Becca Atherstone: Valuing the natural world, working to conserve the green spaces of Trimley St. Martin

IMG_4321.jpegBecca Atherstone, February 2019 

Small intimations of spring are gradually advancing towards us as green shoots become visible and the daylight hours extend themselves towards early evening. Heedless of the weather, drifts of snowdrops could be seen hiding amongst the greenery when I recently gazed on Becca Atherstone’s garden from her kitchen window. In the spirit of objectivity, I was there to learn about her involvement with the work of the recently formed ‘Kirton and Trimley Community Action Group’.  What motivates Becca to work with KATCAG to oppose the Local Plan?  Why does someone voluntarily give up their free time to involve themselves in the complex and time-consuming world of protest and opposition? Financial remuneration is absent and the only immediate benefit appears to be the opportunity to walk many healthy miles while distributing many informative leaflets before bedtime.

Becca, who has lived in Trimley St. Martin since 2003 explained something about her background to me. Born at the towards the end of the rationing period in 1950, she has an excellent understanding of the importance of seasonal foods. It was a time when you made the most of what was available and this continued throughout the Fifties and Sixties. Some have continued to grow their own because this is the what they have always done.  It’s easy to forget a time when strawberries were only available during June and July. Now they are available all year round, thanks to importing facilities. Becca’s stance concerning seasonal foods is based on common sense. How many of us factor in the air or shipping miles such out of season products create?  We speculated that perhaps post-Brexit specialist foods such as asparagus in December will be removed from the shelves.  At the risk of sounding like an advert, Becca told me she values the opportunity Goslings provides with its’ supplies of fresh local products.  It also reflects the value she places on the indigenous qualities of our food stuffs and wildlife.

Part of the richness of her childhood was the time spent in East Anglia during the Easter holidays.  These were spent in, on and around the aquatic spaces of the Norfolk Broads National Park from the age of six onwards. Her father taught her to steer and operate a boat and significantly, spent time helping her to identify the abundant wildlife of the Broadlands. Grebes, terns, bitterns, water voles; all became familiar to her and sparked a lifelong passion for wildlife in all its’ manifestations. By the age of 18 she was ready to go solo and captain a boat of her own. As she described this part of her life, I was forcibly reminded of the carefree novels by Arthur Ransome such as “Coot Club” and “The Big Six” and thought how such an idyllic experience might shape a young mind.

But it wasn’t all ‘beer and skittles” or, if you prefer, “lemonade and deck quoits” with lashings of wildlife thrown in for good measure. We all have to go to school and Becca was no exception. Her educational life started in the urbanised environment of Mill Hill in North London, a far cry from the silence and space of The Broads. Becca was clearly one of the responsible members of the school community for by the end of education career, was second in command to the Head Girl.  When the time came for her to leave school, her preference was to be an actor. But before this could happen she was required to acquire some practical skills and consequently was sent to the Lucy Clayton Secretarial School. As it fell about, this move armed Becca with important skills because after completing the course, the time came to look for a job. Her first move was to approach the B.B.C. and to her delighted astonishment, she received an invitation to attend an interview. The net result of this was the question, “Where would you like to work? Radio or Television?”. To which she replied, “Television!”. This single word was to define the remainder of her working life. For the next two years, she worked as Producer’s Secretary in Woodstock Grove. Part of the work involved attending courses and on one occasion she found herself sharing the course with a certain intense and quiet young man called Alan Yentob. Her early experiences included working in closed-circuit productions in front of a camera, one of which involved working with Christopher Trace, who was, “Very sweet to me.”  Becca was still very young in the world of work and suddenly discovered that she wanted to go travelling and, “Chance my luck.”  The time was the early Seventies and her destination was to be New Zealand.

When she arrived in New Zealand at the age of 21, she managed to engineer an interview with Rod Cornelius. At the time, there was only one broadcasting channel in New Zealand and if Becca couldn’t get a job, there was nowhere else to go. At the end of the interview Rod simply said,

“There are no jobs available.”

To which Becca briskly riposted,

“I haven’t flown 12,000 miles not to have a job.”

Perhaps you can see a little determination here.  Rod proceeded to show her around the place and by the end of the day, Becca was given the post of Producer’s Assistant.  Her job was to research everything and this is exactly what she did for about two years. At the end of this time, Becca headed back for the U.K. and commenced work on John Craven’s Newsround, which still a young programme, having started on 4th April 1972. Nearly everyone must have seen this at some in the lives. If you would like to remind yourself you can find some episodes on YouTube[1].  I was particularly interested to learn more about this excellent programme.  The research criteria was strict and in common with Children’s non-fiction had to be accurate, reliable and understandable. Not as easy to conduct as you may suppose.  The Team for Newsround was small, just six people. They would borrow a Correspondent for special features, such as an article on Bangladesh.    Then circumstances changed again and Becca found herself back in New Zealand.

 The Head of NZBC saw the work Becca was doing and offered her a three month contract to prove herself. The experiment was successful as she presented and reported a range of topics.   Human interest and wildlife were popular but weren’t the only material passing through her hands.  Showbiz was a considerable component of the programme and the list of luminaries talking into her microphone was varied: David Bowie; Joan Collins; Burt Lancaster; The Hollies; The Four Seasons; Norman Wisdom. The latter was, interviewed in 1977 and was “…the funniest person I ever met…”.   At this point I asked Becca to show me a photo of the celebrity; he was obviously a very affectionate man.

IMG_4314Becca and Norman Wisdom. Courtesy of B. Atherstone.

Throughout this period of her life Becca was living in Mission Bay, Auckland and enjoying the beautiful country. But finally, after four or five years, it was time to return to the United Kingdom for the next stage of her career. Her C.V. demonstrated wide ranging experiences and evidenced her abilities as an empowered and confident presenter. Unsurprisingly, she moved into another media company, Anglian Television. This was the next stage of her career, an Anglian Newsreader and there she remained for nearly the next thirty years, appearing as a regular presenter until about 2009 when circumstances dictated she should retire.

Retirement is a step which demands adjustment and a change of pace. Becca’s life moved from travelling at 90 miles an hour to a slower pace and quiet enjoyment, She was living in a house she loves and this helped to make the adjustment slightly easier. The house is a key component in Becca’s life and you can sense its importance when she describes the day she first saw it.   Her discovery of the house was something of a one-off, hopeful hunch. At the time, 2003, her family were living in Bramford Tye and her mother in Southwold. Prior to her father’s death, she had promised him she would look after her mother but to do this required a house which would accommodate three generations, two horses and some cats. On a visit to Felixstowe, she found herself looking through Bannister’s property details and one house in Trimley St. Martin immediately caught her attention. Almost immediately she embarked on an exploratory expedition. As she turned into the drive, the first sight of her future home was one filled with instant warmth and recognition. There was never a doubt in her mind, this was where she wanted to be, The house demanded an instant viewing and by Christmas she and the extended family were installed. An annexe was built for her mother in 2004 by Brian Todd, a local builder. Becca described him as simply ‘fantastic’ and recalled his careful sourcing of bonnet tiles to match those on the main dwelling. My building ignorance is so profound, I had no idea what these looked like and for the benefit of any others lacking the knowledge, they look like this:

Bonnet tilesBonnet tiles along the side of a roof

Becca also set to work on the garden, filling in spaces, creating natural screens and windbreaks. Initially, this was done whilst working full-time but of course, when retirement arrived she had time not only for more gardening but also for decorating and completing long-term projects. When all the pressures of work are removed, life can be happy and pleasurable. But all of this changed overnight in the Summer of 2018. Something significant came over the horizon and parked itself in our midst: the 2018 Draft Local Plan.

This document informed everyone in Suffolk Coastal of the proposed areas for development.  Trimley St. Martin is destined to host hundreds of houses, without any obvious alteration to the infrastructure. Stephen Wrinch introduced himself at the Kirton Parish Council meeting where this matter was discussed in depth. His presented an impassioned argument and plea: he was going to fight the plan, he was on the case and he was forming a peaceful opposition group, now known as Kirton and Trimley Community Action Group. The Local Plan had identified Innocence farm for “port related businesses and operations to support the port of Felixstowe….. including HGV parking.” Since then the amount of land proposed for development on the site has been very considerably reduced, but there are no figures, actual or speculative for possible future HGV traffic.

And as I was informed by a Parish Council official on one occasion, ‘The inclusion of the site off Howlett Way in the Draft Local Plan in 2018 was not really a surprise as it had already been allocated in the Felixstowe Peninsula Area Action Plan (FPP7) which went through the same process as is being applied to this plan in terms of consultation and examination. The Inspector’s examination hearings took place between 30 August and 2 September 2016. The allocation has been carried forward to the draft Local Plan from the Felixstowe Peninsula Plan.’

 The implementation of any one of these proposals will place an unconscionable burden on the infrastructure in Trimley St. Martin and also the wildlife of the area. (This doesn’t factor in land already earmarked for development.) Becca became part of the Steering Committee. I cannot say the rest is history because history is being made on this front with every passing day.

IMG_0736.jpgLand behind Reeve Lodge, with open views of the two churches, July 2017

Freed from the restraints imposed upon a professional reporter or quiet retiree, Becca’s life has a different pattern these days. To misquote the White Queen in ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’[2], “..why sometimes I’ve (done) as many as six impossible things before Breakfast.” It may be fine gardening weather outside but her day starts at 7.00 a.m. when she gets out of bed.  Her first thought is,

“What do I do for the campaign today?”

 and her first actions are to check her emails, make a list of Things To Do and then think about writing any Press Releases if necessary. These are usually designed before the meetings or planned actions and have attracted attention from I.T.V and the local papers but not the B.B.C., which is rather surprising.  I suppose breakfast comes into the equation at a certain point but it wasn’t mentioned. By the middle of the morning she may be found hunched over her Laptop, perhaps thinking about how to communicate the seriousness of the situation and persuade people to join in the action. The afternoon carries on in the same vein and the only break lighthearted break  Becca mentioned was when,

“I go into the garden to dig worms with Dorothy the hen.”

The campaign work continues until supper but immediately afterwards, it’s ‘Carry on Campaigning’ or perhaps attend a Steering Group meeting. Incidentally, supper was Becca’s first reference to any formal meal, such are the demands on her time.

All the things Becca loves to do have been subjected to the Campaign pause button. One of her greatest pleasures was going to Musicals. Her mother was an excellent singer and dancer and perhaps an early exposure to such activities helped to ignite Becca’s appreciation of the art. But now, there is no time for such heady pleasures. Instead, Becca has placed herself on an informal educational course of indefinite length, whereby she learns about planning as she goes along and makes major contributions to the Campaign on a daily basis. Such is her life for the time being but I return to the overarching question. What is her motivation?

This is her response:

“We, through Suffolk Coastal, are planning to re-shape the landscape at our peril. I don’t believe it can or should be urbanised. We are placing pressure on the green spaces which will be remain after the building is completed. We have Grade 2 agricultural land and the soil is excellent.  Some days I think, ‘It’s so obvious we can do this!’ and on others I say to myself, ‘What are you doing?’. But I care, from the heart, for the community and I’m passionate about wildlife. I can – or could – spend hours looking out of my kitchen window looking at the huge range of wildlife. Badgers, deer, weasels, owls, birds of Prey, Squirrels, hedgehogs, rabbits, foxes. I observe nature and love it for enriching the lives of the observers and the people who live side by side with it. I’m going to take a year-long series of photos of the land affected by the proposals to demonstrate the diversity of life and seasonal variations”

I a few days later I heard her quietly say,

“I love this area.”

as she distributed KATCAG Handouts at the last public meeting earlier this week. Becca’s concern rests in conservation rather preservation, because few of us would dismiss the need for some housing and development.

Becca was fully engaged in creating publicity when I visited her. On the table in front of us were sheaves of photographs of wildlife she has seen in her garden or neighbouring fields. The landscaper had been transposed to her kitchen where two enlargements were sitting in her kitchen showing the simple beauty of the landscape around us. Innocence Farm Land and the land adjacent to Howlett Way were propped up against her kitchen cupboards. Perhaps we should spend more time in our countryside in silent solitude, listening and observing to what happens when we cease to be the prominent feature in the landscape and the lives of plants and small animals are pre-eminent.

IMG_4317 Becca’s photographs of garden and neighbouring wildlife. February 2019

IMG_4315.jpeg Becca’s enlarged photographs of Innocence Farm on the left and the land off Howlett Way to the right. February 2019

The morning was fast disappearing but just before I departed I asked her for no more than two words to describe her commitment. Admittedly this was something of a tall order.

“Determined enthusiasm”

she said, after a moment’s reflection and then added,

“We must protect and conserve what we have.”

I gathered my notebooks together whilst Becca reminded me of the forthcoming Public Meeting, which would inform and remind people of the importance of submitting comments on the Sustainability of the Local Plan[3] and the Habitats Regulation Assessment[4]. Despite the perception of many, the campaign continues into the foreseeable future, working hard to alter the Plan. For Becca and the remainder of the KATCAG team, the fight to protect and conserve is far from over.

If you are interested in reading more about KATCAG and their work you may find more at:

https://www.kirtontrimleycag.com

*************************************************************************************

If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

trimleystmartinrecorder@gmail.com

LR  15/02/2019

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3kMBA5P4Yc 

[2] Carroll, Lewis   Alice through the Looking Glass. 1865     https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/carroll/lewis/looking/chapter5.html 

[3] http://consult.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/consult.ti/Final_Draft_SA/consultationHome

[4] http://consult.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/consult.ti/Final_Draft_HRA/consultationHome

 

One thought on “Becca Atherstone: Valuing the natural world, working to conserve the green spaces of Trimley St. Martin

  1. Well done, Rebecca and Liz. I only wish I were more able to help but old age and infirmity make it difficult. At least I did my bit in the past and so far have stopped development of the field opposite the Hand in Hand at least until now! Let me know if I can help. Rosemary G

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