As I was walking around the Common I remembered seeing an article from one of the reporters last week saying there was a Yateley Common management meeting this week so I thought I’d go along and find out what was happening.
The meeting was last night.
Work managed to go smoothly and I was able to leave the office at 6.15pm to enable me to get back to Yateley in time for the 7pm meeting.
And what a laugh it was.
Turns out the Common gets people’s tempers running high.
I have attended a huge number of council and public meetings over the years as a reporter… this was one of the most chaotic I’ve ever experienced.
The members of the public in attendance were divided into two camps (and me), one group of about ten who lived on the Common and were there to shout about the state of the unadopted lanes and the blocked ditches and another group of about six dog walkers there to shout about the tree felling.
They had no idea of meetings protocol and the committee, obviously not used to anyone being remotely interested enough to attend their meeting, had absolutely no clue how to control loud and riotous members of the public. So a free for all followed with lots of yelling.
The rangers – I felt very sorry for them – got berated from all sides for ‘murdering’ wildlife, Commons devastation, failed ditch clearance, useless track and bridleway maintenance and generally being the worst people in the history of the universe. Every time they opened their mouths to speak they got shouted down.
However, between all the shouting and the nimbyism and the funny little man who kept pointing, ranting and spouting stuff about rabbits moving out (and who the chairman looked as though he wanted to take out with a double barreled shotgun) I think I learned a couple of things.
Yateley Common is designated a site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area because of rare ground-nesting birds like the Dartford warbler and the nightjar.
All the felled trees (and there is about 4.5 hectares of them) were relatively young, less than 35 years old. Some of them were oaks. Oaks trees change the very make up of the soil and leaving oak trees for too long means you cannot later return the area to heathland because the soil profile has been changed.
The felling is to return the areas to heathland with heathers and gorses to encourage the rare birds. The work is being paid for by Natural England and appears to be part of a ten-year maintenance programme.
Heathland is man made …. from the ice age onwards. Over the last few hundred years, man has stopped using the countryside in the same way as he had for centuries and all those birds, insects, creatures that had grown to depend on that land consequently found their habitat changing.
Sadly they are not going to leave the logs to rot so they attract insects and fungi, they are selling them instead.
Sometimes people just don’t listen. The countryside rangers were giving perfectly coherent answers to questions and people were just ranting. Little pointy man wanted to know exactly how much had been spent in diesel, in petrol and in wages in the felling process. When he was told there had been no cost locally because Natural England picked up the tab, he paused for a moment and then ranted about rabbits instead. It was quite a relief when he threw his dummy out of his pram and left in a huff (still pointing aggressively at people).
The other thing I learned is that I want to learn more. More about the Common and about conservation and habitat management and about ecology.
And I might even go along to the next meeting in July (and keep my fingers crossed that little pointy man and his cohorts have calmed themselves enough to listen by then).