I spent the afternoon surrounded by sparkling water; water lilies and reed warblers, sunlight dancing on ripples and dragon flies that seemed as big as birds.
A buzzard swooped out of a tree, mewling mewling and flew low over the water. Buzzards don’t fish and I realised that this bulky, noisy bird was in fact an osprey. In this quiet, out of the way lake an osprey was hunting. Perfect.
But the lake was once a football field, drained and filled in to provide work for the unemployed during the depression of the 1930s (so the information board said).
The lovely lake is at Bonfol in Switzerland and it is also the site of one of the worst dumps of toxic chemicals in Europe.
Bonfol is right on the very, very edge of Switzerland, right up against the French border. It is also very close to the city of Basel, which is famous for its chemical factories and life saving pharmaceutical companies. In the 1960s and 1970s those companies dumped massive amounts of toxic waste in metal barrels in a hole in the ground left after digging out clay for a pottery works. The barrels were simply covered in earth and left to fester and leak and even explode.
When the full horror of what was under the fields was realised in the 21st century, an unbelievably expensive clean up operation had to be undertaken. It was so bad that robots had to dig out the chemicals, as it was too dangerous for any human to go close. A vast dome was built over the dump site in which the work could be undertaken.
I first saw the gigantic white dome in the middle of the woods from a nearby hillside. I naively thought it was something to do with marking the hundred years after WW1, as this was in 2014 and the nearby area had been fought over in this war: but no. Interestingly, the companies responsible for this potentially deadly dump did not pay for the colossal clean up until 2000. Local government and Greenpeace managed to exert sufficient pressure on the polluters and the complicated and expensive clean up finally began.
I take a wonderful drug everyday developed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company and I am very grateful for it; but I would not put a toe in the water of this lake and I would not share the fish caught by the osprey on this sparkling afternoon.