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Comment: Woodland Held For Ransom

There is a systematic disregard for the well-being of our environment, and it’s heartbreaking.

Last spring, I reported on the dreadful state of the woodland neighbouring the A701 and Beeslack Community High School. I did this, not out of naivety that the situation would magically improve, but with aspirations that those responsible for the vandalism would perhaps reconsider their actions. Now a year on, I returned to the green-space to see if the vandals had cleaned up their act. Unsurprisingly they hadn’t.

What stood before me was a scene of utter devastation. I had expected the mess to be bad but this goes above and beyond this. This woodland is a crime scene, littered with months, if not years, of evidence. For the first time, in a long time, I stood in bewilderment, not knowing where to go or what to document. It was heartbreaking.

Making my way through a landscape, smothered in discarded waste from the school lunch hour, the ancient forrest seemed helpless. Layers of empty caffeinated drinks cans and plastic take away bags crunched under foot amongst the trees’ fallen leaves.

It wasn’t too bad to start. Entering the trees from the path off the A701, I followed the pavement of the road. A glass bottle greeted me first. This then gave way to a small cluster of plastic bottles and crisp packets. So far, it was tolerable. I had reached a natural junction. To my left a valley, ten metres deep, and to my right the path to a near certain landfill site I had stumbled upon last year. This was when I noticed the epidemic had spread. For at the bottom of this ten metre valley was what could only be described as the contents of someone’s rubbish bin. This person, however, did not gorge on apples and pears but Coca-Cola and rotisserie chicken. The waste was clearly from several lunchtime meals, and going by the decay and date coding on the packaging, they had been carelessly thrown into the trees last Autumn, only to be washed into the valley below. I must mention there were also empty beer cans.

Having clambered back up to the impromptu path, I walked alongside a water pipe which intersects the woods, the valley continuing to the left. Heralding the lunchtime waste landfill was a red carpet of translucent plastic and polystyrene. Then, somewhere behind the Mauricewood Road junction on Edinburgh Road, I reached the inevitable area of contention. One must walk amongst the litter to get a sense of just how terribly devastating it is. Crisp packets, biscuit wrappers, plastic chicken bags and cardboard “chippy” boxes all adorn the forrest’s floor, amongst others. Life in the area is all but extinct. Webs of broken tree branches encage bin loads of waste and a swamp plays host to manmade plastic lily-pads. I saw a single daffodil last year, but not one single shoot this year. This is a woodland at breaking point.

Last year I found evidence of who the culprits were. My trip this year, also gave me similar evidence of just who is harming our environment. “Beeslack Community High School S3 Careers’ Newsletter”, the header of a discarded letter read. It is very clear that some pupils in Beeslack are making the conscious decision to actively harm their environment. The consistent flow of rubbish into the woodland shows that these criminals are completely aware of what they are doing; but why? Is it really that difficult to carry a piece if rubbish for one hundred metres of so? Is it really that difficult to put the crisp packet in your pocket? No, it isn’t. This is a reckless act intentionally undertaken to the detriment of their surrounding community. And as such, these culprits should be expected to be hit with the full force of the law, regardless of their age.

If this was anywhere else apart from beside a school, enforcement officers would be expected to issue £50 minimum fines for discarding waste illegally. Persistent offenders would then be subjected to further fines up to the tune of £2500. If the school and the parents are failing to reinforce a message of respect for the environment, then it is only right those culpable are fined. These fines would anger parents, who would then blame the school, who would then blame the supermarkets, who would then blame the original source; the children. So who would pay? Ultimately it will be the parents of the criminal. From an early age, children are taught by parents to love the outdoors. This message is then reinforced into nursery and primary school. By secondary school, children are expected to take a sympathetic view to looking after their green-spaces. Some reinforcement doesn’t go amiss, but this teaching is no longer a part of the continuing learning cycle.

It is a different matter when it comes to the cleanup. This will be an almighty task and is not a job for one person. A major faction within the high school is littering and so they must clean it up. Beeslack should take pride in making examples of those who are caught. Year groups should be paraded through the affected areas to see the mess they are making. Littering must become something that is feared.

I’m not holding out hope this will happen. Instead a local community group will be holding litter picks, where parents, and maybe even the culprits themselves, can come along and help tidy up their neighbourhood. The first of these takes place on Saturday 21 March. Attendees are expected to meet in the YMCA’s car park at 9:30am. Equipment will be provided. Further picks will be held in the following weeks, including one in Beeslack Woods on April 11. Watch our Facebook page for further details.

In the meantime, we must not be disillusioned. There is a real and present threat to the environment that is not going to subside over night. It is ever-present, not just throughout Penicuik and Midlothian but across the country. We must teach those who commit these acts to learn to love our community again, only then will we live in a litter free Britain.

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