The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00378: British Involuntary Park

Key concepts:
Porton Downs, weapons of mass destruction, anthrax, sarin, involuntary parks, 35 billion ants
Attention Conservation Notice:
Scarcely mentions the temperature breaking 100 degrees F in Britain, or the "carloads of dead" from the unnatural heat in Paris.

Europeans, how about surfing to this page, clicking on the words "how's your weather," and telling us how you are doing. One prominent Viridian was recently hospitalized for heat prostration in Spain. Your fellow Viridians will be intensely interested if you have become a casualty of this summer's weather violence.

I asked for an aelopile.

And I got one! Wow!

Core is throwing a nice party in New York on Aug 13 02003. New Yorkers, you should go, because Core77 is the cat's pyjamas.

"In just three weeks' time, the Design Institute's Big Urban Game transforms Minneapolis and Saint Paul into a 108 square mile urban game board."

The Viridian "Involuntary Park" concept.


"The secret of Porton Down: behind its defences, it has created Britain's finest wildlife reserve"

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor

"11 August 2003

"Many people probably think of it as the most sinister site in Britain, a place of dark secrets to prompt nightmares. Porton Down, Britain's chemical and germ warfare defence establishment in Wiltshire, is notorious for nerve gas and anthrax, sarin and smallpox, protective suits and respirators, in short, horrible death (and how to avoid it).

"Yet it has another identity, known to only a few, which makes those acquainted with it see Porton Down as a jewel. It is a time capsule of a forgotten countryside which has created probably the single best wildlife site in Britain.

"For example, it is beyond doubt Britain's the best site for butterflies. The ultra-high-security 7,000-acre Ministry of Defence estate north-east of Salisbury consists largely of unspoiled flower-rich chalk grasslands, dotted with woods, where 46 of our 55 native butterfly species, or 83 per cent, have been recorded, more than at any other location.

"Never mind the common stuff, red admirals, tortoiseshells, cabbage whites. Porton's species range from the adonis blue to the brown argus, from the Duke of Burgundy to the small pearl-bordered fritillary, from the silver-spotted skipper to the marbled white. And not only is their diversity remarkable, it is their abundance: there are millions and millions of them. This is the butterfly capital of Britain.

"There is much more. Porton Down teeming with other invertebrates == nearly 200 species of spider alone == and with rare wild flowers, birds and mammals. It holds 10 per cent of the population of one of Britain's rarest birds, the stone curlew; it is the best site in Britain for the juniper, a shrub that hosts its own insect world, and one of the best sites for orchids; it has an area of anthills so large it is referred to as 'the antscape', harbouring three million anthills with an estimated 35 billion ants. This is a unique corner of England: a wildlife time capsule of the English countryside as it once was, before intensive farming turned much of it into a biodiversity desert.

"Ironically, the nature of Porton's highly dangerous and controversial trials work on chemical and biological warfare (strictly defensive, the MoD is at pains to stress, since 1956) which has made it such a wonderful wildlife reservoir. The estate is an outlier of the chalk grasslands of Salisbury Plain, which are botanically the richest habitats in Britain, and time stopped after it was bought by the Government in 1916, to become the secret experimental centre for chemical warfare after the Germans had begun using poison gas in the First World War trenches.

"It is the largest remaining continuous tract of chalk downland in Britain, and nothing has been done to this stretch of countryside since then: the farming revolution of the 20th century, the development, the tourism, have all passed it by. Nor has it been turned into a wasteland, as some might suppose, by chemical warfare trials. Only tiny parts of the 7,000 acres are directly affected by testing operations, the MoD say, and most of the estate is simply a huge buffer zone, to keep people well away. Occasional trial releases of tiny amounts of nerve gas, though some people may well find them politically objectionable, are not disrupters of natural ecosystems."

(((I'm enjoying this article so much I can't even say anything about it.)))

"The disrupters are the large-scale inputs of chemicals, the pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers that are the essence of intensive farming. At Porton Down, these have never arrived. ((("Intensive farming: worse than nerve gas.")))

"For many years, as those in charge were much occupied with other matters, the site's astonishing wildlife heritage more or less looked after itself (although numerous enthusiasts on the scientific staff were aware of how special it was). But gradually its importance has been officially recognised by conservation designations, and by two particular developments in the past two years: the appointment of a full-time conservation officer, and the provision of substantial EU funding for conservation management. (((Well, that'll ruin it. That, and those blistering, unnatural heat waves.)))

"Stuart Corbett, a 47-year-old former agricultural scientific adviser, is now the delighted curator of these wildlife riches: his full-time post with the site's operators, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), is a dream come true, he says. 'It's a wonderful, unique place, with a lot of things still to be discovered; it gives us a very clear idea of what we've lost in the modern countryside.'

"He finds no conflict between his role and the site's main purpose. 'Porton Down works to protect the Armed Forces, and now civilians as well, because of the terrorist threat, from chemical and biological attack, and I think the work is necessary,' he said. (((Of course, if one is a fritillary butterfly or stone curlew, one is clearly going to be rooting for those genocidal terrorists. That, or a good bio-warfare slip-up inside the Porton Downs defence lab.)))

"One of his responsibilities is to help with the Porton end of a L2.1m scheme under the EU LIFE programme to restore the Salisbury plan grasslands where they are being invaded by scrub. The whole programme was put together and is managed by Stephen Davis, an English Nature conservation officer, who is another huge enthusiast for Porton. 'There is nowhere else like this in the country,' he said. 'It is the wildlife secret of Britain.'

"Accompanied by both men, The Independent has visited Porton Down, courtesy of the DSTL. Once through the tight security (you need a photo-pass just to get out of reception) we found it was all it was said to be. We saw foxes, badgers and roe deer in broad daylight; a suite of birds that ranged from the hobby to the redstart; wonderful wild flowers; and clouds of butterflies. In three hours, we saw 18 species, a third of the British total.

"You can see this all too: Porton Down is open to the public, but strictly by appointment. About 20 guided parties are taken around each year, but you need to write in, and there is a long waiting list, with bookings currently being taken for the summer of 2005.

"There is no doubt at all, though, that to see this magically-preserved corner of Britain as it once was, is worth the wait.


"Flowers: The chalk grassland flora is the richest in Britain: there can be 40 species in a single square metre. Typical plants include thyme, lady's bedstraw, rock rose and viper's bugloss, but there are many rarities such as meadow clary (a blue member of the mint family). (((Okay, who among us is gonna be the first to Google up an image of some "viper's bugloss"? With a name like that, we Viridians may have to adopt it.)))

"Butterflies: Britain's largest and most diverse population of butterflies is found at Porton Down, with 46 out of the UK's 55 species having been recorded, ranging from the marbled white to the purple hairstreak.

"Other Insects: Porton Down's other insects and invertebrates are just as remarkable in diversity and numbers. About 120 species of moth are caught in moth traps each year. (((Why are they trapping them?)))

"Birds: The site is rich in typical downland birds with nearly 100 species recorded from redstart to partridges. It is one of the prime sites in Britain for a national rarity, the stone curlew.

"Mammals: Mammals include foxes, badgers and rabbits and three species of deer (roe, fallow and muntjac)." (((Muntjac? In Britain?)))

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