My happy place is toast!
What would my Dad think of the wildfires on St Bees Head? He’d give us a few choice phrases – his Aussie roots tended to overcome his English gentleman image when he was riled.
When he retired from the hospital, Dad spent many hours crawling on elbows and knees amongst the flowers on St Bees Head, photographing butterflies, moths, and bees. He balanced his state-of-the-art camera and lenses, adjusted for distance, light, shutter speed … and clicked. Probably the language was interesting – nothing he did was ever good enough for him. But he was happy.
When I sit back in the dentist’s chair …
– open wide – breathe – relax the fists – punching dentists is not what we do – I shut my eyes and walk, in my head, across the footbridge. The beck gurgles underneath. Up the well-worn path I clamber. Sandy soil slips under my feet. Red clover, white clover, tormentil, buttercup, bacon-and-eggs. What’s the proper name for that little yellow flower?
Higher up there’s gorse, with its buttery smelling flowers. When the gorse is out, it’s kissing time. Clue: gorse flowers are always out. Wood sage flowers in shady hollows. From the top, we can see the Isle of Man! Herring gulls whizz past, flying up the updraft of the cliffs with a cry like the crazy laughter of Mother Earth.
By this time, the dentist has finished. I don’t really want to come back, I want to stay up where the air blows clear and the thrift nods in the salty wind.
St Bees Head is not like that now.
If I walked there, ash would choke me. I could see the charred skeleton of a stonechat, burnt linnets’ nests, acres of blackened earth. In June 2018, wildfires destroyed an area the size of four football pitches on St Bees Head, including 30 nests and huge numbers of plants, some rare.
It seems silly to mourn flowers at this time when 74 people have died in wildfires in Greece. That is horrific. In many parts of the world, heat and fires are killing people. Our beautiful fragile cliff-top is part of a global pattern. It was not just the person who dropped a cigarette: we are all involved. We created the drought that dried the grass to tinder. All of us together are changing our climate.
Our human activites are causing hurricanes, high winds, vast waves that batter the coasts of many countries.
Wait a minute, what can I do? Little me?
Even if I leave the car at home and catch a train … put solar panels on my roof to make clean electricity … top up the insulation in my loft … how is that going to help when all the cities of the world splurge out their fossil fog? Much better to stick my head in the sand and have a cold beer!
Hmmm. What would have happened if the fire fighters had thought like that, when the Head blazed?
They’d had a long day already. It wasn’t their responsibility – rigs were scrambled from all over West Cumbria, to help the local fire crew. They set aside their cups of tea (or cold beers) and headed out without a moment’s hesitation.
The lifeboat crew came back to shore, after rescuing people in trouble in a small boat. Looking around they found the shore and cliffs full of fire engines, an emergency scene. Those tired men mopped the salt water from their necks, and opened up the lifeboat station. Lifeboat crews served tea and biscuits for the fire fighters. All night.
What if those heroes had not worked so hard to put out the fires?
They might have argued, or fallen out, or refused to help each other! The fire threatened to devour North Head as well as South; their toil and sweat saved an important national nature reserve, home to rare birds such as puffins and guillemots. If the fire had spread to the houses, caravan park and hotel near the beach, people would have died.
Ice melting …
around the north and south poles changes ocean currents and the prevailing winds that follow them. We’re getting more storms and extreme weather, as a result. Droughts, fires, floods and landslides are claiming lives all over the planet. Maybe human extinction would be a good thing for the planet?
(Shivers! Not my family, please!)
But do we have the right to kill all the other amazing creatures who live here too?
In every country there are heroes who fight fires, rescue families from floods, struggle to grow food when there’s drought. We owe it to them to up our game.
Let’s work together like a fire crew, and find ways to slow down
this climate emergency!
Scientists agree that:
- Our climate is heating up and
- This is caused by humans burning fossil fuels.
Here are some suggestions about what we can do, every one of us including little me. Let’s take our actions to a bigger scale!
- All our governments have made agreements to slow down or stop fossil fuel use; let’s hold them to their promises!
Here’s a petition for UK citizens to sign:
- We could stop using tax-payers’ money to subsidise rich oil companies:
- We could vote out governments that put our money into causing climate change. We could vote in those who understand how dangerous climate change is, and how to slow it down.
- We can join in with Share Action’s work to ensure our pensions don’t fuel more climate chaos:
- Find out more! We don’t have to have the wool pulled over our (smarting!) eyes:
Bee on Daisy and Tortoiseshell Butterfly by R. Hambridge,
St Bees, 1964
© Photos and text: Rachel O’Leary