Monday, 7 March 2011

Are you gonna leave that there?

I’m now going to have a rant, so block your ears if necessary.

A few years ago I was walking on cliffs at Branscombe in East Devon. With me was the dog I had then, a lurcher called Penny. When Penny squatted to do what dogs do a distant hiker raced towards us.
            ‘Are you gonna leave that there?’ she demanded, standing in front of me and blocking my way.
            It took me a few moments to realise what she meant and then another few to find an answer.
            ‘But . . . but it’s the country,’ I said.
            ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself,’ she continued. ‘I’ve got a dog and I’d never do a thing like that.’
            I couldn’t see any dog but a man was hanging about behind her trying not to catch my eye.
            I was walking at Branscombe again this weekend with Ellie. The hillside swarmed with hikers so I put Ellie on a long lead – she’s only eight months old and still inclined to jump up at people. Halfway up the hill we met a man with a medium-sized brown dog, also on a lead. The dog and Ellie started to play.
            ‘Call your dog off,’ shouted the man, wrenching his dog away and lifting it in the air by its collar.
            The last part of the hill, up to the fields at the top, is steep and steps have been cut into the hillside. The steps are the only way up. (There used to be a more gradual and wider side path as well but the National Trust has blocked it for some reason.) Ellie and I were halfway up the steps when a teenaged boy and a middle-aged woman appeared at the top and started to descend. The steps are narrow so I leapt into the gorse bushes at the side and start reeling Ellie in. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough and she jumped up at the boy. The woman scowled.
‘Could you possibly put your dog on a short lead,’ she said.
I’d had enough. When I got to the top, I turned left and scrambled down the blocked path, through the brambles and over a gate topped with curls of barbed wire. Then I made my way back to the car.
OK, so Ellie is slightly out of control, but so are most dogs (and children). OK, so dogs**t isn’t very nice and obviously on a path or a pavement or a lawn or where the landowner has requested it, I do clear up. But otherwise isn’t it better left for nature to dispose of than wrapped in plastic and added to landfill (or, even worse, wrapped in plastic and abandoned)? Perhaps the woman wanted me to vacuum up the cowpats and the sheep and rabbit droppings while I was about it.
The countryside isn’t a suburban garden. Its inhabitants are unpredictable. It’s dirty and sometimes dangerous and often uncomfortable.
Nature is not there for our amusement. It has its own reasons for being. It’s wild.
And I like it that way.
But I'm beginning to feel increasingly like an endangered species.

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