Bourne Diary - June 2011

by Rex Needle

Saturday 4th June 2011 

The town has missed out yet again over the promised provision of new public toilets, a subject that has been on the boil for many years but now appears to have been pushed on to the back burner indefinitely.


The present lavatories in South Street are owned by South Kesteven District Council but managed by the town council. They were built by the former Bourne Urban District Council around 1930 and are now run down and badly in need of modernisation.

Improvements were made in 1970 and 1982 but within a few years the building was showing signs of serious neglect and South Kesteven District Council, which had now taken over responsibility for the amenity, decided that the lavatories should be closed. Spot checks carried out by the council revealed serious vandalism and offensive graffiti and officers decided to shut the building until it was cleaned and repaired, a situation exacerbated by reports that it had become a meeting place for paedophiles and homosexuals.

They were closed in October 2002 but re-opened in April 2004 after a superficial refurbishment costing £4,400 when the town council agreed to accept responsibility for their future upkeep. A replacement block was promised as part of the much heralded £27 million town centre redevelopment scheme, now shelved after almost ten years of planning without a brick being laid and replaced with the refurbishment of Wherry's Lane at one tenth of the cost. But no public loos are included in the new scheme and the district council appears to have washed its hands of the entire idea because the town council has been told that if Bourne needs a new block then they should provide it for themselves which is a far cry from what was promised eight years ago.

SKDC then agreed in principle to provide new lavatories, either by refurbishing the existing ones or by replacing them with a new 36-foot toilet block to be built at the entrance to the market square behind the town hall at a cost of £100,000 with all the latest amenities such as disabled access, a baby changing area and an attendant. Council leader Linda Neal (Bourne West) told The Local on Friday 7th February 2003: "The toilet facility will complement any core centre redevelopment. It will be a high quality provision and will be built as soon as it is feasibly possible."

Since then the public toilets in the bus station were demolished in April 2007 and replaced with a hard landscaped area with seating and plants although no adequate explanation was given. One excuse offered by the council was that the building obscured the CCTV cameras in South Street while the town centre manager, Ivan Fuller, suggested that the lavatories had become a focal point for under-age drinking and vandalism and pulling them down would help the local police monitor anti-social behaviour more easily.

SKDC has now distanced itself even further from the project and although it provides and maintains public toilets for Grantham and Stamford, the town council has been told that if Bourne is to have new ones, then they can have the present building either on a long term lease or through a low cost sale of the site. Such a project is likely to cost £100,000 or more, an expenditure that would fall entirely on residents within the parish through the council tax precept without help from elsewhere in the district. More importantly, it would also provide a convenient escape for the district council from its original promise.

Councils have no statutory obligation to provide public toilets and closure is seen as an easy option in the face of public spending cuts. This does not help the many people who need toilets when they are away from home, parents with young children, the elderly and those with special needs and it is a mark of the attitude of SKDC that when the South Street toilets were closed in 2002, one cabinet member publicly advised anyone needing to spend a penny to use those in the town's public houses and shops instead, a remark that caused such a furore that the council was forced to re-open the lavatories, thus resulting in the present arrangement in which the town council is responsible for their upkeep.

There is one other point to be considered and that is who do the South Street lavatories actually belong to? They were built eighty years ago by Bourne Urban District Council, whose coat of arms can be seen on the front. This authority was then in charge of our affairs and the building was financed through the general rate, forerunner of the council tax, which means that they were paid for by the town. But by some bureaucratic sleight of hand, ownership passed to South Kesteven District Council during the re-organisation of local government in 1974 when the urban council ceased to exist and the district council assumed control of our affairs. Now this authority is offering the lavatories back to the town council either to buy or rent which by any standards appears to be a form of legal chicanery.

The district council's record on public lavatories in Bourne has been widely ridiculed and five years ago, one contributor to the Bourne Forum said that it should become one of those ancient country customs that are observed in many other places in rural England such as tar barrel burning (Ottery-St-Mary, Devon), the straw bear festival (Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire) and the coconutters dance (Bacup, Lancashire). Brynley Heaven suggested that this annual tradition might be known as Sealing of the Conveniences and he went on to describe such an event which was duly reported by the Bourne Diary on 11th March 2006:

Every year on February 20th, the Mayor of Bourne leads the town citizenry in the solemn ceremony of the sealing of the conveniences. The Mayor, dressed in full regalia, including badger fur apron and leopard skin accessories, parades up North Street, South Street and every other main road to ensure that all public toilets are ritually locked and barred.
On being assured that none are available for the ungrateful public, the Mayor of Bourne will intone the time honoured statement: "By the grace of God, and with the practical assistance of many local authorities based elsewhere, it is my humble and pleasant duty to report that if you need relief you may try a pub or Sainsburys. Here endeth the solemn ceremony of the sealing of the conveniences." At this dramatic and emotional climax to the ceremony, the loyal crowds of townspeople, standing cross-legged, will then intone in unison to the Mayor: "Your worship, we are but humble citizens who seldom venture out and do not expect much out of life. We express our gratitude for the sealing of the conveniences, safely for another year, to keep our lovely town free from lurkers, perverts, tourists, shoppers, incomers, the middle class and other ne'er-do-wells.


Small grievances tend to become major quarrels and local authorities would do well to heed public scorn when they abandon common sense as they appear to have done with their management of the public toilets in Bourne over the past decade. A new block for the town centre in the immediate future would go a long way towards retrieving the esteem that South Kesteven District Council has lost.

Supermarkets are usually impersonal places with everyone going about their business with little or no time for small talk, anxious to complete the task as quickly as possible and get home. But they can also be the ideal place to meet people and find out how they are doing. Oldies are especially ready for a chat with shoppers who pass in the aisles as I found out in Sainsburys on Saturday while my wife was busy at the cheese counter. A trolley collided with ours and after a brief exchange about pensioners using them as a necessary support, the elderly gentleman was soon regaling me with his life story.

He was 86 and a widower, with a walking stick propped inside his trolley that bore evidence to his disability, and he told me that his body was now beginning to feel the effects of old age, his arms losing their strength through arthritis. "Look at that", he said, holding up his right hand. “It has practically gone and the doctor says that the only cure is to have it cut open from the wrist to the fingers and then sewn up again. But I've said no and I'll put up with it. I have decided to carry on as I am until then end."

At his age, the decision was probably a wise one and I told him so. "Well", he said, "I got used to putting up with things when I was in the army. I was just a lad during the Second World War but took part in the Normandy invasion when I was only 18 and I got through that safely."

As with so many veterans, military service seventy years ago was a necessary experience for him because most were conscripted but their sacrifice is now forgotten by the present generation who generally regard old men telling tales of what they went through a bore and now in advanced old age, they will soon be forgotten. But for one moment in Sainsburys, his face shone as he remembered those dangerous but heroic times.

My encounter lasted only a few minutes and off he went to finish his shopping in a crowded supermarket where everyone has a story to tell but few have time to stop and listen. As my wife remarked afterwards, I was probably the only person that he spoke to at any length that day.

Blue tits are thriving in Bourne Wood with the assistance of the Len Pick Trust, one of Bourne's major charities founded through the generosity of the late Len Pick (1909-2004), landowner and businessman, who left his £4 million fortune for the benefit of the town.

In February, the trustees financed the installation of 57 specially made nest boxes for use by woodland birds. Until now, these small wooden containers have been at risk from woodpeckers which continually damaged them and so a more durable material known as woodcrete was found, a mixture of cement, clay and sawdust which is virtually indestructible and can withstand even the strongest beak. They are also warm in winter for roosting birds and cool in summer, allowing chicks to prosper with a small entrance hole that enables access for a wide variety of species including great tits, blue tits, coal tits, marsh tits and nuthatches.


The boxes, all numbered for identification, were duly installed by the Friends of Bourne Wood who returned a few weeks ago to monitor their progress and the results have surpassed expectations because they had been used by 36 blue tits and 20 great tits. Only one had not been inhabited and oddly, that was No 13.

Research by the British Trust for Ornithology indicates that blue tits have an average of just over seven chicks and great tits an average of six which means that the woodland nest boxes have produced around 400 young in their first year, feeding on the oak tree caterpillars that have been particularly abundant at this time. But not all will survive to breed next year as many woodland and garden predators eat them, including cats, sparrowhawks and some members of the crow family.


Local naturalist Bob Sheppard, who came up with the idea of the new bird boxes, said: "The investment by the Len Pick Trust has been handsomely repaid and will continue to do so for many more years." Andy Rowe, the trust chairman, was equally enthusiastic. “We are delighted to have assisted in this project and it is really pleasing to see such a successful return on our investment in such a short time span”, he said.

Thought for the week: If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes. - Charles Lindbergh (1902-74), American aviator who flew a non-stop solo flight of 3,600 miles from New York to Paris in 1927 in the single-seat, single-engine monoplane Spirit of St Louis.

Saturday 11th June 2011

A local businessman has offered to help solve Bourne's shortage of garden allotments by establishing forty new ones. They are part of a planning application now in the pipeline for housing development on 3½ acres of agricultural land off Beaufort Drive to the north-west of the town.

There has been a shortage of allotments for several years with a long waiting list for a plot and no plans by either the local authorities or charitable organisations to expand the current holdings but the offer to establish new ones has got off to a most inauspicious start because the town council has decided that the scheme will not benefit Bourne and may even have a detrimental effect.

The plans have been submitted to South Kesteven District Council by James Wherry, head of Wherry and Sons, the family seed company which has been associated with the town since the early 19th century. Twenty new houses are envisaged, six of them designated as affordable homes, and all individual plots would be available to local builders who were having difficulties in finding suitable land because most of it is in the hands of the big housing companies while the allotments would be rented out either through the local authorities or an association of tenants.

Allotments are small plots of land let out at low rents to enable families grow fruit and vegetables and have been part of the British way of life for more than two centuries but have been enjoying a new popularity in recent years. They were originally intended as an inducement to stop the drift of much needed labour from the land to the towns and have been particularly useful during two world wars when produce grown on the home front was a vital part of the food chain while today they are also worked by people who have no garden of their own.

Many benevolent landowners have provided allotments in Bourne in past times and two areas survive although their size is far less generous than those of past centuries. The smaller of these, owned by Bourne United Charities, is at the corner of Meadow Drove and Spalding Road where there are 13 plots that are all occupied with a waiting list of 32 people. The other larger area of land is in South Fen Road where there are 89 plots administered by the town council, and again all are occupied with a waiting list of 77 people. All enjoy the benefits of a rich, black fen soil and produce annual crops of vegetables, providing a hobby for those with little garden space at their own home while also maintaining the tradition of self-sufficiency.

Mr Wherry's agent, Mike Sibthorpe, told the Stamford Mecury that the town council had recently identified "a substantial unmet need for allotment space" in Bourne (May 27th). "The existing allotments are both fully tenanted and the waiting lists for both sites stand well in excess of five years", he said. "There are no proposals by public or charitable bodies to make more allotment space available."

Unfortunately, the scheme has not been well received because of misgivings about the site for the new houses which has already resulted in protest letters to the newspapers from readers who fear that it may threaten the approaches to Bourne Wood, particularly if more land is turned over to housing on the western side of the town, thus increasing the possibility of a ring road being built to cope with the increased traffic.

The town council’s highways and planning committee voted against the scheme on Tuesday after learning that the site has archaeological significance and may contain the remains of a Roman burial ground and Bronze Age occupation. Members were also told that the land itself was totally unfit for cultivation by gardeners because it had a heavy clay content liable to flooding and was environmentally important as part of the town’s green space, being an attraction for wildlife such as badgers, birds and bats. The development could also create traffic problems because of insufficient parking space which could lead to congestion in nearby streets and particularly along North Road.

The need for more new houses in Bourne is doubtful. But there does appear to be a demand for more allotments and an additional forty plots would soon be snapped up by keen gardeners, especially as they will be on the west side of the town, the present plots all being situated to the east. But the weight of opposition does not augur well for the applicant.

The application now goes before South Kesteven District Council which will have to decide whether building new homes outside the designated area is a price worth paying in the face of such opposition.  The other factor to be considered is whether one development depends on the other, whether the allotments will materialise if the houses do not and which will be completed first. Many planning applications in recent years have included community facilities along with residential development but the houses always seem to take precedence while the amenities promised at the committee stage are either a long time coming or do not appear at all.

English place names have been the subject of study by a multitude of scholars through the centuries and a wide range of books are now available containing the results of their researches. There really is no excuse, therefore, for getting it wrong.

Like many other small market towns, Bourne has a wealth of nomenclature relating to places and localities whose origins date back to the mists of time and we even have one name that is unique to our own locality, the Austerby. The etymology is therefore of particular significance and we need look no further than Professor Kenneth Cameron's excellent work A Dictionary of Lincolnshire Place-Names (1998) for the definitive origins.

The Austerby, he tells us, is derived from the Old Norse austarr, meaning more easterly, and the Old Danish by, meaning a farmstead or village which is common in Lincolnshire. Early mentions include Austrebi (1167, Pipe Rolls), Oustreby (1206, The Lincolnshire Assize Rolls), Oustirby (1327, The Calendar of Charter Rolls) and 1354 (Additional Rolls in the British Museum) meaning the more easterly farmstead in relation to Bourne.

However, a contributor to the Bourne Forum has mistakenly claimed that because the Oxford English Dictionary lists the word auster as dating from circa 1300 as meaning the south wind, then Austerby is a settlement to the south because it is more or less due south of Bourne Abbey which was a seat of learning in the 13th century.

This is a neat but totally erroneous theory because the Austerby, by historical derivation, is clearly the easterly settlement of Bourne and this has also been confirmed by David Roffe, research fellow at the Department of History at Sheffield University. He knows Bourne well, having completed histories of the Abbey Church and Hereward the Wake and in 1985, he participated in the excavations of the sheep meadow, later used as a bowling green, in advance of the site being developed for the present vicarage.

His current area of study is the Domesday Book and beyond with particular reference to Bourne which he dealt with during a lecture to Bourne Civic Society on May 9th this year when he confirmed that the Austerby was indeed an easterly settlement but was also a very important place containing four manors and was once regarded as a district in its own right. The name was also known as early as 1086 which is some years before the Abbey Church was built, thus disproving any direct connection with the monastic institution which was not established until 1138.

By all means, we ought to be aware of every possible source when conducting research but the origins of English place names should not be confused with the meaning of words because the two are not always compatible. It is a simple procedure to leaf through a dictionary or trawl Google like a bedsit nerd hoping to net a morsel of information to support a dubious theory but this is a superficial and unreliable approach yet Internet forums where they find space are riddled with the results of such labours.

The only acceptable method is to read those scholars who have spent a lifetime studying the subject because to ignore them leads to a most unsatisfactory and misleading outcome. It is therefore hoped that the painstaking work by distinguished academics such as Cameron and Roffe will put this latest piece of conjectural nonsense about the Austerby to rest.

Four new members have joined the town council following a co-option meeting on Tuesday evening to fill the four seats left vacant in Bourne West after last month’s local government elections when there were insufficient candidates to warrant a contest. Nine people put their names forward and each was given the opportunity to tell sitting members why they wanted to become a councillor before a ballot was held to select the winners who were Greg Cejer, Paul Fellows, Roy McKinney and David Mapp.

All spoke about their hopes for the future of the town and what they might do to help achieve beneficial changes and it is to be hoped that they will bring new ideas to the council chamber and a fresh impetus to its deliberations.

Among those who missed out were Guy Cudmore, a former town councillor (2002-08) who had already failed to win a seat for Bourne East during the last election, Jonathan Hitch, Robert Kelly, David Parsonage and Phillip Rosser, but no doubt we will be hearing from some of them when a vacancy again arises or when the next elections come round.

We have become so accustomed to our green spaces that life without them would be unthinkable yet it is impossible to put a price on their value. Here in Bourne, for instance, we have the woods, the Abbey Lawn and the Wellhead Gardens yet most take them for granted without a thought for their intrinsic worth to society.

Now a new government report, the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), reckons that the country's parks, lakes, forests and wildlife are worth billions of pounds to the economy and the health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year.

The Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, said that for decades, the emphasis has been on producing more food and other goods but this has harmed other parts of nature that generate hidden wealth (BBC Online, June 2nd). She went on: "The natural world is vital to our existence by providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air but also cultural and health benefits which were not always fully appreciated because we get them for nothing."

The report singles out urban green space as being unbelievably important because it affects the value of houses and even our mental wellbeing. But Professor Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and co-chairman of the NEA, said that this did not imply an end to development, but that costs and benefits of each proposed development could be assessed more accurately in advance. "The report is saying that this has got incredible value, so before you start converting green space into buildings, think through what the economic value is of maintaining that green space or the blue space, the ponds and the rivers."

Bourne has more green space than most markets towns of comparable size and this is due mainly to a strong charitable presence through which philanthropists from past times gave their money for the benefit of the community. It has been as a result of their legacies, now administered by Bourne United Charities, that we were able to acquire the Abbey Lawn in 1931 followed by the Wellhead Gardens which were established in 1956.

The report's warning that all future developments should be closely scrutinised to ensure that our green space is not denuded also has a resonance in the town where the recent threat to Bourne Wood from unwanted highway and housing development is still strong in the memory. Fortunately, that proposal raised sufficient anger to stimulate a vociferous protest and was finally laid to rest in June 2008.

Our green space therefore appears to be secure for our future enjoyment and it is unthinkable that any of it should be swallowed up by new housing. Apart from the Bourne Wood incident, we should remember that this is exactly what was proposed for the Abbey Lawn eighty years ago when BUC stepped in and bought the land for the benefit of the town. When ruthless developers are on the prowl, therefore, nothing is sacred and we must be constantly on our guard.

Thought for the week: To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment. - Jane Austen, one of the most influential, honoured and widely read novelists in English literature (1775-1817).

Saturday 18th June 2011

The restoration of weekly rubbish collections promised by the incoming Conservative Party will not materialise after all. This is yet another of those promises made to the electorate before the general election and now watered down by the coalition government after seeing the books which have revealed that the country cannot afford the £132 million a year it will cost to implement.

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, told the Tory party conference in 2008 that weekly collections would be back if they gained power because a decent refuse service was vital to help protect the environment and public health. This will not now happen and it will be left to individual councils to find their own solutions.

This is not a good suggestion because most have run the gamut of ideas and although the present wheelie bins are the best system so far, we have lost the weekly collection that has been with us as a right since the 19th century, established by the Public Health Act of 1875 which imposed new standards of sanitation on local authorities in an attempt to stamp out cholera and other diseases spread by contaminated waste which claimed large numbers of lives.

Weekly collections for domestic refuse were slow in coming and did not begin in Bourne until 1911 when dustmen used a horse and cart but when motorised transport arrived, householders were issued with galvanised bins which were emptied by a collection lorry. In 1979, black plastic bags were introduced and in 2003, plastic boxes were added for paper and glass, but the entire system changed again in 2006 when wheelies were issued to each house but with them came the fortnightly collections, silver bins for recyclable materials one week and black bins with household waste the next.

Despite the pre-election guarantee that weekly collections would be restored, the government has now decided that it cannot force local councils to provide them and so it will be up to the people to demand them and as councillors are accountable to the electorate they should be persuaded to do so at the risk of their seats.

In the meantime, as councils try to find a better way, we are sure to get more tampering with the system and perhaps even more bins for various items with food left-overs a high priority, a slop bucket in every home, as the Daily Mail put it (June 15th), an echo of those years of rationing and austerity during the Second World War of 1939-45 when every scrap of kitchen waste was collected and fed to pigs as part of the drive to produce more food. As it did then, this will undoubtedly lead to bad smells and even contamination creating a health hazard, especially during hot weather, and is not to be recommended in the interests of public health.

It is therefore hoped that our own waste collection service does not go down this road because it will be a bin too far and we could end up like residents of Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire who are already being forced to follow a strict new recycling regime by juggling nine separate containers which include a silver slop bucket for food waste, which is then tipped into a green outdoor bin for kerb-side collections, a pink bag for plastic bottles, a green bag for cardboard, and a white bag for clothing and textiles, all of which has made the borough council a laughing stock.

Local authorities have been grappling with this problem for more than a hundred years but have still not found a satisfactory solution and the possibility of a perfect system emerging in the immediate future looks bleak and we may well be on the verge of another fiasco. The wheelie bins are already blighting the street scene in many localities and so one of their first considerations when adding additional containers to the service must be where home owners are expected to store so many of them which will be a challenge to most, especially those who live in terraced houses with little or no garden, properties that abound in Bourne and are continuing to appear under the latest wave of residential developments.

There were nine nominations for co-option to the four vacant Bourne West seats on the town council last week and all were men, an indication that women are still lagging behind in local government representation. During the May elections, for instance, there were just twenty new women councillors elected to the 3,500 seats on local authorities in England which means that if female representation continues to move at this rate, it will be more than 150 years before there is an equal balance between men and women.

The situation is causing some alarm among women's groups who see themselves under represented both in Westminster and in council chambers across the land where men outnumber them, in some cases four to one. The situation in Bourne is slightly better where the ladies now occupy five of the 15 available seats on the town council, thus making it three to one, while the new Mayor of Bourne, Councillor Brenda Johnson, is the 15th woman to fill the office since it was inaugurated in 1974.

There was a time when women were a rarity in local councils, the first to serve in Bourne being Mrs Caroline Galletly (1865-1934) who became a member of the old Bourne Urban District Council and was then elected chairman for 1930-31. In later years, another milestone was marked by Mrs Marjorie Clark (1919-2007) who served a term as chairman of the old Bourne Urban District Council from 1971-72 before becoming the first chairman of South Kesteven District Council for two successive years from 1990-92. Marjorie was also Mayor of Bourne twice, in 1984-85 and again in 1999-2000 at the remarkable age of 81. She lived to be 88 and became Bourne's longest serving councillor with 40 years of service to her credit.

A woman has also been Mayor of Bourne for an unprecedented three times. Councillor Shirley Cliffe served in 1979-80, 1997-98 and 2008-09 and in addition, her husband, the late Ray Cliffe (1925-2006), was mayor twice, from 1975-76 and 1991-92, so making Shirley our mayoress on two occasions, and so her civic record is unlikely to be beaten in the foreseeable future.

Other ladies who have served as our first citizen were Mrs Margaret Cooper (1974-75), Mrs Mary Parker (1989-90), Mrs Janet Sauter (1992-93), Mrs Lesley Patrick (1994-95), Mrs Norma Woolley (2002-03), Mrs Pet Moisey (2004-05 and 2010-11), Mrs Judy Smith (2005-06) and Ms Jane Kingman Pauley (2007-08).

Despite being in the minority, women are beginning to have a dominant presence on some local authorities, frequently chairing committees on our own town council as well as taking the initiative in many controversial and community issues concerning the town. Another woman is also likely to be mayor next year because Councillor Helen Powell was elected deputy at the annual meeting in May which means that by tradition she will be our mayor for 2012-13, so making five women mayors of Bourne in six years.

It is also worth noting that of the eight clerks to the town council in the past 37 years, six have been women who have been in office continually since 1975, the latest Mrs Nelly Jacobs who has held the post for more than ten years, having been appointed in 2000 and has since brought a high standard of efficiency and accountability to the conduct of the authority's affairs.

The ladies who do seek office, therefore, have an impressive record but there does seem to be a general reluctance to stand and more female candidates during the last round of elections would undoubtedly have reduced that gap even further. Those who have been elected have proved their worth in the council chamber, bringing a steadying influence to male domination and often, a great deal of common sense. Home and family can be a big deterrent to anyone wishing to run for office but as more community facilities become available to free them from these commitments, it would be beneficial to find more women playing a role in the administration of our affairs at all levels of government which would undoubtedly be the better for it.

Few people in Bourne will have heard a cuckoo this year because their numbers are now in serious decline. When we moved to this house overlooking the fen on the very edge of the town almost 30 years ago, our favourite migratory bird sang early and late most days. In fact, there were several of them and their song delighted the neighbourhood morning and evening for many weeks because the call of the male cuckoo makes this one of the best known though least seen of our summer visitors.

Cuckoo Day is traditionally April 14th or 15th when we can expect to hear it in these islands for the first time although there is no hard and fast rule but we in Lincolnshire are rarely so blessed and it is usually a week or two afterwards, often even later, that their characteristic call comes to us from across the countryside to remind us that they have arrived after their marathon flight from Africa where they have wintered in warmer climes. Since then, the cuckoo has become an ever more elusive bird because its numbers are in serious decline and its song at this time of the year can no longer be guaranteed as an annual delight.

In May 2009, the cuckoo joined the official list of the most threatened species in the United Kingdom and now the British Trust for Ornithology has revealed that the country has lost about two thirds of them in the last 25 years. Fluctuations in climate could be driving the birds further north because the population in Scotland is much more stable than in the rest of the country but there is also evidence that their numbers have been reduced by shootists on the Mediterranean islands, particularly Malta, in Spain and in France, as it wings its way north on its annual flight to England, but once here it will find that its habitats are being denuded year by year because the intensification of agriculture and the urban sprawl persist at an alarming rate.

A new programme has therefore been launched by the trust in an attempt to track the birds to study their patterns of migration (BBC Online, June 7th). This has involved catching and attaching tiny solar powered tags to their wings that will send signals back to a satellite for 10 hours each day and so provide valuable data about their habits and hopefully shed light on the cause of their gradual disappearance.

The difficulty has been in catching the cuckoos but this was achieved by using a stuffed female bird glued to a perch as a lure while a recording of its call was played to attract a mate with a net to catch them when they respond. It has been a painstaking task over several weeks but ten male cuckoos were eventually caught in this way and five of them were large enough to carry the tiny tags weighing just five grams secured to the birds' wings with soft straps.

"We would like to tag many more but each tracker costs over £2,000", said Dr Chris Hewson, research ecologist at the trust headquarters in Thetford, Norfolk. "But those five should give us brand new information. At the moment, we don't know what cuckoos do when they leave Britain, how they move around, where they go and when but this programme will reveal a lot more information."

The study has been welcomed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. A spokesman said that the reasons for the decline of the cuckoo needed investigation as a matter of urgency. "Satellite tracking technology is helping us shine a torch into these dark areas", he said. "The cuckoo is one of our most widespread and familiar summer birds. We all associate its call with the onset of spring and the idea of losing it is very worrying indeed."

Thought for the week: A voice so thrilling ne'er was heard, in spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird. - William Wordsworth (1770-1850), major pastoral poet and Poet Laureate who helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature.

Saturday 25th June 2011

The town council is currently seeking more land to add to the cemetery in South Road where space for future burials may be under threat and this has prompted the suggestion that we ought to be thinking about alternative methods for the disposal of our dead rather than the continual use of valuable green space.

Cemeteries and church graveyards have served a useful purpose in the past and the survival of these areas covered with tombstones and sarcophagi are a reminder of those who went before but with 150,000 people being buried every year there will be a battle for more space in the future, a situation that has prompted the present search for expansion at the South Road site.

The town cemetery opened in 1855 when the graveyard adjoining the Abbey Church was deemed to be full. It originally covered four acres but has since been enlarged, firstly in 1904 when it was extended to 5½ acres and again in 1999 when land for more burials was exhausted and a further two acres were added, creating what is known today as the new cemetery.

The town council has estimated that the present cemetery should be able to cope with the demand until 2020 but provision needs to be made now for further space which may be required. An additional 2.2 acres of grazing land on the edge of the Elsea Park estate to the north, currently owned by the Kier Group, is therefore being investigated for use as an extension but there are fears that it may be unsuitable because it is close to a water table.

Existing regulations stipulate that no burial can take place within 250 metres of a borehole or spring because it could prove unhygienic for homes and businesses in the vicinity and the Environment Agency has therefore requested that trial holes be dug to test the viability of the site and these were carried out last week to enable a report be sent to South Kesteven District Council which will need to grant planning permission for change of agricultural use before the land can become a burial ground.

Since the cemetery opened, the rate of interments has increased with our expanding population and it now contains 10,000 graves although this figure would have been far higher but for the Parliamentary act of 1902 which legalised cremation in England and 70 per cent of those who die are now disposed of in this way.

But cemetery burials remain popular even though the upkeep of our graveyards is expensive and many of those that have slipped outside immediate church or local government control have become overgrown and neglected. Although they remain important memorials to past lives, they are also a reminder that this way of death is depleting our land resources which are already under constant threat from housing development.

Major changes in the practices surrounding the disposal of our dead have in the past been driven by necessity and in view of the growing public awareness of protecting the environment, this may be the opportune time to formulate a policy that no longer taxes our natural resources. This awareness is already being accepted in some quarters with the opening of green burial grounds in many parts of the country that take up far less space.

Trees, benches and even rose bushes are being dedicated instead of tombstones in our own cemetery while the current campaign by conservationists to preserve the Victorian chapel near the entrance as a columbarium and chapel of rest to hold burial urns and memorial plaques will take this a stage further and we wonder what is holding up this excellent scheme that will be so beneficial to the community while the town council expends so much time and energy trying to find additional land for burials.

The subject is a delicate one and will not be readily tackled by our legislators and so we most probably face the prospect of a very long wait indeed with the result that the problems now being experienced by those who run our burial grounds are likely to increase as a result.

Every mainstream school in Bourne has now joined the rush to reach academy status despite it being uncharted territory and reserved in the past for those that are failing. The Abbey Church of England Primary, Bourne Grammar, the Robert Manning College and now Westfield Primary all want a slice of the action. It is to be hoped that it will not all end in tears, as it did some years back when there was a similar haste to become comprehensive with disastrous results for many, including a drop in educational standards.

The latest applicant, Westfield Primary, opened in September 1975 to cope with Bourne's increasing population on the west side of town where residential development was underway. Facilities were quite inadequate in those early days with only 90 pupils and insufficient staff or accommodation. An indication of how bad things actually were can be gained by the fact that there was no telephone for the first term and staff had to share the use of one installed in a builders' hut on the construction site.

The builders were much in evidence during the daily life of the school for the first two years but the situation has vastly improved since then making Westfield much sought after by parents anxious to find a suitable place for their children. Since then there have been successful Ofsted inspections, the latest in 2008 when it was judged as outstanding, and over the years the school has earned an enviable reputation for delivering a caring, disciplined education with excellent academic and sporting results.

Now it is going for academy status, which according to the chairman of the governors, Ivan Fuller, will bring major benefits because he told the Stamford Mercury (June 17th): "It will assist us in providing a first class setting for our pupils and staff, giving the school a greater chance to shape its future."

Our other primary school, Bourne Abbey C of E, was the first in the town and in Lincolnshire to become an academy last December followed by the Robert Manning College whose application has just been approved to take effect when the autumn term begins on September 1st. All are anxious to take advantage of the government mantra of more money and more independence.

Bourne Grammar School announced its intention to apply last October but has been unable to proceed because of objections from Bourne United Charities which owns part of the land and provided some of the money for its establishment under an agreement which dates back to 1921 when the present school was opened on the South Road site.

A detailed statement issued by the trustees said that it was their express concern to protect the grammar school in its present form and to ensure that places were available for children who live within a three-mile radius and reach the necessary attainment level. The main selling points of the application were that the school would benefit from more money and increased independence but the case for becoming an academy had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. There were also many legalities relating to the rights of BUC which were a cause for concern, particularly over their ownership of land at the school site in the future if the new status is achieved.

The trustees pointed out that the many educational changes over the past 20 years had worked to a lesser or greater degree because the 1944 Education Act provided a framework of recognised parameters within which education operated. Academies had changed this by ending financial and administrative accountability to democratically elected bodies such as the town council and the local education authority.

The statement went on: "Is it prudent to use our influence on education policy in the town to sacrifice a known legal status to an initiative whose eventual outcome is unknown and untested and over which we shall have little control? A grammar school is the only way to ensure that there is a broad and rich opportunity for education in the town at secondary level. There is no assured way back should academies prove unsustainable either politically or economically. A significant number of excellent grammar schools have decided not to apply for academy status. It is thought that children have to be taken ‘as you find them’. A pass level at 11+ should be decided on and every child who then goes to Bourne Grammar School should be nurtured and encouraged to be the best they can be."

However, after taking legal advice, the trustees have now reversed their decision to enable the school apply. They have also been given assurances about the future ownership of their land on the school site and that the name of Bourne Grammar School will remain unchanged and will be able to select pupils on ability. The original target deadline of September 1st may have been missed but if successful, academy status could still be granted early next year. Headmaster Jonathan Maddox told The Local newspaper that he was delighted with the decision which would enable the school move forward (June 24th). “A number of hurdles still have to be overcome but we are optimistic that they will not stand in the way of our continued success”, he said.

This will mean that all four of Bourne’s mainstream schools will soon be academies which will enable them implement their own admissions policy and curriculum, set their own pay and conditions for staff and vary the length of terms and school working days.

These are far reaching changes for schools that until now have been under the control of the local education authority and not everyone regards them as a necessary undertaking, especially when those involved already enjoy a distinguished reputation with excellent results in their present form, but it is to be hoped that the doomsayers will be proved wrong in the long term.

A new record has been set for the briefest spell as a town councillor by Greg Cejer who was co-opted for the Bourne West Ward on Tuesday 7th June but had resigned within a week. This is an unfortunate occurrence because his experience would undoubtedly have enhanced debate but the frequency of meetings has proved to be unacceptable because of other commitments and so he has left without attending a single one.

Mr Cejer, a magistrate who is also chairman of the local scout group and secretary of the Bourne Arts and Community Trust which runs Wake House, told The Local that he pulled out after discovering that council meetings are held on four out of every six Tuesdays (June 17th). "I had anticipated one or two every six weeks and if I commit to something I want to carry it through", he said.

The vacancy is now being advertised. There should be a by-election but this will cost around £3,500 and rather than dent its finances, the town council prefers to fill the seat again by co-option. This is not the best way forward but the current legislation does allow the public to call one provided that a request signed by ten electors is handed in to the Town Hall within 14 working days, which excludes Saturdays and Sundays. If this is not forthcoming, then a new councillor will be chosen by sitting members through the co-option procedure.

There should be no shortage of nominations because there were nine for the last co-option process to fill four seats in Bourne West left vacant after the local government elections in May, all of them male. Affirmative action is not an acceptable policy because each councillor should be appointed on their merit but this would appear to be a golden opportunity for another woman to join the town council where men currently dominate by three to one.

We have learned, however, that one candidate who has already made an unsuccessful bid to join the council earlier this year, is making a formal application for a by-election and if that succeeds then the field will be open to all. The irony is that if those who may still be seeking to win a seat in Bourne West had been confident enough to stand in the local government elections last May, then their appointment would now be secure.

Thought for the week: What is it we all seek for in an election? To answer its real purposes, you must first possess the means of knowing the fitness of your man; and then you must retain some hold upon him by personal obligation or dependence. - Edmund Burke (1729-97), Dublin-born statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher.