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Conservation And Access Officers Report 1985/86 - Addendum

By the time you receive this you will have already had time to read the letter of 30th April from 'Butch' campaigning against me for the post of Conservation and Access Officer of the Council and I trust that you will now allow me an opportunity to state my case and set the record straight.  Unfortunately a number of cavers on Mendip are currently involved in a 'witch hunt' and they have decided that I am the witch, however I refuse to be the scapegoat they are looking for.  The letter from 'Butch' is a typical example of the misinformation that is currently circulating and it is essential that this is stopped once and for all.

He says that the scope of the SSSI's and the restrictions placed on them has greatly increased from that approved six years ago.  This is complete rubbish.  To start with the areas now being scheduled are minimal compared with that proposed by the Council in 1978.  If we take the Priddy caves which are causing all the problems the original proposal was to have the whole Wookey catchment as one site.  To Quote from the proposed list at the time "Whole of the Wookey Hole Catchment covering an area of ? sq. km.  Includes all major and some minor feeder caves in the Priddy area between Priddy Village and the Hunters Lodge".  Imagine the problems that this might have caused compared with what the NCC are now doing that is scheduling only the land directly above the cave.  The scope of the sites therefore has not increased at all, but quite dramatically reduced.  It might be interesting to note that in the Dunstans catchment a large block of land between the end of Stoke Lane and the resurgence has in fact been de-scheduled.  With regard to the restrictions none were approved in 1978, and none have been approved since.

A number of other people have also mentioned this problem about the sites being defined using field boundaries.  This is not a new innovation as many would have you believe, and was in fact the method employed in defining practically all the sites already scheduled prior to 1978. The reasons for using field boundaries is that the sites also have to be registered with the Land Registry and they will not accept totally arbitrary lines drawn across the centre of plots but require fixed lines to be used as defined on an ordnance survey map.  Cave entrances alone have never been covered, and all the original sites covered the full extent of the cave as known at the time of scheduling.

It cannot be denied that cavers are being blamed for the scheduling and to some extent this is a valid statement.  However it must not be forgotten that when the CSCC participated in the Revision during 1978/80 it was policy at that time, as it had always been in the past, to give as many caves as possible SSSI status.

No one could possibly have known that the Wildlife and Countryside Act was to be passed and the effect that this would have.  Unfortunately we are only now finding out albeit a bit late in the day.  If we had been aware of these things it is certain that we would not have allowed the present situation to arise, however it has and now our efforts must be turned to getting us out of the mess.  Every possible step is currently being taken in this respect.

Why did I not inform the CSCC of the potential problems when they first became apparent.  The supposition here is that I knew of the problems before they existed.  How this would have been possible I do not know unless Butch believes me to clairvoyant. I did find out at the end of January that scheduling had started and as a matter of course mentioned it at the CSCC meeting on the 15 February.  It was only after this that anyone became aware that there were problems, and immediately upon finding out steps were taken to try and resolve them.  This matter has been under constant discussion with the Councils Chairman, Dave Irwin, and others, and one of the first things to be done was to organise a meeting between the NCC and the landowners. If I had been directly involved with the scheduling as Butch suggests then it is probable that the current situation may never have arisen.

I fully agree that we must pursue a policy sympathetic to the landowners, although I have assumed that we have done this in the past and would continue to do it in the future, in any case.  We are not taking any other route, as is suggested, nor intend to do so.  It seems to me that a few people believe that if the blame can be placed on me and I can be disposed of, the problem will be a long way to being solved.  I think this very unlikely.  If my credibility with any landowners is in doubt then this can only be due to them being told that I am responsible for the problems they are now having, despite this being totally untrue.  On the other hand I have very good relationships with bodies such as the NCC. And I am currently discussing the matter with them and making representations to try and solve the problems.

Regarding the Fairy Cave Quarry business Butch also seems to be confused here.  He says the CSCC can have no policy with respect to this, however he is wrong because the CSCC does have a policy of sorts as he would know if he had attended the meeting on the 15 February.  At that meeting Cerberus tabled very detailed comments on the planning applications which they wished to be submitted by the NCA on behalf of the CSCC and the club.  This paper was accepted by the meeting and therefore, although some people consider by default, became CSCC policy.  The NCA was therefore involved at the request of Cerberus and with the sanction of the CSCC. Butch might not agree with this but it is a fact. I would therefore assume that it is quite acceptable for the NCA to send the mentioned letter if it was considered necessary.  It is impossible to see how this could be considered a direct contradiction to the CSCC Constitution.

The situation as outlined by Butch may be how he and some others see it, but this is entirely based on considerable misinformation, totally untrue rumours, and pub talk.  I hope that the information currently being circulated by the Council will put a stop to all these rumours which are causing problems in themselves at a time when it is essential that we show a united front.

I have no intention of stepping down as Conservation and Access Officer of the Council.  To do so would be to admit to being guilty of something which I am not, and in any case I feel an obligation and need to try and sort out the problems with which we are now faced.  I feel certain that I can contribute much in this respect and hope that you will be able to support me at the AGM on the 17 May.

Graham Price