Bristling with natural gems, where the uncommon is commonly seen

When her local common was threatened with development, Rae became involved with the local campaign to save it, and a poetry collection was soon born...

I first became aware of West Cross common in 2020, during lockdown. We had hardly noticed it before, this overgrown brambly place on the edge of the estate. But we discovered it on our daily walks during lockdown. Just five minutes from our house and we were into a wonderland of green pathways, ringing with birdsong, and a maze of pathways that seemed to spit us out in a different place each time.

And then we saw the notices. Laminated A4, tied to lampposts with string. Coastal Housing were applying for permission to build houses on the common. I wasn't the only resident shocked by the possibility - and by the wonders of social media we came together and did our best to find out more, and see what we could do to protest against the plans.

We discovered the many contradictions of common land. Privately owned, but publicly accessible; wild, but somehow tamed and managed - a kind of half-land, with half-rights and half-rules. Owned by the Duke of Beaufort's Estate, the Somerset Trust, so it could be bought and sold. I had wrongly assumed commons belonged to everyone.

Like many environmental campaigns, we've had our ups and downs, our successes and failures. We have already lost the battle with planners and the local authority - planning permission has now been granted. But this is common land, so it has to be de-registered as such via the Welsh Government, a process which requires an exchange of land to equal or greater value than the common. That process is ongoing, and a public inquiry will be held in August 2024.

But that means there's hope! The notion of the land's value includes its value to local people, and to nature and wildlife. We locals know this is a haven for wildlife - you don't have to spend long on the common to realise it is brimming with birds, insects and unusual plants. It's also extremely wet and boggy, thanks to its peat soil.

Because of the development, I've spent much more time up on the common, trying to understand it, learn more about its riches and enjoy the natural haven it offers. I've discovered it is bristling with species that have, sadly, become uncommon in our daily lives. Plants like sneezewort or tormentil, devil's-bit scabious and bog asphodel are common sights at the right time of year. There are seven species of bat. Campaigners in the group have spotted lizards basking on the bracken, and adders coming out from under it. A common where the uncommon is commonly seen? As I said, this is a place of contradictions.

So naturally I have been doing what poets do: writing poems about this special place. Partly I wanted to follow in John Clare's footsteps and record this common in case it is destroyed. He is sometimes called the original eco poet, but he was also a poet much affected by the many Enclosure Acts of the 19th century, which destroyed the open wild commons of his youth and saw them razed and dug over for agriculture. He mourned the loss of his "green forever dear".

As well as recording it, I also hope to get our campaign's message out there, in the hopes of saving this common. It's not too late. The planning process ignored (or was not informed) of the wealth of species on the common, but we now know so much more about it, and we have a chance to make this case to the Welsh Government's planning inspector at the public inquiry.

Until then, I hope we can use art - perhaps poetry, photography or painting (like the wonderful painting on the cover of my book, by one of the campaigners, Mike Crafer) - to engage local people to help them understand what's at stake, and what we risk losing if the development goes ahead.