Yesterday's announcement by Banks Mining that it hopes to create a large opencast mine in the area between Warkworth Lane Ponds and Widdrington village should not really come as any surprise locally, the cycle of opencast and restoration has been happening as long as I can remember.
I imagine most locals interested in birds/nature probably had the same gut reaction as me, a groan and the thought 'why there, why not **** off somewhere else?' I wasn't able to watch the news yesterday so I've waited until today and had a shufty on Iplayer at last night's Look North as well as reading the Journal article linked to above and had a browse on Banks own website.
Banks Mining need to be applauded for their 'launch' of this project, Northumberland Tourism offered a neutral response as did local Northumberland county councillor Scott Robinson. I'd suggest that the response from Northumberland Wildlife Trust would be best described as mildly positive, with Chief executive Mike Pratt highlighting how many of the current Druridge Bay reserves came as the result of mining of one form or another. Not a sniff of opposition apart from a couple of bemused looking visitors accosted in the country park by the BBC.
I remember writing a letter of protest to the local paper as a schoolkid about the proposed nuclear power station in Druridge Bay. Spurred on by my English teacher who happened to live in Widdrington village it was very much a nimby response in hindsight. I'm trying not to react in the same vein to this proposal.
However I'm not convinced of the benefits and I'm not convinced that the 'more jam tomorrow' argument is going to convince me either. Let's put to one side the weighty subject of whether we should all be objecting simply because it's coal for now, though if you want to see a different viewpoint to the economic riches that Banks are promising see here.
There are without question benefits to this kind of project when viewed on a big timescale, perhaps one measured in decades. Without the restoration of East Chevington would we have breeding Marsh Harriers? Would there be anywhere else in the county that you could happily spend a day listening to people trying to tape lure Bearded Tits? Probably not and there are a whole host of commoner species that have benefited in the last decade and some great rarities that have provided much enjoyment for many.
My problem is admittedly more selfish, I'm not sure I want to wait the thirty years before the site gets restored to something that will be 'productive' in wildlife terms. That'll make me about 77 or so, perhaps just getting beyond the point of being able to enjoy it. For others active in the area it might push them into their Eighties or Nineties. So maybe it's for the kids? I think childhood is important, the places you go, the landscapes you occupy leave a lasting impression, at least they did with me. Will the sun slowly setting over the baffle banks stretching off into the horizon provide the same iconic view for my kids as today's vista to the Cheviots?
And what of the wildlife that is there now? What impact will there be on the many thousands of Pink-feet that graze the area in the winter, will they move to other sites faced with a barren landscape? Will we lose them for decades to come? The Long-eared Owls and Grey Herons that have occupied the shelter belts, the Yellow Wagtails that cling on to one of the few coastal areas with cows? I'm not convinced the area needs 'regeneration' in wildlife terms. Sure there are bound to be wins down the line but is the loss of access, the loss of view and the loss of habitat now and for the next 20-30 years a price worth paying?
I also think its important to keep an eye on track record too and Banks have a mixed record when it comes to restoration, less than a mile up the road the former Pegswood Moor opencast is still not fully restored and benefits to local people not yet realised fully amid continued wrangling by Banks and a county council that seem incapable of forcing them to deliver on their obligations. It's also probably worth keeping one eye on what proposals come forward to avoid a Scottish Coal debacle too, I'd suggest given what has happened up there it is in the public interest for these discussions and agreements to be made public ahead of any decision on a planning application.