IN THE FRAME: Dr John Rodda

The spotlight falls this month on water expert John Rodda, a founder member of the Environment Group who in his 'retirement' has been much involved in parish politics. He tells Eric Dore about his time in the area – and about his eight years in Switzerland, where you are fined for not cutting your hedges!

When did you come to live in Brightwell cum Sotwell?
When I first came to live in Sotwell the Beatles were topping the charts, BBC 2 was just “on air” and Harold Wilson was about to launch his white hot technological revolution. At the time there were 4 shops in the village, fresh bread emerged piping hot from Mr Kew’s oven while the Parish had its own Rector. However we shared a party line for our phone and mains gas was still 30 years away. In many ways, the village in the 1960s must have been remarkably similar to what it was before WW II!

And Why?
Sotwell was, and still is, close to Howbery Park where I was researching the hydrology of small river basins. This was at the start of what became the Institute of Hydrology (IH), now the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Then, because of forecasts of water shortages in England by 2000AD, there were government worries that the conifers being planted around many reservoirs were reducing runoff and consequently the volume of water that could be captured and put into supplies. Our research was designed to show if this concern was real. It developed into a programme which continues today, one which has spawned many different initiatives along the way.

How did you come to take part in Village activities ?
Three events in the mid 1970s stimulated village life considerably. First there was the opening of the new Village Hall. The second was the publication of the first issue of The Villager. Then, a year or so later, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee led to the launch of the Community Association ― I became the first chairman. The Association’s first project was the construction of the hard surface on Kings Meadow. To raise funds, a series of events were staged which brought villagers together: barbeques, a music hall, a cabaret, a performance of Trial by Jury and the organising of the Village Fete. The tradition continues today, the money raised being contributed to different village causes.

Why did your career change direction?
Research at IH led into management of government research in the Department of the Environment (DOE) in London and management of aspects of the nation’s water resources. Taking part in the activities of a big Whitehall Department was a salutary experience, especially when the environment was a burgeoning issue. Meetings at the Commission in Brussels were part of these environmental activities― the UK had just become a member of the European Community. Even then, our attitude to “Europe” was very individualistic, as we usually favoured lines different to those of most of our partners, ones often at variance with the Commission’s views.

What has been your most interesting work?
On a global scale, problems of floods and droughts, landslides, and other natural disasters are addressed by a number of bodies of the United Nations. One of these is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) with its headquarters in Geneva. I joined WMO, to lead the Hydrology and Water Resources Programme which aids and assists the Organization’s 180 or so member countries to counter these problems. Some of the projects underway were: “Improving the flood forecasting system in Bangladesh”, “Instituting measures to reduce water pollution from mining in Papua New Guinea” and “Setting up a diploma course on hydrology in Nairobi”. Part of my WMO duties involved chairing the UN’s Committee on Water which brings together all the different bodies of the UN with programmes in water, some 25 in all. At this time the Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was being prepared leading to the agreement of Agenda 21―the blueprint for the future. Water was then and still is an issue which enters into so many areas of human endeavour. And of course, the impacts of climate change are mainly felt through water: changes in the hydrological cycle bring about more of the extremes of flood and drought. Consequently I attended the inaugural session of the WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and became involved in its work.

What was it like to return to the village after 8 years in Switzerland?
Although we returned frequently to the village whilst we were resident in Geneva,. living abroad provided a different perspective on the UK, The view from Switzerland, a very well ordered country where nothing ever seems to happen, contrasted markedly with Britain in the 1990s, where so many things seemed to be going wrong and Prime Minister Major was in government but not governing! However the petty regulations which intrude into everyday life in Switzerland were very irksome by contrast with the relative freedom of living in Brightwell- cum-Sotwell. So returning after 8 years in Geneva was in some ways a relief but even more a pleasure. We could do things in the village that would have incurred a fine where we lived in Switzerland―not cutting back our roadside hedges by a specified date and riding a bike without insurance and a plate to show it, for example. And although British trains did not run on time, the television programmes did, unlike those on Swiss TV. Returning to the village sparked the setting up of the Environment Group and the publication of our own Agenda 21 Report in the form of the 1998 Parish Conservation Plan. In the same year we celebrated 50 years of the union of the parishes of Brightwell and Sotwell by “Beating the Bounds” of the combined parish. Subsequently in the 21st Century, as a member of the Parish Council, life seems to have been taken over by the SODC Core Strategy and its many machinations.

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