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The Traces that we leave behind us

December 6, 2016


I went for one of my regular walks this afternoon. Around Brooklands Lakes in Dartford. These were created by gravel extraction and for at least 80 years have been maintained as fishing lakes. So they are, themselves, a major physical trace of human activity. I often see pictures from around the lakes posted on social media. They lend themselves to photography because of the ever changing light and diverse bird life. I think people like to say “Look, this is on my doorstep” or “Who knew that Dartford had something like this so close to the centre of the town?”. There’s a sense of surprise and valuing, whenever someone new discovers them. I think there is also an element of people using these images to refute a reputation Dartford may have for being built-up, or even a bit scruffy. Here’s my own such image from today…
The lakes are managed. I’m assuming this is done by the District angling and preservation society, DDAPS – but I need to do more homework. There has been skilful landscaping, planting, cutting back and management of the undergrowth and bankside, all of which have enhanced the appeal and accessibility. This also seems to extend to keeping litter to a minimum.
So there’s a real contrast when, a matter of yards away, you come to the litter and dumping around the gateways to these lakes. In a few strides you go from appreciated and cared-for lakes to a kind of no-man’s-land. Here are a few images of the litter, and minor fly tipping, around the entrance from Powder Mill Lane.
20161206_125426 20161206_125431
Even the attempt to create some sense of place and context, via the powder kegs and the plaque explaining the gunpowder mill connection, has been re-interpreted as a rubbish bin. These too, then, are traces left by the passing of human beings.
This isn’t one of those “Oi! Why doesn’t the council get down there and sort it out?” posts. As a member of Dartford Litterpickers I know that jurisdiction is complex, resources are tight (and shrinking) and that priorities have to be set. It’s hard to know who owns what around there and, now that this section of Powder Mill Lane is a dead end, it’s not the most travelled of places. Adjacent land, privately owned for the most part and awaiting sale/development, is in an even worse condition – but that particular mess is seen only by those using it as a cut-through… or as an early December outdoor bar?!  Perhaps this transition and indeterminacy of use adds to the problem.
I’m really writing to reflect on this mystery of how places so close together are cared for (in the literal sense) or not. There seems to be a real challenge if we are ever to induce the majority of our fellow citizens to value all the space, and place, around them and so to care for it as “theirs”. Until then, this much prized chance to walk around our lakes will have to begin and end with a tip!
We may be able to organise a litterpick down there one day. But some of the materials and quantities seem to call for more of a ‘deep clean’.
Finally, I am prompted to a more philosophical think about litter, context and intention. In another part of the lakes, debris has also been dumped – old hardcore and soil. But in this case it is being used constructively, by volunteers, to help manage the levels and flow of the lakes. In the end it’s intention and attitude that differentiate between these types of human ‘traces’ and determine what is ‘litter’… and why it hurts us.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sharon falker permalink
    January 1, 2017 8:28 am

    The people that litter the place the most are the workers from the nursery down powder mill lane they eat and smoke there and leave there bloody rubbish, it’s disgusting !!!!! And the dope heads that fish there !!!!!! Without a licence or brain

    • njbdartford permalink*
      January 19, 2017 2:03 pm

      I think I know the place you mean Sharon, further up Powder Mill Lane where it is crossed by the Darent Valley path. There used to be a bench and a bin there. Both have now gone. I suspect that the bin actually attracted more rubbish than went into it, as it was always overflowing when I walked past it. Not sure what happened to the bench, but the space where it was is now heavily littered. Mainly with energy drink cans.

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