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Breath of a Woodwose. Original drawing by Bill Rogers via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Breath of a Woodwose. Original drawing by Bill Rogers via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Beast of Beckermet against the nuclear menace? a Lakeland story for All Hallow's Eve

Marianne Birkby

31st October 2016

As the nuclear juggernaut drives the destruction of the Cumbria coast at Sellafield with nuclear waste dumps, boreholes, dredged-out rivers and a massive new nuclear power station, Marianne Birkby recalls ancient legends of the Woodwose, the Green Man, and the Beast of Beckermet. Can these forces of untamed nature be called upon to combat the growing nuclear menace?

What am I?
Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river's edge
I enter water.
Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear.

Readers of the Whitehaven News were told a spooky tale via a letter written into the paper in 1998. The anonymous letter appears to be written in all seriousness and says:

"While walking my dog on the evening of Sunday, January 25th on the road out of Beckermet towards the A595, I passed Nursery Woods. The time was approximately 16.45 hrs. It was starting to get dark so my visibility was not that good, but as I walked past the woods I heard the snapping of branches.

"Thinking it was a deer or another animal, I stopped to try and see what it was. Looking through the tree's I noticed a large creature covered in sort of ginger brown hair that seemed to be drinking from a pond about 150 metres into the woods.

"As the lighting was getting bad I was straining to make out what the animal was but as I stopped and stared it appeared to see me, at which point it reared up onto its hind legs and made off slowly further into the woods. I would estimate its height when upright to be approximately six feet and six inches and its weight to be about 14 stone.

"This was not a man as it was naked except for its covering of hair. Also it was not a deer as it made off on its hind legs. After the sighting I rushed to my home in Beckermet and told my wife what I had witnessed. Let me assure you that this is not a hoax. I was going to report the incident to the police but my wife persuaded me not to for fear of ridicule.

"I have lived in Beckermet for seven years and walk past these woods almost every day and have never witnessed anything like it before or since."

Woodwose

So what is this Beast of Beckermet? In the Cathedral at Carlisle there is a carving from the early 1400's depicting a Hairy Wildman of the Woods also known as 'Woodwose'.

The Woodwose of Medieval Europe is interchangeable with the guardian of nature, the Green Man and very easy to dismiss as medieval legend. But somehow the legend is persistent especially it seems at important sacred sites such as cathedrals, stone crosses and stone circles.

The Whitehaven News letter writer referred to Nursery Woods at Beckermet. Nursery Woods are Ancient semi natural woodland. Miles of ancient hedgerow radiate out from this woodland, both habitats are increasingly rare and getting rarer in West Cumbria.

Incredibly this is just a part of the vast site earmarked by NuGen (Nuclear Generation) for "the biggest nuclear development in Europe." The principal developers are Toshiba and they have called the plan 'Moorside'.

With friends like these ...

Friends of the Lake District are opposing the pylons but incredibly are not lending their weight to opposing ‘Moorside'. But they have said that:

"Loss of Nursery Wood (Ancient Semi Natural Woodland) would take place under the current plans as it would be buried under the screening mounds. This would be a very significant loss of irreplaceable habitat and landscape features within the Moorside site."

This strong statement is then undermined by FoLD helpfully suggesting that the loss can "be compensated for. Compensation should be put in place as quickly as possible to ensure no net loss of biodiversity." Really?!

Old mines

I can see the Beast of Beckermet (B.O.B) coming up out of the vast network of old mine workings under the Beckermet area especially to raise an eyebrow at that suggestion. Interestingly there is a follow up to the B.O.B letter. Alan Cleaver, former Deputy Editor of the Whitehaven News (one of the founding members of ASSAP and creator of the Strange Britain website) tells of a response to the spooky letter.

"On January 25 I attended the birthday party of a friend at The White Mare, Beckermet. I was told the party was to be fancy dress ... I ordered a taxi and was duly dropped off at Beckermet approximately 16.30. Imagine my surprise when I entered the pub bar dressed as an orang-utan, to be met by all my mates dressed in jeans and shirts. The fancy dress had been cancelled.

"I ran out of the door to a chorus of laughter, before anybody knew who I was. I thought the quickest way home without being seen would be over the fields, so off I fled. As you can imagine this is no easy thing dressed as I was. I came to a pond in a small wood, stopped and knelt down for a drink of water. Just as I finished my drink I heard a dog bark and turned to see a man staring at me...."

This is just as perplexing as the original B.O.B story. From Beckermet's White Mare, Nursery Woods really doesn't lead to anywhere except Sellafield and the Irish Sea. Also there aren't many people I know of who would take a drink out of a muddy puddle in such close proximity to Sellafield.

The meandering River Ehen

The river Ehen flows from Ennerdale to the proposed Moorside site. The Ehen loops and meanders along an area known as the Boggles (Bog Holes) parallel to the Irish Sea. At low tide the rivers Ehen and Calder merge and cross the beach as one.

Sadly the last reaches of the Ehen's sister river, the Calder, no longer meanders brimful of salmon, freshwater pearl mussels and eels to the sea, but has been straightened and made into an industrial channel running through the Sellafield reprocessing plant.

NuGen are not hanging around waiting for results of consultations or for the government's expected rubber stamp on the Development Control Order but are already using the river Ehen as a dumping ground for 300 'exploratory' borehole wastes on the 'Moorside' site. The liquid and solid wastes from these deep boreholes will inevitably contain decades worth of leakage from Sellafield.

Incredibly there are no raised eyebrows, no outcry from conservation, farming, fishing or wildlife groups, only the pylons have come in for criticism. Deep concrete foundations, chemical / oil run off and industrialisation would irreversibly damage the Ehen and the groundwaters, even without any nuclear reactors ever being fired up.

Even Cumbria Wildlife Trust have chosen to nail their colours to the nuclear mast and NuGen are of course more than happy to use CWT and also the Wild Ennerdale project as greenwash:

"Volunteers, including CEO Tom Samson and members of NuGen's senior management team, joined teams from Cumbria Wildlife Trust and The Forestry Commission to construct dams and improve natural drainage in this rare landscape that provides a habitat for a number of protected species. NuGen's Environmental Sustainability Manager, Alexandra Brennan, said:

"'NuGen is committed to protecting the environment close to our Moorside Project, which is home to some very special, important and increasingly rare habitats - the peatland at Gillerthwaite Mire is a really good example and that's why we jumped at the opportunity to volunteer our time and help with this work.'"

It seems the official bodies tasked with protecting our wildlife have been well and truly nobbled by the insidious many-headed nuclear beast. The Woodwose as protector of the woods and wildlife is needed now more than ever! But who will protect the habitat of the Beast of Beckermet?

 


 

Marianne Birkby is spokesperson for Radiation Free Lakeland (RFL). RFL is a voluntary organisation of local activists giving their own time and expertise freely. Any donations go directly to campaigning for nuclear safety.

Petition: 'Lock the Gate on Drigg!

Petition: 'Stop Moorside!'

 

 

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