A monthly musing on the River Dart and our relationship with our South Devon landscape
We live in an area suffused with myth. One story involves the prince Brutus who fled to Britain after the sacking of Troy. Brutus sailed up the Dart proclaiming ‘Here I stand and here I rest, and this place shall be called Totnes.‘
In many ways we continue to live in an era of myth. But unlike the mythic world of epic gods, ours is a world of political smoke and mythic mirrors. There are so many double feints, backtracks and – to use the euphemism – ‘mistruths’ direct from Number 10 that even the long-rested Brutus might be tempted to up sticks and head back to Troy.
‘Improved regulation’ in river health (promised as a Brexit benefit) has now been exposed as another myth. The government will soon start using its own so far unexplained methodology to assess river health meaning our country’s rivers will not be able to be measured against those in the EU, and pollution from sewage and agriculture will be (conveniently?) difficult to compare with previous years.
Other tall tales are spun: we are encouraged to believe the Canutian myth that flood defences – rather than rapid cuts to fossil fuels – will save us. Storm Babet, right at the start of what has become normalised as ‘storm season’, soundly trashed that myth recently with little effort.
The reality is that more than 4,000 of England’s vital flood defences are almost useless. Bold cuts to fossil fuels are the only means to protect our river and coastal communities from extreme and unpredictable weather, anything else is fantasy. But why ruin a good story with the truth? The (now Ex) Environment Secretary (and apparent mythic storyteller) Thérèse Coffey had her own take on the damage wrought by Storm Babet: ‘the rain came in from the east’ apparently, like a cackling witch on a broomstick.
Storm Ciaran flew in to join the fray just days afterwards, casting its spell with the wrong kind of wind. The real story behind these myths involves vanished funding, vanished facts and a complete lack of strategy. Our leaders who spin their empty myths diminish themselves with every telling of their wild fantasy narratives.
Myths should not be spun by our politicians.
December strips our beautiful and cherished River Dart back to its bare bones. The skeletal trees, the bare mud and colder winds expose the silhouettes of branches against the sky. In the bare winter months it seems our ancient river is a reminder of another well-known mythic story about blind vanity – and one in which the emperor is clearly wearing no clothes.