In my last column I mentioned strolling in your local wildlife site or green space. I was doing just that on a rare sunny morning recently. The green space in question is a stretch of disused canal in the Black Country. The factory sites which used to line the canal have mainly been replaced with housing, and a few years ago it benefited from an amenity makeover, Groundwork doing the excellent work. The towpath was made good, reeds were planted, and benches, artwork and interpretation panels were installed.
This made the canal a pleasant and accessible place for both people and wildlife. I enjoyed watching the ducks, moorhens and geese, sunlight reflecting off the still water, and birdsong in the trees and bushes lining the route. Then I came across a couple of workmen busy digging away around one of the benches. My first thought was that a repair was being effected, but not so. The bench was being removed, apparently because people had been using it too much!
Apparently the issue was that local youths were congregating around the bench, drinking alcohol and probably making a bit of a noise. It seemed that the police had asked for the bench's removal. This struck me as rather odd and the wrong approach to the problem. For one thing the youths' boisterous loitering will take place elsewhere, for another, the bench will no longer be available to the rest of the community for the perhaps 90% of the time the troublesome youths are not there. Surely it is the behaviour that needs addressing not the innocent bench?
There is something both sad and ironic about this approach to managing open spaces and public amenities. Ironic because, if such things as benches were never used, there might be justification for taking them away. To take one away because it is being over-used in some people's opinion does not seem right. Sad because by doing this the authorities are despoiling a local amenity whilst giving in to those whose anti-social behaviour causes distress and annoyance to others. At least the wildlife seemed blissfully unaware of the problem.