We live in a tiny hamlet on the Pennine watershed, three houses (rectory, the old glebe barn and stable) and a little Norman church, either side of a single track road. Above is a small, rounded hill that was once typical moorland. This giant sponge soaked up the endless gentle rains that sweep in from Lancashire, and through a wonderfully constructed system of drains and wells supplied the rector and his household with clean, soft water.

From the middle of the last century, the government in London decided that such moorland had to be overgrazed. The farmer, who rented that land, was required to stock it with more sheep than it could support, notwithstanding that there was no market price for those sheep. The resulting flattened, intensive grassland has gradually increased the run-off when it rains. Instead of holding the water like a sponge, the little hill now throws it off like a seal skin.

The drains can no longer cope and have had to be repaired. With unrestrained zeal the council has set to. A month later, after excavating and re-excavating the whole stretch of road and adjoining verges from one end of the hamlet to the other, we have an entirely new system, complete with contoured kerbs and bollards that, as one person put it, would not look out of place in Manchester city centre.

Not a drop will fall, but it will be borne with supreme, urban efficiency to the next stage, a farmer’s field. He has this very month hired a fleet of JCBs, to improve the ditches across his land, so that the water can flow more efficiently into the beck, and thence to the river. All so that the flood waters can reach the lowland folk in the lower parts of Yorkshire with ruthless rapidity.

Do not blame global warming. It is little hills such as ours, which at vast expense have been destroyed, so that at still greater expense the problem can be shifted elsewhere, so that at still greater expense . . . The sadness is that little moorland hill was once church land, until the Church Commissioners gave it away to one of their own. It also had sky-larks nesting, but they are long gone.


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