‘How Do you Want to Live?’

In a speech last year Michael Gove reminded us that in 1970, the incoming Conservative Government of Edward Heath created this country’s first Department of the Environment. "The new Department published a White Paper on our natural heritage in 1972 which was entitled ‘How Do you Want to Live?’. The Department, with more idealism, or less due diligence, than has subsequently been the case in Government communications strategy, commissioned Philip Larkin to write a poetic prologue And his poem - subsequently titled ‘Going, Going’ - is a lament for the erosion and destruction of our natural environment under the pressures of corporate greed, devil take the hindmost individualism, and modernist brutalism.

And That Will Be England Gone,

The Shadows, The Meadows, The Lanes,

The Guildhalls, The Carved Choirs.

There’ll Be Books; It Will Linger On

In Galleries; But All That Remains

For Us Will Be Concrete And Tyres.

Most Things Are Never Meant.

This Won’t Be, Most Likely; But Greeds

And Garbage Are Too Thick-Strewn

To Be Swept Up Now, Or Invent

Excuses That Make Them All Needs.

I Just Think It Will Happen, Soon.

Of course, Philip Larkin was never the most cheerful of voices in English literature but the warning note that he sounded in ‘Going, Going’ was profound - and prescient."

Gove - like Larkin before him was right.

Alresford Pond (which is bigger than it sounds) flows into a tributary of the River Itchen, the River Arle. Both of these rivers are chalkstreams.  

chalkstream rivers are rare environments

As you, the readers of this blog will know, chalkstream rivers are rare environments that support unique flora and fauna, including many protected species. In recognition of this, the Itchen and its tributaries have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.  

Water quality is crucial to plants and invertebrates and the wide range of species that the river maintains. Unusually for a chalkstream, the Itchen has many different species of breeding dragon and damselfly including the broad-bodied chaser, common darter and banded demoiselles.  

Evidence suggests that discharge from washing plants has a significant impact on river ecosystems: the Itchen has about 5% of the shrimp population of the upper River Meon which has no washing plant. If allowed to go ahead, all aquatic life - from sticklebacks to Trout - and much bird life - from Kingfishers to Swifts - will be harmed.  

Bakkavor Foods Limited imports salads before washing them. The company also produces other food. The firm had revenue of £1.69 billion in 2014 with a net income of £63 million.  The application is on behalf of their subsidiary, Alresford Salads, that currently carries out ‘salad and leaf washing activity and preparation’. The application number is: P.9425/H/00/V001 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/so24-9dz-bakkavor-foods-limited-environmental-permit-application-advertisement/so24-9dz-bakkavor-foods-limited-environmental-permit-application)  

Bakkavor propose to replace two cleaning products which are discharged in trade effluent from the the site to others (Enduroplus and Freefoam). Bakkavor has also asked for other variations at the same time.

As far as we can understand from the application, the 'new' chemicals that the firm has asked permission to use include chlorine based bleaching agents labelled as being highly environmentally hazardous on the official safety data sheets submitted with the application. (The official advice on the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) sheets is the compounds named in the application should not be released to waterways and that they have long lasting harmful effects on aquatic life.)  

In essence this is a renewal licence to continue to discharge powerful chlorinated chemicals in the river, framed as an 'improvement' on the existing biocide they are using.  

The issue is attracting attention with an online petition gathering 4,750 signatures in a week.

Of course, the Environment Agency should require the company to discharge all contaminated factory discharge into the sewer system rather than into the water course. And there is precedence for this type of condition: the salad washing plant at St Mary Bourne (20 miles away) was obliged to make this connection years ago despite the Bourne not having the environmental protection of the Itchen.


Gavin Lockhart-Mirams