DAVID ATTENBOROUGH AND THE THREAT TO SCOTTISH HERITAGE

JOHN McGURK

It’s hard to imagine Sir David Attenborough allowing the use of his name and photograph to support the work of a company which wants to dig up the environment but it’s true.

Perhaps he gets a sizeable donation to his favourite charity. Whatever the reward, let’s hope it’s enough for the TV naturalist not to worry about his reputation while the organisation in question is attempting to invade one of Scotland’s most iconic natural wonders.

The Falls of Clyde, 30 miles south of Glasgow in deepest Lanarkshire, is one of five world heritage sites in Scotland, hailed because of its spectacular natural beauty, which attracts around 70,000 visitors a year.

There’s a wonderful 30 minute walk along the banks of the River Clyde which winds its way to a viewpoint above Corra Linn where slow-moving water suddenly crashes down with enough volume to fill 7000 domestic baths a second.

The majesty of the falls inspired writings by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Scott, were painted by Turner and powered the cotton mills of New Lanark where housing and schooling were pioneered by the reformer Robert Owen in the 18th century.

In contrast to the deplorable living conditions elsewhere, New Lanark became a model of social revolution and remains today as a magnificent temple and reminder of Scotland’s significant contribution to the industrial revolution.

Yet campaigners now believe that the Falls of Clyde are being threatened by the multi-national quarrying company Cemex which wants to develop an adjacent site and extract 3.6 million tonnes of sand.

This is despite a pledge by Donald Dewar when, as First Minister, he explicitly assured UNESCO that the area would be protected from future quarrying.

But local authorities have a reputation for pretending to listen but then doing what they want — and so it was that South Lanarkshire Council had other ideas.

Although the quarry will encroach into the 1648 acre buffer zone which was set up as a protective barrier around the falls, the council granted permission to Cemex back in 2010.

Inexplicably, Historic Scotland has conceded that the quarry would have a significant impact on the area but has refused to object to the proposals —a position which has angered and puzzled campaigners.

Nevertheless, environmental pressure led to the Scottish Government calling in the application and now, following public hearings last August, we await a final decision sometime in the next few months.

We walked the route to the Falls of Clyde over the weekend and there can be no argument that this is a nature lover’s paradise full of natural beauty where, currently, there are nesting peregrine falcons which can be seen through telescopes set up by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Future visitors may not be so fortunate. If Cemex get their way, those who overlook the falls will also be able to see the quarry and the ugly damage which will be caused by heavy machinery; the constant movement of filthy trucks and sand being blown around uncontrollably.

Cemex itself is a Mexican-owned global leader in the supply of concrete and, of course, has a firm commitment to sustainable development.

This is, presumably, why David Attenborough lent his name to a restored quarry in Nottinghamshire which opened in 2005 as a wildlife reserve and award-winning education centre.

Sir David also allows his picture to be used on the Cemex website so we can probably conclude that he supports the company’s aims and is happy to be associated with it.

Excavating millions of tonnes of sand may well employ many workers over several years in an area which cries our for investment.

It may well be that Cemex, after they have harvested their profit, will also restore and rehabilitate the land around the Falls of Clyde.

But any restoration of the scarred landscape into another Attenborough-style nature reserve will undoubtedly be many years after the event.

Whether Sir David is aware of the battle over the Falls of Clyde is another matter.

But now that you are, it’s still not too late to sign the petition and join the campaign to stop Cemex in the first place.

Contact: Professor Mark Stephens, chair, Save Our Landscapes.

MarkStephens64@aol.com  

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