ENNERDALE and Grizedale forests are names that have appeared on the ...

Date: Friday 15th September 2017

ENNERDALE and Grizedale forests are names that have appeared on the radar of rewilding enthusiasts who wish to see lynx reintroduced in this country after an absence of 1,300 years.

The Lynx UK Trust has already submitted plans for the release of six lynx, captured in Sweden, into Kielder Forest where, according to Dr. Paul O’Donoghue, the trust’s chief scientific adviser, they will attract “millions” of visitors. There’s a big difference between the recolonisation of the Lake District by ospreys, which have been a huge economic tourism benefit, and some bee in a bonnet scheme to plonk lynx and goodness knows what else into our countryside.

It sounds wildly adventurous and exciting, but such things have a habit of going wrong. Grey squirrels, introduced in the 1880s, are now regarded as a menace. Wild boar, which escaped from farms, are a nuisance in certain areas like the Forest of Dean.

If the trust is right and the secretive hunters it proposes to place in the forests pose such little danger to farm livestock, why the nweed for protective fences and feisty llamas to act as bouncers? Surely, given the choice between bringing down a deer and snatching a new-born lamb, even the daftest lynx would take the easy option.

I’m very wary of all this experimentation. In any case, lynx operate only at dawn and dusk so they are going to be a huge disappointment to the “millions” who turn up with their sandwiches and binoculars hoping to snatch a glimpse of these predators on the prowl.

I suspect the academics and rewilding enthusiasts ultimately present a bigger problem in places like the Lake District than the bears, boars, wild cats and other fanciful notions they’d like to try out.

TUESDAY MEMORIES

THE death last week, at the age of 88, of Major Tim Riley evoked memories of my earliest days as a junior reporter at the Herald, and especially Tuesdays, for Tuesdays were a most important part of the newspaper’s week when correspondents from the rural areas came into town combining market day with a visit to the office to present their handwritten reports.

We’re talking early 1960s here. No computers then. Local radio was still in its putative form. So getting to know what was going on in the villages and hamlets on the East Fellside and beside Ullswater was a vital role of the local paper, and the key element was these village correspondents who were regarded as part of the Herald “family.”

There would be Mr. Parrott, from Kirkby Stephen, a retired headmaster and chairman of the Bench. On weeks when the magistrates were sitting I was the courier of his writings about fetes and funerals. Other weeks he would come bustling cheerfully into Penrith with his bundle of handwritten reports.

There was old Glen Pattinson, from Glenridding, a delightful man who knew everything and everybody on his home patch, and bouncy Joan Watson, from Greystoke, with her Girls’ and Boys’ Friendly Society tales.

My old boss John Hurst reckoned the Herald got many of its stories, plus a feel for local opinion, by sitting down for a cup of coffee with these visitors from the outlying districts. The best stories were invariably the ones that did not appear in their original reports, but were elicited during the coffee and chat.

And then there was the Herald’s whippet racing correspondent, who would come sweeping into the reporters’ room with a whiff of corduroy and an air of the joys of life. Yes, Tim Riley and his wife, Tarn, were bearers of the whippet racing results.

Major Riley was, of course, much more to Cumbria’s sporting pastimes than a whippet racing expert. In the 1980s and 90s he laid the foundations of successful horse racing tracks at Cartmel, Carlisle and Kelso. Radio 5 Live’s Cornelius Lysaght said of him: “Tim ran his racecourses like military operations and they were always immaculate, from the fences and hurdles to the loos.”

His involvement with racing dated from his Army days. He rode as an amateur before getting into administration as a steward at Carlisle. Just as we could predict the timing of his arrival at the Herald office with those whippet results, he was noted for his organisational skills and was also involved with Lowther horse driving trials and point to point racing.

Tim Riley was clerk at four courses, the three I’ve already mentioned plus Hamilton, and it was said he might have gone right to the top of the racing world but for a health setback in 1992.

Long after I had moved on from the Herald, Tuesdays continued to echo in my head with memories of those village correspondents, wondering if they still came into town on market days and had coffee in King Street as part of that traditional Herald family, for family was what it was, whether it be readers, correspondents, staff — or whippets.

SENTENCING MADNESS

WE’RE told that our prisons are bursting at the seams with inmates. And yet, when you look at sentences imposed for some quite serious crimes, it seems it’s harder than ever to get locked up.

The Ministry of Justice revealed recently that 437 offenders, people who pleaded guilty to crimes including rape, blackmail, kidnap and child abuse, had been let off with a caution.

We are approaching a ludicrous situation where some people are likely to receive greater punishment for speeding or failing to fill their bins properly than they would if they took up burglary or committed serious assaults.

Keep an eye on some of the anomalous sentences that are reported in the newspapers. The number of times serious offenders are sent away with a few quid in fines or community service. Where’s the disincentive to commit crime in all that?

Meanwhile, some councils have announced they propose introducing £2,500 fines where householders overload their wheelie bins. Fill up our jails with recalcitrant dog poo leavers, wheelie bin criminals and parking ticket refusenicks, but, hey, those thugs, robbers and rapists, let’s be sympathetic and give them another chance. Madness, or what?

COUNCIL’S BIG BILL

IT seems extraordinary that nobody at Cumbria County Council knows, or can recall, who signed off the withholding of £4.2 million, part of a highways contract, that led to the council losing its case in the High Court. In total it’s cost the authority £21 million in payment to the company concerned and legal costs.

The council has produced a 20-point “lessons learned” report without identifying who actually made the key decisions. It clearly wishes to sweep the small matter of this £21 million under the carpet, put it down to experience if you like. Some don’t like, of course. The decision to withhold this money may well have been taken with the best intention. Officers were not happy with the way some of the work had been carried out, but it appears an arbitrary decision was made without reference to the authority’s cabinet.

Chief executive Katherine Fairclough gave an unconvincing interview to Radio Cumbria. In fairness she was not in post at the time all this blew up. But more questions about accountability were left hanging than were answered.

It’s an expensive “lesson learned” and it’s difficult to accept that no one officer or group of council representatives knows or remembers who sanctioned the whole costly episode.

HONEST ANSWERS

WITH friends like Geoffrey Boycott — “he’s still got my Tupperware” — Theresa May had better watch out for her enemies.

The cricket-loving Prime Minister opted for the relative safety of a chat with Test Match Special’s Jonathan Agnew last week after facing some stiffer questioning about her future plans from the media on her recent trip overseas.

One thing’s for sure, Mrs. May is no Maggie Thatcher, despite what Boycs, her hero, says about her. She told Aggers that, contrary to what some think, she doesn’t deliberately go out of her way to refuse to answer straight questions with straight answers.

Yet she never gives a straight answer, unlike Jacob Rees-Mogg, who I strongly disagree with over his views on same-sex marriage and abortion, but respect for his honesty. Jacob has been accused of being pre-18th Century in his views on gay marriage and the sanctity of life. Out of step with modern thinking they may be, but we know unequivocally where he stands on these issues.

Unlike Mrs. May, whose statements sound more like some PR whizz kid’s creation from a Thick Of It script than any indication of her actual views or intentions.