4–5.30pm / Weeks 1–6
In the summer of 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission of Quaternary Stratigraphy is expected to recommend the formal adoption of a new earth epoch, the Anthropocene: a new phase of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record. The idea of the Anthropocene asks hard questions of us. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves inhabitants not just of a human lifetime or generation, but also of ‘deep time’ – the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Politically, it lays bare some of the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other species, as well as between humans now and humans to come. Conceptually, it warrants us to consider once again whether – in Fredric Jameson’s phrase – ‘the modernisation process is complete, and nature is gone for good’, leaving nothing but us.
There are good reasons to be sceptical of the epitaphic impulse to declare ‘the end of nature’. There are also good reasons to be sceptical of the Anthropocene’s absolutism, the political presumptions it encodes, and the specific histories of power and violence that it masks. But the Anthropocene is a massively forceful concept, and as such it bears detailed thinking through. Though it has its origin in the Earth sciences and advanced computational technologies, its consequences have rippled across global culture during the last 15 years. Conservationists, environmentalists, policymakers, artists, activists, writers, historians, political and cultural theorists, as well as scientists and social scientists in many specialisms, are all responding to its implications. Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to our imagination by the Anthropocene is its inhuman organisation as an event. If the Anthropocene can be said to ‘take place’, it does so across huge scales of space and vast spans of time, from nanometers to planets, and from picoseconds to aeons. It involves millions of different teleconnected agents, from methane molecules to rare earth metals to magnetic fields to smartphones to mosquitoes. Its energies are interactive, its properties emergent and its structures withdrawn. 61
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER
This course explores the pre-histories, presents, futures, cultures and textures of the Anthropocene. You belong to a remarkable human generation, a generation that is likely to live through a shift in earth epochs (the last happened circa 11,700 years ago when the Pleistocene ceded to the Holocene). You are of Generation Anthropocene – and this course is about the dangers, hopes and systems of the world that you inhabit.
Source: www.english.cam.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/reading/Criticism%20and%20Culture%20 -%20Cultures%20of%20the%20Anthropocene.pdf (Last accessed 9 July 2017). *Robert Macfarlane’s course provides the practical knowledge and skills which, as has emerged from the interviews in this book, we desperately lack. This is the toolkit which Generation Anthropocene needs in everyday life, in Herefordshire and beyond. Macfarlane‘s writing is described, implicitly, by Sam Solnick, as multi-layered:” [‘new’ Nature Writing] is still attentive to the local, but aware of the snares and mores of the pastoral, prepared to locate the local within global networks and acknowledge the technological modification of life and landscape while also being aware of the risks this sort of writing runs both aesthetically and ethically”. In Poetry and the Anthropocene (2016: 25).
‘Tchack’ ‘Jack-jack -jackjack-jack’ 63
The origin of this book lies in my discovery of the Red Brook, a modest tributary of the river Wye outside Hereford, where I live. The brook is hidden under brambles and rubbish, in a dip, hardly visible to ramblers. I was walking the Wye because, as an ‘incomer’ and a foreigner, I feel a responsibility to get to know where I am and where I live. I don’t want to act like a transient, raiding the place and then going away, detached. That would be to behave like an oil company. The brook had been restored with hundreds of tyres, possibly in the late 1950s. Despite my best efforts, I could not find out exactly when or exactly who. I was already researching the Anthropocene: finding the brook suddenly made me appreciate that the global is also local. Tackling the Anthropocene, a global predicament, is overwhelming. However, relating it to the river Wye in Herefordshire, an English county with a population density of 0.8 humans for every hectare, helped me to unravel some of its aspects. This book is based on fieldwork conducted during 18 months, in 2016-2017, collecting water samples to analyse the river’s chemical content, plus interviews, as well as taking pictures. While walking along the river Wye (in Welsh Afon Gwy) I was lucky to meet people who have lived here, along the Wye, sometimes for 65
generations. Their polyphonic voices whispered like the many tributaries flowing into the meandering Wye.
in and along the Wye, their status and the status of the river.
I gathered data about the level of nitrate and dissolved oxygen in the Wye, dipping a test strip in the river and comparing its reaction against a colour chart, similar to a painter’s colour swatches. This taught me how important an indicator of water quality these substances are: humans and fish alike, we need oxygen to live.
Just as invisible nitrate and the importance of dissolved oxygen became visible, so too did the sheer number of different organisations and agencies, each with its own ‘river Wye’. A modest sample includes, for Administrative Geographies only: Natural England and Environment Agency Administrative Areas (England), Environment Agency Administrative Boundaries Water Management Areas (England), Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS), Reference Boundaries (England and Wales), Forestry Commission Conservancy Boundaries (England), Historic England Regions (England). Eurostat Boundaries include: Government Office Regions (GB), Combined Counties (England and Wales), Counties and Groups of Unitary Authorities (England and Wales), Districts and Unitary Authorities (England and Wales). Other Administrative Boundaries include: Counties, Metropolitan Districts and Unitary Authorities (GB), Parliamentary Constituencies (England), Parishes (GB), Local Enterprise Partnership Boundaries (England), Rural areas within Local Enterprise Partnerships (England), Rural Development Fund eligibility for LEADER groups (England), Local Nature Partnerships (England), Lower Super Output Areas with Rural Def 2011 (England &
My kit contrasts with the mechanical aids used by artists representing the Wye in C19. Landscape artists used the eponymous Claude Glass (Claude Lorrain 1600-82) as a foundation to work from. Just as the Wye Valley then featured a number of viewing stations, where people could use the Claude mirror by turning their back on the landscape, so I established my own stations, all near my house. Whereas their stations had names like the Eagle’s Nest, one of mine was Hereford Sewage Works. I am much taken by the unique knowledge, poetry and variety of the spoken English of local voices along the Wye. I feel much impelled, to place their verbatim material between the covers of this book. I feel this all the more strongly as politics tends to leave out the concerns of the people, and the non-humans, living
Wales). The river is a highly controlled and managed object, to the point where it dissolves and disappears.
me towards non-specialists who could express that sensuality.
Living rurally in a slow agricultural county though I do, in the Anthropocene, to gather data for my project, I can access online almost any deeds of ownership and interactive maps of every inch of the river: files that take a fraction of a second to travel across the Internet to my desk in Hereford. However, the sheer number and the fragmentation of responsibility make these maps of the Wye largely incomprehensible.
We have always known that humans and nature construct one another. Before, this was a relationship of domination. Now, in the Anthropocene, let’s acknowledge that we have to collaborate with the earth who, indifferent to our fate, will continue orbiting the sun regardless. So let’s give the Wye the legal right to participate in government policymaking and take us to court. The Wye reflects us and we reflect the Wye.
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” (T. S. Eliot). And, one could add, “Where is the information we have lost in data?”. I was reminded of different sources of information and of knowledge on one occasion during my fieldwork. I had the advantage of falling into the Wye in January 2017. I felt the water seep through my clothes and into my shoes, discovering its temperature, and found the contact really pleasant. The sound of my splash into the river told me that I trusted my eyes too much. It sparked the idea of listening as a means of learning both about the river Wye and about humans and non-humans muddling through the Anthropocene. Further, I discovered the sensuality of the water, and that naturally led 69
â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Peter, peter, peter, bopeep, bopeep, bopeep, bopeepâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;
I would like to thank all the participants for sharing their feelings, insights and knowledge of the river Wye.
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