Article - Small things, long-lasting effects

If you had to name one item of which the south west of England seems in general to have plenty, I guess that many of us would say: water.

Our landscape tends to remain green right through the summer months when many continental landscapes are brown and parched. Our gardens remain flowery in a quite wonderful way from early spring to late autumn. And, on the negative side of the balance sheet, we are all used to rainy days.

Even by comparison with the south east, the south west is very definitely wet.

But there has been for many years a strange paradox in our country – namely, that a nation known for rain has all too frequently experienced drought.

The reason for this strange phenomenon is that the large accumulation of water in the south west and north of the country has not generally been available in sufficient quantities to people in the south east during years when the south easterly water tables are low.

This, of course, is nothing new. For decades, people talked about the desirability of constructing a water grid, similar to the national grid that distributes electricity and gas around the country.

But, for decade after decade, nothing really happened to address the issue.

A few years ago, I came to the conclusion that we really did need to find some more practical and less expensive way of solving this problem. And, I am delighted to say that we now seem to be making some real progress in this direction.

Increasingly, following some sensible changes in the regulation of the water industry, the water companies have been investing in systems that enable them to trade water with one another – and there is now a much better prospect that water will cascade from the parts of the country where it is in plentiful supply to the parts that need it most. So we, in the western part of Dorset are likely, increasingly, to become a water exporter.

This is one of those unseen changes that makes far more difference to the life of our country than many of the “news events” that receive a huge amount of attention.

Of course, the drama of the events that sell newspapers is far more exciting and enticing to the reader than any such purely mechanical and rather slow-moving process can conceivably be. But I am often struck by the extent to which the quality of life is affected by accumulations of small, long-lasting effects, while the dramas frequently come and go without actually affecting anything very much at all in the long run.

Talking of which, I saw with some delight during the last week that yet another stretch of the A303 has now been scheduled for upgrading to dual carriageway use.

This, too, is an example of a relatively minor and very mechanical change which – together with the more significant works now being prepared for Stonehenge – will improve the quality of life for many thousands of people who find themselves in one form of log-jam or another when trying to move from the northerly parts of West Dorset towards the M3.

Unlike the great dramas of the news cycle such announcements go virtually unnoticed when they are made. But the effects will certainly be noticed by drivers and their passengers for many years to come.