Andrew Lees certainly helped inspire local people to love what was on their doorstep

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The Independent Online
Last month, there was an official ceremony to open an electricity generating plant, powered by methane gas from a landfill site near Swansea. The event, one of many signs that landfill is becoming respectable, is partly of note because of the campaign waged against having a tip there at all. It was the first campaign which brought Andrew Lees, who died in Madagascar nearly a year ago, to national attention.

In the mid 1970s, Lees studied at Cardiff University. He became interested in a wetland site at Swansea. It was and remains a peculiar place. Surrounded by 19th-century coal mines, and fringed with industry, it is not much visited for obvious wilderness beauty.

In the late 1970s it was due to be confirmed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by the then Nature Conservancy Council. Swansea city wanted to make a landfill tip on the part of the bog which housed an abandoned coal- fired power station. The station's ash had for years been tipped onto an area of the bog, which was wrecked, and was an ideal spot for a landfill.

The NCC employed Lees to make a botanical survey, and it was beautifully done. But he decided that the NCC's strategy for protecting the site was feeble. He found local residents who were, naturally, reluctant to see tipping, and was much admired by them as he campaigned against the scheme.

Knowing his law almost as well as he knew his wetland botany, Andrew threatened the NCC with legal action over its dilatoriness. Actually, the NCC seems to have been proceeding with adequate speed and seriousness. There was no chance of stopping the tip, which was to be managed so as not to seriously threaten the bog.

Fifteen years later, the landfill site is patently well-run, and because the rubbish is first compressed and baled five miles away, could not be less of a nuisance to its neighbours. I don't suppose Andrew would ever have been reconciled to the charms of landfill, especially here, but one can legitimately see this energy production as useful, and even strikingly ecological. When completed in another decade and a half, the landfill will remain as small hills and football pitches, overlooking the old bog.

It is hard to see how things could have turned out differently or better. What strikes me is that Andrew made little difference, and that this is not a great pity. The Nature Conservancy Council was doing its job well and had a decent position from which to negotiate.

On another part of the bog, there was a really lovely fenland site, more obviously prepossessing than the rest. It is in public ownership and is a National Nature Reserve with public access. Local residents have recently erected a memorial tablet to Andrew Lees there. The local residents' group believes that it was he who stopped a scheme for tipping on it, and in effect saved it. And yet the staff of the official conservation bodies insist, quietly, that they had the matter in hand. It is not they, but I, who think this is worth stressing.

At the time, many of us believed that Andrew was fighting a lone battle against philistine public conservation bodies. But this is not really the case. Everybody involved in the Crymlyn saga salutes Andrew Lees. Even those against whom he was most vehement respected him. He certainly helped inspire local people to love what was on their doorstep.

I only wish he were around now to have what might well have been a spirited row about my revisionist view of events at Swansea. As I became more robust in my criticism of environmentalists, I worried about the opinion of very few of them. Andrew Lees was an exception.

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