View from the Bridge: 50
by John Morrison
50: A Watching Brief
Thanks, largely, to the efforts of Sky and her activist chums, an unremarkable area of scrubland just outside of Milltown is still beyond the reach of the developers' grasping claws. The plans for a hypermarket have been shelved - hopefully for good - and those shoppers who really need a choice of two dozen different brands of baked beans are having to go elsewhere.
Once the battle had been won, however, sightings of rare and endangered species declined to a more familiar rosta of sparrows, weeds and horseflies. The editor of the Milltown Times was almost persuaded by a misguided local naturalist that the Thomson's Gazelle was now extinct in the South Pennines, and that its passing deserved to be mourned in newsprint.
The scrubland has been saved, but only at a price. So riddled was the land with the protesters' labyrinthine tunnels that torrential rain caused the land to subside. With a moistly flatulent noise - imagine a million cows lifting a leg simultaneously out of wet mud - the scrubland suddenly gave way. It was just good fortune that it happened in the night. Otherwise there would have been many more casualties. As it was, an adulterous couple in a discreetly parked car were left with superficial bruising and a lot of explaining to do. Not least, how a company Mondeo with steamed-up windows came to be marooned on an island in the middle of a lake near Milltown.
The event was duly reported in the Milltown Times , though the editor decided to save the couple's blushes. "There's no point in making enemies", he rationalised, as he put the finishing touches to that week's headline: 'Milltown Man Loses No-claims Bonus'.
The town has witnessed so many changes over the last few years that Milltown folk take the lake's overnight appearance in their stride. Now that Winter is over, the water-margins are softened by reeds and bullrushes. Overhanging trees are in blossom: the candy-floss colours of Spring. A pair of Mallard ducks have take up residence and, finding a safe haven on the back-seat of a rusting Ford Mondeo, are building a nest.
More by accident by design we finally have the nature reserve we were promised, where bird-watchers can scan the scene for unusual species. The developers had been thwarted by an imaginative list of rare species that would have been lost to the bulldozers. So it's rather ironic that a blustery morning during the spring migration should bring not one but two rare birds to our little lake.
There's a Semi-Palmeated Sandpiper, standing exhausted and disoriented in the shallows, which should, by rights, be in Southern Europe. There's a Wilson's Pharalope, looking lost and out of place among the more commonplace Coots and Moorhens, that the bird books suggest should be summering in California. And all around the lake is a rapidly-swelling gaggle of excitable twitchers, armed with high-powered telescopes... who really ought to be at work.
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