SPS Director Fiona Cairns’ East Anglian Daily Times column 18 April 2020
Firstly, I would like, on behalf of the Suffolk Preservation Society, to wish all the staff and readers of the EADT good health during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are certainly challenging times, both in terms of the numbers of people directly affected by the spread of the virus and the businesses and organisations that have had to cease operating in any meaningful way and whose long-term future may now be in doubt. For others, remote ways of working from our kitchens, living rooms and spare bedrooms may well become a ‘new’ normal – although at the moment it is also a curiously odd phenomenon for many starved of direct human contact beyond their families.
Here at the Society, our small staff team and much larger army of volunteers have been working remotely for some time. We are still evaluating planning applications and still working with a range of amenity groups campaigning against a number of disproportionately insensitive and destructive infrastructure projects. More than anything though, I think we are all feeling a sense of dislocation as we are separated from the very parts of Suffolk’s heritage that we are campaigning to both preserve and enhance.
The feeling is especially poignant during days of fine weather, including the one during which I’m writing this article: I absolutely itch to get out and explore and re-explore Suffolk’s beautiful buildings and exquisite landscapes. Yet this very separation might be a good thing in the longer-term. Most obviously, there is the usual psychological effect of boosting the value of experiences that are now out of reach. But also, there is the opportunity to reflect upon the landscapes we see from our windows and how they are constantly being shaped, both by natural and human-made influences.
One of my colleagues at the Society shared her thoughts on this with me, emphasising that far from being interested in keeping such landscapes in aspic, the Society understands and appreciates such changes – but only if they happen at a human scale and over time.
“I look out on the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and see a huge undulating field which reflects social change more than anything. Before the war it was all gorse bushes, wild and full of verdant nature, the land part of an old established family estate, probably used for rough shooting. During the war it was ploughed to produce food for the country, then used for growing crops – whatever the Ministry of Agriculture required the owner to grow. Later it was left to revert and the top part of the field (became the local football pitch, then after the footballers received a nice patch of ground in the centre of village, it became vacant and an old eccentric lady moved on to it and lived in an abandoned chicken shed on wheels. It later became a field for sheep, cared for by a shepherdess, who sold the wonderful lamb to the best London restaurants as well as locally. Now it lies fallow again, and is home to skylark nests. Of late a kite soars across it, a newcomer. Ramblers, walkers with dogs, runners and anyone wanting to exercise during the coronavirus pandemic are using it now. It is a beautiful undulating landscape with high points which reveal views in all directions – looking towards the medieval church in one direction and woods and fields, and a narrow winding river in another. But it is the combination of man and nature that has made it what it is – a lovely part of the AONB.”
When we come out of lock-down, I do hope that we’ll all look again at our precious Suffolk landscapes with renewed love and knowledge.
For most of us, that day can’t come soon enough!