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Surrey Hills Landscape Assessment


In The Flax Field

by Stephen Plaice

Over the last stile before the station -

a fading blue carpet down to the stream -

flax - antique crop of the papermakers.

I started on the footpath imagining

lost Junes and the heaven it must have been

for lovers who came here once

and chose this place for their coupling.

Halfway across, a plump balloon

in brilliant panelled polyesters

cleared the glossy stand of trees.

It hung in the evening air, then fired up

and drifted disdainful on its way,

leaving me in the darkening field,

caught between my thoughts and its going.

For this, was it really for this

the cottagers stooped over the plough,

and the field-girls embraced the corn

cutting and binding till they bled?

Just so Lord Leisure might one day

rise up in his ample basket

to survey the county they had made?

No sooner asked than I come across

the lovers lying in the flax four centuries ago.

He's snoring on his back

She's gazing upwards at the hills,

wondering why the rainbow

so vivid when they crossed the stile,

leaves no trace in all this blue.

© Countryside Agency/Stephen Plaice

The Sunken Lane

by Stephen Plaice

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Is it the owlers lugging their barrels?

Is it the navvies shouldering their shovels?

Is it the broomsquires hawking their besoms?

Is it the burners turned off the commons?

Is it the hammermen leaving their ponds?

Is it the coppicers waving their wands?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Is it the Swing-men bound for the gallows?

Is it the tinkers smoked from their hollows?

Is it the sailors deserting the fleet?

Is it the peddlars with rotting feet?

Is it the constables chasing the crooks?

Is it the quakers bashing their books?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Who is that coming up the sunken Lane?

Is it Wat Tyler inciting the peasants?

Is it the poacher stealing our pheasants.

Is it the troopers the justices sent?

Is it the pilgrims heading for Kent?

Is it the highwayman waiting to rob them?

Is it the Diggers heading for Cobham?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Is it the burglars clinking their jemmies?

Is it the beggars begging for pennies?

Is it the jobless of no fixed abode?

Is it the dongas stopping the road?

Is it the dossers swigging their brew?

Is it the kids breaking curfew?

Who is that coming up the sunken Lane?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

Is it the puma stalking his dinner?

Is it the Christ pursuing a sinner?

Is it the maniac with a hedge-trimmer?

Is it the vicar with Mrs Rimmer?

Is it the Germans through Dorking Gap?

Is it the Blacks off the Hog's Back?

Is it the Martians landed in Farnham?

Is the door locked?

Is the alarm on?

The Jag in the garage?

The premium paid?

The tank in the garden?

The land mines laid?

Gardener loyal? Security sober?

Is it all over? O is it all over?

Who is that coming up the sunken lane?

© Countryside Agency/Stephen Plaice

Danger of grounding

by Sandra Stevens

Satellite of the south side of the city

Surrey surrenders its stores to the curiosity

of commuters to common countryside culture,

Signs warn of Noise surveys

and suchlike, dictate Footpath

No Horses, No cycles. Danger

of Death on a telegraph pole

in emergency contact Seeboard

035 045110. He says

Bracken is carcinogenic

Don't breathe. Suggests

gaiters against ticks and encephalitis,

I would give the earth

for a bit of grounding,

No danger of that I fear.

© Countryside Agency/Sandra Stevens

Normally a great one for names

I long for a namelessness of dither and dapple

for daylight and darkness to pattern the tarmac

down these hollow lanes to the Common.

© Countryside Agency/Sandra Stevens

Excerpt from Lord Over Beast and Leaf, Here (what more to you want?)

by Sandra Stevens

Catch your breath and have no fear

keep calm coming upon an opening

gap at the edge of the old wood

see through tangles of tumbling trees

a shaft of light through beech leaves

trust in the rugged trunk of an oak

its hardwood hug its cracked core

in touch with the rub of rough mud

the crust sharp and cakemix crumble

below soil and earth worth its weight

of rich leafmould on sunken paths

ditches of dark dug-outs drenched

underworld caves of beechtree roots

and the soft gloom of an ironstone chunk

and here as it passes a rush of air

flushing the dust fresh off the branches

and the flurry of leafage and thin twig

when a wave of wind weaves its way

from hills to weald and on to the sea

for there's no fear of growth and change

of life and death of green and brown

of sap and root and branch of bracken

gorse and heathland chalk and sand

and slopes and flats of far and near

or wind and storm out of the blue

the rhythms and patterns and weathers and seasons

the sproutings and twinings and droopings and fallings

the shifting and drifting from seedling to compost

are the givings and takings of comings and goings

Walk through with a sure foot.

For fear comes when you most expect it.

Fear is knowing what others might do.

Fear comes with records and forward projection.

Fear is of human intervention.

Conceivably, we invented our own alarm,

interrupting the cycles of healing and harm

with supreme confidence in human invention

and our right to profit from the natural environment.

We introduced with equanimity non-indiginous species,

and a variety of mechanical and technical innovations,

we exploited the abundance of mineral deposits,

we harnessed the potential of the water courses,

we constructed factories to produce ammunition,

designed landscapes for aesthetic perspectives,

and generally considered it the prime opportunity

of our collective condition as homo sapiens

- this ability to explore and exploit possibilities,

interfering or neglecting according to our requirements.

The current situation is undeniably complex.

The public prefers its nature undisturbed,

imagining some idyll, and resenting regulation.

The term management is anathema to them.

in their ignorance, they fail to recognise

that this terrain, with its flora and fauna,

has for centuries been managed by humans.

We are obliged to manage, and manage better

than the majority of our arrogant predatory predecessors;

and our targets for maintaining biodiversity are mandatory.

However, we constantly encounter difficulties.

Our intentions appear to be under suspicion.

regardless of innumerable counter measures.

We provide cultural and historical information

and assorted displays of ecological data

for visitors; indicate desirable routes

and vantage points; and clarify permissions

or restrictions, prohibition, caution, etcetera.

We have dual priorities: to facilitate access,

but prevent the destruction of essential habitats.

A certain employee expressed the necessity

to inculcate concern through indoctrination.

Coincidentally, it would appear some contend

we extrapolate anxiety and infect perception;

and that a preference for classical linguistic terminology

is a reflection of a persistent conviction of superiority.

I do not want to be broken in

I want the feel of easing limbs

And the skin's pores opening

I do not want to break in

to thickets where ticks cling and suck

and dump their muck and roots clutch

at the edge of a rutted track and stuff

falls and rots and soaks and sprouts

and weird weeds wake in the ditch

from seed and mess of moss and earth

burst out of a bank with a watery throb

a stink of a knob that's just the job

for a mob of flies to stick tongues in

to lick and spit make ruck and ruin

and blow the sporey horn of life

while wasps are at work with a caterpillar

and quick ants act on what matters

haul bits about and get rid of clutter

and do the odd butterfly a turn or two

sorting out the life of the silver-studded blue

And I'll try not to trample the tiniest spider

Cross my heart and wish to die sir.

I will not add my havoc here.

Just stay still long enough to

Hear the nightjar's earthly churr.

For I have no lust to take over.

© Countryside Agency/Sandra Stevens