Caught by the River

Nick's Pics

Nick Small | 20th May 2011

Fire. Words & pictures by Nick Small.

I’m lucky to have some of the world’s finest moorland on my doorstep and, taking full advantage of the extended warm and dry Easter, I decided to enjoy it with my lad. We trudged up onto the tops, sharing space, if not time, with Heathcliff and Cathy or whomsoever they were modelled upon. Eight miles into the walk, we crossed the threshold of gesticulating cotton grass and onto the great sponge that is Ovenden Moor’s peat bog. Ordinarily this is ground you would circumnavigate, lest you risk finding yourself chest deep in the soup of decaying vegetable matter…a soup from which some of our nation’s rivers seep, then trickle and flow. On this occasion though, we could walk across the surface, accompanied by snap and crunch rather than the usual squelch.

It was great. We watched, and talked about, Curlews, nesting Grouse, Lapwing chicks, Wheatear and Skylarks. The lad took it all in, as lads do, avaricious for knowledge. Then I added caution. The moors, I told him, are a volatile place when so dry. We noted several carcasses of spent Chinese Lanterns and we talked of the risk they might pose to a moor so tinder-dry and willing to burn. We talked about how fire gets into the peat and burns for days, spreading underground and erupting through the crust in spontaneous inflammatory bursts.

The following day, the moors were ablaze, the flames apparently fanned by the wind turbines (but in reality, by a brisk Easterly). Countless fire fighters, beating forlornly at the infernal pest for days like Sysyphus with his boulder, were aided by tenders, bowsers, helicopters and willing volunteers armed with no more than the love of this beautiful landscape. Myriad banknotes drifted off, no more than smoke in the eyes of austerity’s face.

When the first fire (caused by a criminally negligent smoker) was extinguished, a couple of youths, giddy at the spectacle, started another. It burned for the best part of a week. The fires crept into a precious area of woodland. The whole lot would have gone up, destroying a local beauty spot which was in the nation’s top 10 favourite parks had it not been for a quirk of fate that the winds remained in a favourable direction.

As it is, the moor is now a charred wasteland. The nesting birds have deserted, many having lost this year’s progeny. It may be some time before they return. There’s drama, beauty, pathos and sadness in the pictures…and a fairly obvious message.

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