31 August 2011

Mr Blunkett’s ‘National Volunteer Programme’

Today, it is reported in the Daily Mail, that Mr Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, is proposing a ‘National Volunteer Programme’ for young people who are not in employment education or training, known as NEETs. As well as working with the old and in education they would also be used in conservation, which is my own area of interest.

In the past I have worked with people on such schemes as community pay back and its predecessors and whilst it would be far to say that not everyone of these young people from the point of view of getting anything done were a waste of time, those that did show any enthusiasm were very much in a minority. The ones that did get stuck in already had some interest in wildlife and conservation.

Now I haven’t seen a copy of this proposal which has gone to No 10, but understand that there will be an element of compulsion in this volunteering which reminds me of the old army saying ‘I want 3 volunteers – you, you and you!’ So whatever the scheme is, good or bad, it is definitely not volunteering.

I’m not against the principle of the scheme but it will have to be extremely well thought through, it will not be enough to dump a group of young people onto an organisation and it be expected for them to get on with it. So I would suggest that before they turn up to help with the maintenance of our parks and open spaces they will probably need to have spent time in a more structured environment learning, as Mr Blunkett said “reason to get up in the morning and a pattern of daily life”. Some enthusiasm for the task they were going to undertake would also need to be cultured.
Working with volunteer groups is not going to lead them to a job, there are already people with environmental type degrees working as volunteers in order gain experience and have something to add to their CV. But it could open their eyes to the possibility of going on to places like Moulton College to get the qualifications they need to find a career in the outdoors.

If the programme can be made to work then we will all benefit, and whilst I suspect it will go the same way as previous schemes we should at least wait until we see the details before condemning it on the basis of Mr Blunkett's previous political and private life.

29 August 2011

Children need the freedom to play

When I were a lad living in a village I had few restrictions on my movement, the only one being ‘be home by tea time’. My parents weren’t being neglectful; the same applied to all my friends. Together we would explore woods, climb trees, scrump apples and get dirty. We would also learn team work and risk assessment, long before we knew what those words meant.

Yes, there were adults we avoided for one reason or another, but it didn’t stop our parents allowing us the freedom to be children at large. I have seen nothing to suggest that there are more adults about now who pose a danger to children than there were in my day, it’s a perception created by the media where  good scare stories are better than good news to sell papers.

There is certainly more traffic about and so children need to be taught its dangers from an early age, but it is no reason to keep them corralled in a back garden. Protecting children from risk does not allow them to learn about dangers, all that happens is that when they do escape they will face risks that they don’t know how to handle.

But for parents to be confident there needs to be open spaces within a reasonable distance from home that children can reach safely. Play areas like Abington Park are great for a trip out but they don’t serve the day to day needs. Play areas don’t need to be all swings and slides; for young children logs and pipes that cater for the imagination serve just as well or better. For older children, as well as areas for ball games there need to be secret places for adventure and den building.

With new housing developments play has been integrated in the design, but in the older areas, built in the days when it was safe to play in the street, there is now little play opportunity. These communities need our support to turn any opportunity they have into safe play areas appropriate to the needs of their children.

The long term result of depriving children of the freedom to be at large outdoors is worse than that of protecting them from risk. We evolved to be outdoors; our physical and metal health are improved by it - less depression, less alleges and less fat.

Play is a child’s way of learning to become a responsible adult and parent. Take the risk and trust the children.

Three subsequent articles
Daily Express
Daily Telegraph
Mail Online 1
Mail Online 2

26 August 2011

Why does new link road need a rail bridge?

So the Ransome Road to Nunns Mill link road has been approved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour in this eyesore of a brown field site being developed, better this than green field sites. But why oh why does it need a rail bridge? What is the point of replacing one eyesore with another.

Back in the 19th century, when Bridge Street was the only way in to town from the south, a level crossing at Cotton End was considered sufficient. In the 1970s when Brackmills was being developed a level crossing over the same line was considered sufficient. Why now, now that the line has not been used in years is it thought that a bridge is needed? Even if there is a remote possibility that the line will re-open a crossing on the same level as at present would surely be enough.

Concerns have been expressed that the link road will be used as a rat-run, I would have thought that a level crossing, especially if slightly uneven, would have been a good deterrent.

There are some questions that need to be answered:-
  1. Is there some new regulation that says we can’t have new level crossings, even over unused railway lines?
  2. When was the line last used?
  3. Who decided that a bridge is needed?
  4. Who will ultimately be paying for the bridge?
These points I will be putting to Northampton Borough Council and West Northants Development Corporation. If there are further questions that need asking then let me know.

I'll report back as soon as I have some answers.

Link to
Planning application
NBC Planning Committee Paper
Chronicle & Echo Report 
WNDC News Article

25 August 2011

A sunny day at Bradlaugh Fields Nature Reserve

A dry Thursday at last, spent it with the Wildlife Trust on their nature reserve in the hills and hollows of Bradlaugh Fields. The day’s tasks were to cut back the brambles to stop them spreading any further and also to mow the grass, not to make it like a lawn but to maintain low soil fertility suitable for next year’s wild flowers and the nectar and pollen loving insects that feed on them.

The grass was cut with a mechanical scythe and brush cutters and then racked up and removed to the side of the reserve by hand.

As a bonus the bramble bushes were loaded with blackberries so filled my lunch box with some for a blackberry and apple pie.

24 August 2011

Hunsbury Hill – A park to explore.

Some parks have formal gardens, others extensive sports pitches, but not Hunsbury Hill. However what it does have over other parks is a wide variety of nooks, crannies and secluded paths to explore.

Central to the park is the Iron Age hill fort which now has little archaeological interest, having been extensively quarried for its ironstone by the Victorians. Running beside the hill fort and the backbone of the park is an ancient track, claimed by some to be pre-historic but certainly over 2000 years old and in regular use until the 19th century as a drove road, known as the Banbury Lane.

The tree covered banks and gullies of the hill fort provide a natural playground for older children to let off steam, whilst for the younger ones there is a formal playground. Large open areas of grass provide space for picnics and games.

For those who want to stretch their legs there are paths to discover and except for the southern periphery path can be walked with a push-chair, though occasionally a little effort is required. For a more extended walk the Banbury Lane can be followed west from the car park on a well formed path to reach the Grand Union Canal after about a mile.

As well as the park there is the Iron Stone Railway Museum (open to the public on 28 & 29 of this month). Next to the car park off Hunsbury Hill Road and much to everyone’s relief, the old toilet block, which had been derelict for many years, has had a total make over and re-opened as the ‘Drovers Return Cafe’ (with toilet facilities) open daily 9am to 6pm.

Hunsbury Hill Park is maintained by Northampton Borough Council with the assistance of Friends of Hunsbury Hill Country Park

23 August 2011

Nobody picks blackberries anymore

Thirty years ago blackberry picking was a competitive sport. Like small boys trying to get the best conkers, blackberries were picked before they were ready, otherwise someone else would get to them first. Now you can walk past a bush, even at a busy spot, and there will be berries close to hand, no need to hazard pricks and scratches to get to that ripe one just out of reach or risk your health with those at dog leg height.

On a summers walk, what joy to be able to dine on a handful of juicy berries instead of a sip of warm water. So thanks to all of you who can’t tell a fruit from a mobile phone, who prefer to buy your insipid cultivated blackberries from a supermarket and leave the wild tasty berries for those of us who enjoy the delight of a free meal and stained fingers. We are children once again.

22 August 2011

I've been abducted by aliens

"Mum, I've been abducted by aliens, I was just standing there when something gripped me from behind and I was thrust into a large white bag and transported to another place. Here, a hand came into the bag and holding me from behind dragged me out into the light and a shackle placed around my leg, I was also measured and weighed. They must have thought that I wasn't worth keeping for after a while they threw me into the air and I quickly flew home. Phew, it was a close thing!"
This juvenile green woodpecker was caught and ringed by a Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer during the volunteers conservation day at Storton's Pits last week.

Bird ringing or bird banding is a technique used in the study of wild birds, by attaching a small, individually numbered, metal or plastic tag to their legs or wings, so that various aspects of the bird's life can be studied by the ability to re-find the same individual later. This can include migration, longevity, mortality, population studies, territoriality, feeding behaviour, and other aspects that are studied by ornithologists. Wikipedia

19 August 2011

Work starts on next phase of Connect2 cycle path

Only two years after being put down the surface of the Conect2 cycle path linking Pineham to the town centre is being ripped up and re-laid. The work is being incorporated with the next stage of the project which will see the paths linking Briar Hill to St James being upgraded into a cycle way.

Footpaths in the area will be closed while the construction of a triangle of cycle ways takes place. However, there will be alternatives routes during the 10 weeks that will be needed for the work.

A new bridge linking Upton Country Park to the canal tow path which was due for installation last year should now be built later this year, opening up access to the park from the West Hunsbury area.

18 August 2011

Delapre Abbey Water Garden

It's not just a rumour, work has started on renovating the water garden. The area has been surrounded by red plastic fencing, coloured lines sprayed on the grass, concrete prized up and the fountain pumped out. A bit of a mess at the moment but I look forward to seeing the finished job in 6 weeks time.

17 August 2011

Northampton Riverside Development

An article in today's Chronicle report a £1b investment in Northampton's Riverside that should create 17,000 jobs has been approved. This is great news, the jobs are high value and so give Northampton's youth something to aspire to. Our schools and colleges should see this as a challenge to get as many of these jobs as possible for their students.

In the detailed planning the effect on the riverside needs to be taken into account. The landscaping needs to be taken right up to the rivers edge and not separated from it as has happened round B&Q and KFC which as resulted in unkempt eyesores which nobody takes long term responsibility for.

An artists impression of the Innovation Centre shows a 5 story building, on a plot of land between St Peters Way and the river this would seem far too high, we should be opening up the view, not screening it off.

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