THIS looks like it could be a lovely place to walk the dog," remarked the fireman as I led him to the burning remnants of a the blue wheelie bin.
"It is," I answered, "It hasn’t always been like this!"
And so it hasn’t. Not so long ago, I could walk my dog along the Mardyke Way and around the ancient footpaths of Brannett’s Wood without stepping over a seemingly endless obstacle course of cheap beer cans and discarded wet wipes. I had even gone so far as to venture that this little pocket of South Ockendon actually gave us an area of outstanding natural beauty – enough to rival many, more renowned locations up an down the country.
That was, however, before the long overdue decision was taken to improve the area further by giving children a place to play and visitors places to sit in order to relax and enjoy the view.
Early in 2015, the Forestry Commission began cutting back overgrown areas and creating natural habitats for bugs and wildlife. This was quickly followed by the play area in the centre of the woods, designed and created by the children at Somer’s Heath School – it comprised of a wooden activity trail made from the wood which had been resulted from the coppicing. It looked great, fitted in with the surroundings and celebrated the achievement and imagination of the children of the area. At the same time, benches, also fashioned from trunks of the felled trees, were set out. They featured brilliantly carved images of the local wildlife – owls and badgers. Again, it was a celebration of the skill and craft of local people.
However, before long, the piles of wood, left for the benefit of the wildlife, had become ready made bonfires and the play area itself was destroyed within a matter of weeks. Within days, the sound pods had been smashed and burnt and the central climbing logs were also charred and unusable. Given that each area of destruction was surrounded by beer cans and food packets, it is obvious to see that some had taken all this industry and creativity to be, in fact, the chance for a jolly up and an opportunity to practice their wrecking skills. The benches lasted a little bit longer until being destroyed – someone saw fit to bring a hacksaw with them to decapitate one of the carved badgers which adorned it.
Over the spring and autumn months, the litter and fire problem has increased dramatically. Each weekend seemed to spawn a new part of the woods which had been scarred by a bonfire and discarded waste. There is even a new trend of picking up dog poo, putting it in a bag and suspending it from the nearest tree for kiddies to investigate. Really.
This weekend, however, it reached a new low.
The smaller fishing pond at Marley is a beautiful place in its own right. The trees provide a screen to the motorway junction – a thin green line between peace and relentless traffic. In the early morning or just before dusk, the water is still and clean. Over the weekend, though, the area was used as the venue for a party. Tents were up – both shop bought and makeshift and fun was being had.
Now, I have no problem if people fancy camping here – I love nothing more than camping, but camping and camping responsibly are two different things. I have never felt at more of a loss that standing by the pond this morning and seeing the resulting mess of other people’s actions.
The water was covered in rubbish – crisp packets, drinks cans and bottles, sandwich cartons, broken parts of camping gear, branches torn from trees, a traffic barrier, tarpaulin, a nappy and even a condom floated silently across the water..I didn’t see the condom wrapper so either the wearer took it away and popped it in the bin or used the wrong part of the product.
What sort of people can honestly leave such a place in that kind of a mess? It is a sorry moment when a proud resident of the town just has to shrug his shoulders and finally admit he’s surrounded by morons – people who clearly have no sense of social decency or respect.
Efforts have been made to improve an already beautiful area, but you have to doubt the point of it all. On one hand, we have an area which, if treated well, provides a relaxing escape from our hectic, every day lives, but on the other, you know that any improvements will quickly be destroyed by the utter cretins who believe they have some kind of right to take it away.
I’m sure that many reading this will be complaining about kids having no respect – I’d sadly have to report that whole families were camping over at Marley, so this isn’t purely a problem with the kids – let’s not forget that a local primary school provided the inspiration for the play area.
As I made my way back home after taking the fireman to his third call out in the woods that day, I made my way past the couple who I see in the same place most days, having what sounds like the same argument, I happened upon another couple who were using their metal detectors. It seemed ironic that while I was getting cross about modern litter, here were a couple hoping to clear away discarded property of our ancestors. Perhaps in a century or two, our successors will find that discarded johnny wrapper.
This issue is all about respect and decency and the citizens of the town need to appreciate what is on their doorstep. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of England’s most breathtaking woodlands – Sherwood Forest, Forest of Dean, Forest of Bowland and the New Forest to name but a few and there is one thing which separates them in terms of beauty to what we have in Brannett’s Wood – respect. Many of those who use our woodland show no respect either to the residents of the town or to the ancient woodland itself. On our doorstep is the second oldest managed woodland in the county and it hasn’t survived for so long without being cared for. As it is, we may as well clear the lot and chuck some more faceless, lego style houses, the like of which are currently springing up all over the town, in its place.
Either that, or those who visit it can take some responsibility and show some respect – both adults and children.